Garden History and Design: Gnomes
How did this creature of folklore come to be the rosy-cheeked denizen found in gardens across the world?
Small engraved statues of gnomes started to make an appearance in Germany and Austria in the 18th century. The origins of the first ceramic garden gnome are unclear but many manufacturers in Germany became well known for their gnome designs. By the late 19th century there were over a dozen German manufacturers alone.
These statues inspired diminutive porcelain figures of gnomes in England which were popular throughout the 19th century and featured in many Victorian-era homes as table decorations; eventually making their way into the garden as good luck charms for the house. Sir Charles Isham is credited with importing the first garden gnomes to his English estate in the 1840s.
With the release of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, gnomes saw a rise in popularity once again. Once they started to be mass produced, however, they were marked as low-class knickknacks and mostly found in over-the-top whimsy gardens.
Gnomes became wildly popular again in the late 1970s thanks to The Secret Book of Gnomes series, released in the U.S. by publishing exec Andrew Stewart. While writers on garden ornamentation urged people not to feature gnomes in their gardens, these cautionary words gave rise to a new generation of gnomes that found instant popularity. Thanks to popular culture, gnomes have made yet another comeback and can be found in all sorts of gardens. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes will no doubt be around forever.
Brittany Spencer-King, Research Assistant