Gnome Around the World: The History of Garden Gnomes
Garden gnomes have been the subject of fairy tales, TV ads, kidnappings and even a liberation movement. Where do they come from? Find out in this brief history of the Western world’s oldest garden ornament.
The First Garden Gnomes
Garden gnomes originated in Germany in the 19th century and were originally called “gartenzwergs” (German for “garden dwarf”) and it wasn’t until the 1930s that English speakers began referring to them simple as “gnomes”.
The practice of decorating gardens with small wooden or clay figurines dates back to the Renaissance period and was particularly popular in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. According to European folklore, garden gnomes were thought to protect gardens from evil spirits and would come alive under the cover of darkness; using their magic to help plants grow and flowers blossom.
Garden Gnomes Today
The largest gnome in the world, according to the 2009 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.
Though there are purportedly 25 million gnomes living in gardens across Germany, nearly all of the gnome manufactories have relocated to Poland and China.
The largest garden gnome in recorded history, “Solus”,stands at 18 feet tall in a garden in Poland.
Garden Gnome Liberationists
What started as a satirical prank in France has since spread to several countries, spawned two liberation organizations, a film and a slew of Travelocity commercials.
A photo of “liberated” garden gnomes in Australia.
In the late 90s, a group known as The Front for Garden Gnome Liberation stole 150 garden gnomes from various yards and “freed” them into the wild. When their leader was arrested, he claimed he’d been acting on behalf of the oppressed gnome population when he helped them escape slavery. Later that year in a village in France, 11 gnomes were found dangling from a bridge in what was an apparent “mass suicide”. Their note read: “When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decorations.”
Gnomes No More? A Look to the Future
Garden gnome’s popularity is dying out.
According to the UK newspaper The Daily Mail, gnome sales are down as are sales of garden ornaments in general. Gnome manufacturers have reacted to this news by giving their gnomes a modern edge; gnomes now carry iPods and some, oddly enough, stand guard holding machine guns.
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