Garden Gnomes: The Curious History

Garden gnome behind blurred blades of grass

Garden gnomes started as a tradition over 200 years ago and continues today. Our plastic or plaster garden gnomes today are different than the original ones in the 1800s. Believe it or not, these clever decorations have a fun history!

The Origins of Garden Gnomes

Garden statues are a long-standing tradition dating back to the Renaissance. People believe that these little human-like statues would keep away evil from those that live in the house.

Garden gnomes originated in Germany in the early 1800s, and producers created them out of clay. By the 1840s, the craze reached England and slowly appeared throughout the country. Baehr and Maresh of Dresden created these early gnomes.  From there, their popularity grew rapidly.

By the 1870s, two large, German companies started to mass produce garden gnomes. These companies were Philipp Griebel and August Heissner, but Heissner became the most popular German manufacturer. The love affair with gnomes continued, but World War I and World War II stopped a majority of the German production. Many of the warehouses faced destruction throughout the wars.

The popular Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales contributed to the popularity of garden gnomes. “The Gnome” was one of their short stories that featured gnomes, and it depicted gnomes in a benevolent and malevolent light. These stories continued and encouraged the craze!

The 1960s brought plastic recreations, but most people didn’t like the cartoonish appearance. Companies located in the Czech Republic and Poland started to create their versions in the 1980s. Now, one American Company, Kimmel Gnomes, continues the tradition of crafting garden gnomes of clay and resin.


Why Put a Gnome in Your Garden?

Gnomes are a symbol of good luck, so placing them in your garden should bring luck to your crops and livestock. In the 1800s, a plentiful harvest meant more than having too much zucchini; it meant your family would have food. A bad harvest meant a long and hard winter.

Old world farmers believe placing garden gnomes on their property would bring some good luck to help their fields produce more and stop pests.

Many silly stories surrounded gnomes! There are stories that gnomes can move through the soil, but they only move at night. During the day, gnomes turn to stone. The term gnomes comes from the name “genomus” which means earth dweller. The idea is that these clever little statues come alive at night and assist with landscaping and gardening chores left uncompleted.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?


What Do Garden Gnomes Look Like?

Meditating garden gnome in long grass

Chances are you can picture a gnome in your mind. We see them on TV movies and advertisements.

The classic look is a short gnome with a long, white beard, a red hat, and simple clothes, such as blue pants and a shirt. Female gnomes have longer hair, a red hat, and a dress.

You can find garden gnomes in all sorts of different costumes and configurations. There are gnomes with built-in solar lights, gnomes that fish, drink beer, moon onlookers, sniffing flowers and more. The options are endless; the limit is up to the imagination of the manufacturers.


Using Garden Gnomes in Your Garden Today

Gnomes are making a comeback, so it’s the perfect time to add one or several to your garden. Aside from being adorable, they are supposed to bless your gardening attempts, so its worth the consideration. Here are some tips for using garden gnomes in your garden.

  • Stick with your personality and hobbies. You want gnomes that reflect you and your family. If you love to fish, a cleverly placed gnome holding a fishing pole near your pond would be adorable. If you love to read, find one that is holding a book to place near your favourite reading spot outside.
  • Look for quality gnomes. Plastic gnomes look cheap, and their colours will fade over time. Resin or clay are stronger materials that won’t lose their bright shade of colours.
  • Make a fairy garden. Fairy gardening is all the rage right now! Gardeners are making separate fairy gardens, or they are blending elements into their existing garden beds. Fairy gardens can be as simple or as complex as you want! A garden gnome fits right in with the décor!
  • Hide them around your property. Finding secretive, yet funny, places to hide your garden gnomes can be a clever game. Place one in a tree or behind a rock. Look for places that your neighbours might laugh when they notice the gnome cleverly placed.
  • Put a gnome near a water feature so that he can look at the sounds and sights of the water. It might be a fountain or a pond. If you have a gnome that is sitting down, you can place the gnome on a rock with his feet dangling towards the water.
  • Make sure your gnomes are near family activities. Put your gnomes near the patio or deck, wherever your family loves to gather. You can place a gnome in a pot with flowers; container gardening and gnomes work great together! Gnomes love to participate in family activities.


To Steal a Gnome or Not

Have you heard of the term “gnoming”? There is a game that involves stealing garden gnomes. It is a silly prank that people continue. Some people go so far as to travel around the world collecting – aka stealing – gnomes from gardens in different countries.

So, if you decide that you need a garden gnome for your landscaping or vegetable garden, remember that there are gnome lovers who want to liberate gnomes from their servitude. Your lovely garden gnome might wind up missing, and then you might get sent back a picture of the sites your gnome visited.


No matter how you decide to place your garden gnomes, remember that a natural setting is best and you want a gnome that reflects activities you regularly do. You might find some of your gardening tasks are taken care of when you wake up.

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