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The History of the Garden Gnome

Jami has been an online writer for several years. Her articles focus on everything from pet maintenance to ear piercings.

Have you ever wondered about the history of garden gnomes?

Have you ever wondered about the history of garden gnomes?

What Is a Garden Gnome?

A garden gnome (also known as a lawn gnome) is a figurine of a small humanoid creature, typically wearing a tall, pointy, red hat, that serves as decoration for gardens and/or lawns.

The gnomes are believed to protect the owner from evil. The figurines originated in Germany in the 19th century and were called Gartenzwerg, which literally translates to “garden dwarf.” It wasn't until the 1930s that the English term “gnome” came to be.

Hand-carved wooden garden gnome

Hand-carved wooden garden gnome

Garden Gnome Typology

There are many different types of garden gnomes. They appear in different positions, and they can be made from different types of materials.

Typically, the gnomes are male dwarfs with long, bushy white beards who wear tall, pointy red hats. They might be smoking (or holding) a pipe. They are seen in various positions, including standing, lying down, sitting, etc., and they engage in various activities (fishing, napping, etc.). Garden gnomes can be made from wood, porcelain, ceramic, or terra cotta.

The History of the Garden Gnome

Garden gnomes have always had a unique history in Europe, and they have even wedged their way into American pop culture, becoming quite the craze. Now, they are seen everywhere, from the lawn next door to the lawn across the world.

Garden decorations, especially statuary, have been common throughout Europe since the Renaissance. It was believed that these small, human-like beings would ward away evil from the owner.

In 1616, the statues only depicted Gobbi (an Italian hunchback). By the late 18th century, porcelain “house dwarfs” were created and produced on a wide scale (at this time, Switzerland was also producing wooden statues of dwarfs and gnomes, as well). Soon enough, gnomes became a very popular house, lawn, or garden ornament and this popularity steadily grew throughout the 19th century.

They have been manufactured, produced, and distributed for centuries, but the “title of manufacturer of the first garden gnome is hotly contested,” according to Wikipedia. It is possible that their first manufacturer was in 1841, when these early gnomes were being produced by Baehr and Maresch of Dresden. However, there is evidence suggesting that they were being produced by many other countries as early as 1860, as well.

“Philip Griebel made terra cotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.” (Wikipedia)

Ever since gnomes came onto the hobby scene in the 19th century, small manufacturers have popped up all over Germany. Their manufacturing has spread all across Germany, and each manufacturer has its own style and design.

Germany was the first (or one of the first) countries to manufacture and produce gnomes for collectors since before the 19th century. They became very popular in Germany (there are an estimated 25 million gnomes spread across German lawns).

Gnomes are also considered to be a huge part of eastern and western European culture, and were even seen in the tales written by the Grimm brothers.

"The Brothers Grimm featured gnomes in 'The Gnome', a series of short stories detailing the lives of gnomes. These stories depict gnomes in benevolent and malevolent lights, but the first one is perhaps the most important: in it clothing is given to two helpful gnomes and they decide to serve a cobbler and his wife for the rest of their days. Other stories exist of gnomes’ helpfulness in the oral tradition and relate the willingness of gnomes to assist in gardens." (Gnomefrenzy).

Garden gnomes were first introduced into the United Kingdom when Sir Charles Isham came home from his vacation in Germany and brought 21 of the terra cotta figurines with him, displaying them in his home and lawn in 1847.

In recent history, they have made a resurgence in the United States and Western Europe. They have popped up in films, television shows, commercials, books, advertising, etc.

Today, garden gnomes are seen across the lawns and gardens of many all over the world. Their popularity continues to grow and the production of garden gnomes continues.

Pranks have even been created around the stealing of garden gnomes (most commonly referred to as gnoming). Some have even begun to travel all over the world collecting (stealing) gnomes from gardens in different countries.

Garden gnomes even have their own holiday; International Gnome Day was instituted in 2002 and is celebrated on June 21st by over a dozen countries.

The history of garden gnomes is unique, long, interesting, and even comical. They may always be popular and will likely survive and live in peoples' gardens for centuries to come.

Different types of garden gnomes.

Different types of garden gnomes.

The traveling gnome prank (the roaming gnome).

The traveling gnome prank (the roaming gnome).

Fun Facts

  • The traveling gnome prank later became the basis for Travelocity's “Roaming Gnome.”
  • In 2008, a 53-year-old French man was arrested on suspicion of stealing upwards of 170 garden gnomes.
  • A garden gnome plays an important role in the 2001 French-German film, Amélie.

How to Make Your Own Garden Gnome



Marlene Bertrand from USA on June 27, 2019:

This is interesting information about gnomes. I saw a gnome at a home improvement store about 10 years ago and could not resist buying it. They are adorable little "creatures." Knowing the history of them adds to my enjoyment. Thank you for providing such an in-depth article.

William Grant from Wisconsin on April 06, 2013:

What about the garden gnomes inner-city cousin: the metro gnome?? I've seen them growing along the road-side near construction zones... I think they live underground... All I usually see are their hats.

Or maybe that's where they bury them when they die.... Not sure.

Adrian Palmer Edwards from Valley, Anglesey UK on March 26, 2013:

Not a gnome lover myself, but my parents liked them and had some in their garden, I grew up with them. Nice job keep it up.

summerberrie on March 25, 2013:

I love garden gnomes. We have a copy of the gnome book by Gnomes by Poortvliet and it is a favorite. Love sticking those little garden gnomes on fun places around the yard. Great hub.

Jenna Estefan from Seattle, WA on March 25, 2013:

super cute hub!

