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History of Garden Gnomes

Rohini Mohan Mar 3, 2020
Gnomes are little enchanted people who look after buried treasures and help humans, by helping in their work in exchange of clothes and food. Garden gnomes on the other hand, are guardians of the garden.

Did You Know?

... that in 2006, The Royal Horticultural Society of Britain lifted its ban on garden gnomes being used in the Chelsea Flower Show.
It is hard to imagine a childhood without having heard or read stories about forests inhabited by mythical creatures, such as fairies and witches, dwarfs, and even smaller people, known as gnomes.
The word 'gnomes' was coined by Paracelsus, and is derived from the word gēnomos, which means earth-dweller in Renaissance Latin. These tiny men were shown to wear bright clothes and tall, pointed hats, often scarlet in color.
The 16th century alchemist Paracelsus believed that various types of invisible beings existed among humans. He called them the elementals or nature spirits, who he divided into four groups, namely, gnomes (earth creatures), sylphs (creatures of air), salamanders (creatures of fire), and undines (creatures of water).
After being mentioned in the works of Paracelsus, many folklores began portraying gnomes as tiny people who possessed magical powers and inhabited the earth realm.
Gnomes were presented as kind and kindred creatures, who helped people, by doing their work in the middle of the night while they slept. It was also said that gnomes protected the treasures buried underground.
Since Paracelsus, gnomes have come a long way. Initially introduced during the 1930s as a lawn ornament, these tiny mythical creatures were renamed as garden gnomes or garden-helpers. Let's find out more about the history of garden gnomes, through this Mysticurious article.

The First Garden Gnome

The German sculptor Phillip Griebel is credited for having made the first ceramic sculpture of a gnome in the 19th century. He started off by selling terracotta busts of animals in the town of Grafenroda. However, he began making statuaries of gnomes, because the locals believed that these mythical creatures aided their owner by helping around in the garden.
Some also believed that these tiny men helped ward off evil from their homes, and guarded their granaries, and shops from theft, fire, pestilence, other harm. He sold his first red-hatted gnome in 1884 in Leipzig. It soon became a common ornamental addition for avid gardeners, and the fad spread from Germany to all across Poland, France, and England. 
It is also said that Griebel may have emulated the style of clothing from miners, who were short, wore lose clothes and red helmets.
The demand for the gnomes was so high, that Griebel had to stop producing anything else in order to meet his ever-increasing orders. Soon, there were many more manufacturers who were selling gnomes with different attributes and costumes. 
The manufacturing units all across Europe had to stop manufacturing gnomes during World War II, owing to the fall in economy. However, these ornamental garden statuaries regained their popularity soon after the war was over.
The Griebel family continues to manufacture gnomes, and is the only manufacturing unit of its kind in Germany. Other producers moved their manufacturing units to cheaper terrains such as China and Poland.

The Million Pound Gnome

Gnomes made their grand appearance in England in 1847, when Sir Charles Isham decorated his gardens at Lamport Hall with 21 gnome figurines from Germany. Among the lot, only 'Lampy' the gnome remained intact. He continues to stay at Lamport Hall, and was insured for a whopping 1 million pounds!
With the advent of plastic, gnomes began to look more perky, and could be seen performing various activities, such as fishing, dozing, winking, and carrying baskets of seeds or garden tools. Plastic gnomes were much lighter, and could be painted with much brighter paints.
While gnomes are almost always portrayed as men, female gnomes do make an appearance once in a while. Some people prefer keeping gnome families, so that they don't feel guilty about leaving the poor old creature alone all the time.

Gnoming and The Gnome Liberation Effort

Gnoming is an act of stealing a gnome from the owner's garden and leaving a note, stating that the gnome would return soon or is leaving for the woods.
The first incident of gnoming was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 September, 1986, when a gnome-owner returned home to find a note placed at the spot where her garden gnome used to stand. The note read: "Dear mum, couldn't stand the solitude any longer. Gone off to see the world. Don't be worried, I'll be back soon. Love Bilbo xxx."
The traveling gnome prank takes gnoming to the next level, where the gnome disappears and is eventually seen photographed in front of popular sites throughout the world. These photographs are sent to the owner every now and then, to show that their 'liberated gnome' is happy and enjoying himself! 
The most well-known organization that carries out such pranks and sets the gnomes free, is the Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes (le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin), based in France.
In 1998, 11 garden gnomes were found having committed suicide by hanging themselves from a bridge in Briey, France. Another note was found near the site, which read "When you read these few words, we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decorations."
The attack on garden gnomes was blamed on the Garden Gnome Liberation Front.
In the movie Amélie, gnoming is shown to motivate the lead character's widowed father to travel, after he sees his stolen garden gnomes being pictured in various parts on the world.
The animated movie 'Gnomeo & Juliet' was about two gnome families who keep fighting with each other, until two enemies fall in love and reunite the families. Gnomes mentioned in the Harry Potter Series are unlike the ones found in the 'Muggle' world. These garden gnomes have heads that resemble potatoes, and are exceedingly irksome.
Gnome festivals are conducted annually in many countries in honor of these mythical creatures. Some of these festivals include, The Victorian Gnome Festival held in Australia and The Fairy and Gnome Festival held in Savannah (Georgia).