View Full Version : The Story Behind Garden Gnomes

Saturday, May 5th, 2018, 01:08 PM
When Sir Charles Isham brought 21 terra cotta garden gnomes to England to decorate his 90-foot rockery in 1847, he created a sensation in the United Kingdom for bearded garden helpers. Sir Charles had found the statues in Nuremberg, Germany– a country steeped in the folklore of gnomes, trolls, fairies and other forest folk, where they are known to be cheery, if not slightly mischievous, creatures who offered late night assistance in gardens and the protection of property. As early as the 1600s, garden statuary in Europe had evolved to include a key figure known as gobbi, Italian for “dwarf” or “hunchback.” In 19th-century Germany, these diminutive men with pointed hats, rotund bellies, and white beards became known as Gartenzwerge (garden dwarfs.)

Much like today, these garden do-gooders elicited strong feelings on either side of the spectrum in 19th-century England. Even within the Isham family, some thought the gnomes were unfit for the aesthetic of a palatial estate, and Sir Charles’s daughters cleared the garden of all but one, which remained hidden from sight until decades later. When “Lampy”—as this historic garden gnome is now known—was found, he was crowned the oldest known garden gnome in the world.

Sir Charles’s daughters aren’t the only arbiters of taste who have deemed garden gnomes unsightly. Associated with landscapes of the tasteless, tacky, and unsophisticated, the Royal Horticulture Society of Britain banished these “brightly colored creatures” from the Chelsea Flower Show in 2006, and has continued to do so every year, except in 2013—the 100th anniversary of the spectacle.

But the undeniable allure of having quiet helpers in the garden has a long history, dating back to the second century AD, when the Roman emperor Hadrian had hermits living throughout his villa’s garden. This idea caught on again in 18th-century England, when wealthy landowners would hire a person to be an “ornamental hermit” in their garden. Contracts spelled out the do’s and don’ts of the job, which included living in a rustic, unheated outbuilding (or hermitage); not speaking to anyone; not washing; wearing disheveled tunics; and letting the body go unkept—as in growing long fingernails, toenails and beards. These recluses provided the appropriate melancholic ambiance that was fashionable in Georgian England. Some historians believe that this garden hermit fad paved the road for gnome love in Britain, including Gordon Campbell, who wrote a book about this bizarre landscaping trend called The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Garden Gnome in 2013.

Once hermitages and their hermits began to fall out of favor, Sir Charles came along with his ceramic garden elfins, which offered a cheaper and more humane concept for garden decor. By the turn of the 20th century, gnomes were being produced for the masses, mostly by German factories. But the gnomes of this period were not quite the statues we know from our grandmother’s gardens. The brightly-colored, grinning creatures of today were likely influenced by the 1937 Disney feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Source : https://gardencollage.com/wander/gardens-parks/gnome/

I don't buy the Roman influence of Gnomes given Germanic Pagan traditions having a way of carrying on in different forms throughout history.

Saturday, May 5th, 2018, 09:05 PM
This idea caught on again in 18th-century England, when wealthy landowners would hire a person to be an “ornamental hermit” in their garden. That is very Monty Python :D

I once read about a woman who was gardening and accidently stabbed herself on a gnome's fishing rod. She died of tetanus.

Uwe Jens Lornsen
Wednesday, May 9th, 2018, 09:06 AM
Garden gnomes are in German language named " Gartenzwerg " pl. Gartenzwerge.

The main stream media here in Germany once sold the overall impression, that Garden Gnomes would be an unique German invention.

Interesting, that such little ghosts have also a tradition elsewhere.

In my state they are not common.
My family never deployed them nor neighbours.

They might be common in southern Germany, but not here.

The media once a while thinks it would be necessary to write about them.
Such reports are usually about neighbours having disputes, destruction by unknown ( vandalism ), theft ( kidnapping ).

About the cap they wear :
1) The common German man called "Deutscher Michel" is usually drawn with such sleeping cap "Schlafmütze" in white colour in satirical pictures in newspapers.

Der Deutsche Michel (literally "the German Michael") is a figure representing the national character of the German people,
rather as John Bull represents the English and Uncle Sam represents Americans.


2) The second main official TV-broadcaster ZDF uses the " Heinzelmännchen " als short seconds long movie-clips during advertisement breaks.
https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainzelmännchen ; apparently not in English language available .

Short finds on this website for garden gnomes :

1) Art gallery displays garden gnome with hitler-salute to poke fun of National Socialism,
Lawn Gnome apparently an other name for this kind of statuettes :

2) Garden gnomes in "Police Custody" to be identified by original owners in some English named town ( post nr. 9 ) :

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018, 01:37 PM
2) Garden gnomes in "Police Custody" to be identified by original owners in some English named town ( post nr. 9 ) :
https://forums.skadi.net/threads/99690-The-Funny-Strange-News-Thread?p=984474&viewfull=1#post984474That's in America. We still have shires in England but not sheriffs ('shire reeves').