Bishop55 on March 25, 2013:

Love this! Voted up. Creative, cute, funny.

Brenda Durham on March 25, 2013:

I don't like garden gnomes either. They seem silly and creepy at the same time to me; and are a symbol of superstition that I disagree with. Like keeping a rabbit's foot for good "luck".

But I think your hub is well-written.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on March 25, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD. Very interesting article. My neighbor has about 10 of these little guys in her yard. I think they are adorable.

Voted UP, etc.etc.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on March 25, 2013:

I have a bog book about gnomes. When my niece saw it a few weeks ago, she wanted to take the book home. As a bibliophile it was tough to part with it, but I did not want to be a hypocrite as an English professor by not promoting and encouraging the love of reading and books. So I made my 7 year old niece sign a contract to return the book to me. She loved the pictures so much and kept asking everyone to fill in the words she could not read that she was driving them crazy. She has a garden gnome coming in the future as a present!

Sheri Dusseault from Chemainus. BC, Canada on March 25, 2013:

Well now I have learned something today. I didn't know anything about gnomes. But someone in my hometown took the local pubs gnome traveling. Then it just showed back up one day. Congrats on the hub of the day! You deserve it as this is great. Love the pictures!

Jennifer Brummert on March 25, 2013:

There was a newstory on NPR recently about gnomes in Oakland, CA. Should check it out..Aah, gotta love a gnome really.

Dawn from Canada on March 25, 2013:

Congrats on the Hub of the Day! I too am not a fan of gnomes, ewwww I say! Great hub on them though and I enjoyed the history!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 25, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD!

Very interesting history. I have a few ceramic molds for gnomes, and can make as many or as few as I want. LOL Until recently, I had a small, wholesale ceramics business, and the gnomes were never ordered much at all. I guess you have to live in a "gnomy" area. I don't see them displayed around here.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on March 25, 2013:

What a charming hub and congratulations on HOTD! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this as I love these little guys. I have had some of these gnomes at different times, but I did not know the history behind them. And it is quite a history. Thanks for a really fun and informative hub!

Your Cousins from Atlanta, GA on March 25, 2013:

Hey, I remember the story about the cobbler and the gnomes! This was an interesting feature. Voted up and interesting. Great HOTD.

Subhas from New Delhi, India on March 25, 2013:

Through your fantastic hub only I got an enriched knowledge about this figures. Very nice of you!

Edmund Custers on March 25, 2013:

I played a garden gnorm screen game sometime ago. Now I know where those guys came from.

Thanks for sharing!

Melvin Porter from New Jersey, USA on March 25, 2013:

I always wonder where these guys came from. Thanks for the interesting information.

Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on March 25, 2013:

I have a fascination on gnomes, dwarves, elves, to name a few of these characters in their own worlds, but I have no collection of any of them, or in my backyard garden. I do wish in some moments that they come visit me *smile*. I read about them and this is one nice read here. Thank you, JamiJay, and congratulations to Hub of the Day!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 25, 2013:

I gotta get me an army of gnomes... especially if they actually do help out in the garden at night as reported. That'll save me a whole bunch of time. :)

mr-veg from Colorado United States on March 25, 2013:

I love the concept and also the movie Smurfs :) ... Good One and Congrats for being hub of the day !

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on March 25, 2013:

I love to put stuff in my garden but have never used a garden gnome. I might have to look into that if they are supposed to bring good luck. I need all I can get with my plants!

newusedcarssacram from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A on March 25, 2013:

I think garden gnomes are fascinating. Thanks a lot for sharing so much interesting information about them. Congratulation on becoming Hub of The Day, this is surely a deserving Hub.

Toy Tasting from Mumbai on March 25, 2013:

Lovely Hub, Jamijay! Brings back memories of the Grimm fairy tales. Extremely visual post, love the pictures :)

Kristi Patrice Carter from Chicago, Illinois on March 25, 2013:

I didn't know anything about Garden Gnome until I read your article... I remember when I was a kid, I used to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...Now, I am loving more to recreate my backyard and put some Gnomes on my garden...Thanks for this wonderful idea that I can do this Springtime...

Ashok Goyal from 448 Dalima Vihar Rajpura 140401 Punjab India on March 25, 2013:

Beautifully Beautiful Hub indeed. I showed the photos to my grandchildren and they insisted we want it.. we want that....!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on March 22, 2013:

I love this hub. I like gnomes in the garden although I don´t have even one gnome in my garden. Seeing these photos inspire me of buying one or two from Germany and bring them with me to the Philippines. My garden would be the talk of the town because no one has a gnome in their garden. Besides that, I might put the gnomes inside the house at nighttime to avoid being stolen, lol. Thanks for sharing;-)

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on March 21, 2013:

I don't have a garden of my own. But I still like the garden gnomes.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on March 20, 2013:

Thank you for this. As I get older, I see no harm in allowing fantasy back into my life.

RodNapeda on March 20, 2013:

haha! Actually I not a reader guy, but this one got me.

Jami Johnson (author) from Somewhere amongst the trees in Vermont. on March 20, 2013:

billybuc, haha. I have never anyone who willing admitted they did not like garden gnomes :) I have always liked them and I have a lot of friends who make them themselves, but I do not own any myself, because here in Vermont there are a lot of gnomenappers. I had friends in high school that were involved with gnomenapping and they even created a special place in the woods (off trail) where they set all of them up, "releasing them back into the wild" lol.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 20, 2013:

I have a confession to make....I don't like garden gnomes. LOL Having said that, the history you shared was pretty interesting, so thanks. If this ever comes up in Trivial Pursuit I'll be ready to score.