Garden gnomes or figurines have been around for longer than you might think. Small figures for the garden were popular in Europe during the Renaissance, although gnomes and other mythical creatures have their roots further back in European folk tales. During the 19th century, wooden and porcelain gnomes became popular in Europe, especially in Germany, and were believed to bring good luck and repel garden pests.
The craze for garden gnome statues spread to France and England, and eventually across the Atlantic to the US. Today, gnomes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are so popular that International Gnome Day has been celebrated since 2002, and there are still an estimated 25 million garden gnomes in Germany. Gnomes can add a whimsical or humorous look to your outdoor space or garden, whether you have a window box outside your apartment, or acres of formal gardens.
Of course, most of us know what the typical garden gnome looks like – a figure usually about a foot high, wearing a red cap and a beard, often smoking a pipe, sitting on a toadstool, or fishing, sleeping, gardening or occupied in some outdoors task such as sawing wood or hammering a nail. Today, most gnome garden figures are mass produced, although there are a handful of companies still making them individually, and they are usually made from clay or resin. The oldest known gnome anywhere in the world is on display at Lamport Hall, a stately home in Northamptonshire in the UK. Lampy, as he is affectionately known, is over 125 years old and is insured for over a million dollars.
However, if you don’t care too much for the traditional gnome look, you can always choose a female garden gnome, gnomes that are a little risqué, gnomes dressed in contemporary clothing, and gnomes that look like caricatures of famous people. A zombie garden gnome looks just like the name suggests, and if it doesn’t shock your guests, it can at least provide a talking point at your next cookout. Interactive gnomes that move, talk or light up when people walk past them are also popular, and not just at Halloween. Whatever style or size of garden gnome you want, you can find it and if your local garden center or home improvement superstore doesn’t stock it, you can buy it online somewhere.
Although there are no firm rules when it comes to choosing garden gnome statues, there are some things to keep in mind. The traditional garden gnome is perhaps a better match if you have a more traditional or cottage style garden, whereas a more contemporary design may appeal to you more. Many people consider their gnomes to be a reflection of their personality, and like their gnome to say something about them, or their hobbies or beliefs. Keep in mind the size of your gnome; a large garden gnome is obviously more suited to a larger space, and can become the focal point of your garden or outdoor space. The world’s largest garden gnome is in a garden in Poland, and stands almost 18 feet high.
Finally, keep in mind the cost and the quality. Just like everything else, you get what you pay for and a cheap garden ornament may be damaged more easily, or the colors may fade. Look for gnomes that are designed to be left outside year round, and are resistant to rain, wind and snow. It’s all too easy for a large garden gnome, or a gnome garden to be damaged by a running child, an excitable dog or a stray baseball, so if you have a large or costly garden gnome, placing it in a secure location is important.
Of course, you can put your garden gnome statues anywhere, although some gnomes seem better suited to certain locations. It may be a cliché, but the obvious place to put a gnome with a fishing rod is by the side of a pond or stream, a reclining or sleeping gnome looks good on the lawn or patio, and one of those gnomes holding a ‘welcome’ sign just has to go by the front door. Several gnomes look good scattered about the place, especially if you have them tucked away under bushes, in flower beds, etc. and gnome hunting can be a fascinating pastime for small children. Gnome collecting can be addictive, and you may be one of those people who ends up with a gnome garden instead of a vegetable garden.
Once you start shopping around for gnomes, you may find it hard to believe the variety available. Your gnome may not repel pests from the garden, or bring you good fortune, but it can transform your outdoor space, evoking a rustic charm or the folk tales of long ago Europe.
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