Sunday, June 19, 2011

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Maybe it’s because I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at an impressionable age, or maybe it’s my German heritage, but I’ve always had a secret love of garden gnomes.

For years, I’ve fought the urge to buy one. They were, after all, considered the height of tackiness when I was growing up in the ‘60s. Practically every garden seemed to be bursting at the seams with one too many of these little creatures.

Still, I read with interest in the late 1990’s about the Gnome Liberation Front which “freed” garden gnomes in France. Then Travelocity’s “Roaming Gnome” came along in 2004 with its cute little pointy red hat and made gnomes respectable again.

the Roaming Gnome
The Roaming Gnome
Now that the movie “Gnomeo and Juliet” is a box-office hit, 2011 is definitely shaping up as the year of the gnome.

Garden gnomes – a kinder, gentler version of the dwarves featured in childhood fairy tales -- have a long history. They date back to the early 1800’s in Germany where, according to legend, they brought health, wealth and happiness to their owners.

Gnomes became all the rage in England in the 1840’s after Sir Charles Isham ordered 21 terracotta models from Germany for his Lamport Hall. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well since then. The prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London went so far as to ban gnomes and other colorful garden creatures in 2006 from its featured gardens.

Lowbrow? Maybe, if you’re talking about cheap and cheesy plastic models that quickly fade. But gnomes – when well done – can add a sense of whimsy, of magic to a garden.

Garden gnome red hat

There’s no better place for that, especially if your garden is visited by children. And in this day and age, who couldn’t use a little more health and wealth?

Of course, garden gnomes have changed a lot since I was a kid. Most, like the Roaming Gnome, still wear red hats. One website, though, offers “hipsters” wearing purple, blue and all the colors of the rainbow. There also are bikers, both male and female, dressed in leather jackets. (Harley-Davidson, are you listening?)

If you’re a sports fanatic, you’re in luck. Gnomes are now available in the uniforms of your favorite football, basketball, baseball or hockey team. And they aren’t always G-rated. You can get "naughty" gnomes holding a beer can or mooning garden visitors.

With such a broad range of choices, how could I decide which gnome to get?
I finally bought a little gnome couple for my husband on our 25th wedding anniversary. I’m planning to put it out in the garden on June 21, International Gnome Day. While critics may say that there’s gno fool like a gnome fool, I will display it with the same pride as any flower or shrub.

Garden gnome couple

By Karen Geisler

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