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The modern versions of the diminutive garden creature are more stylish than ever. Capture a little magic in your green space with one placed in the perfect position

As we celebrate International Gnome Day (June 21), it is time to rethink your ideas about the garden gnome. Did you know garden gnomes are symbols of good luck?

This spring, consider a spot for a gnome in your garden. Gnomes are part of a family of mythical forest folk which includes brownies, fairies and goblins. The word “gnomi” was first used in 16th century German literature to refer to the human-like creatures described in the folklore of the time.

Garden gnomes appeared in the 1840s, when Philip Griebel, a well-known German sculptor, moulded statues out of terracotta clay. Pointy hats were added to the figurines by German sculptor, August Heissner in 1872.

Early gnomes had shorter red hats with floppy tips and sported thick white beards. Picture: Lukas Otto

The world’s most expensive gnome is found in a collection of 21 gnomes brought from Germany to the UK in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham. After Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937, gnomes resembling the pudgy dwarfs gained popularity, but gnome production was halted during World War II.

However, the brash commercialisation and shiny plastic construction of boom time gnomes sadly led to the ornaments being labelled as kitsch. By the late 1980s, they were even banned from appearing in gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show in London.

Celebrity folk.
Gnomes made a surprise
appearance at the Chelsea
Flower Show in 2013,
when the gnome ban was lifted
in aid of charity.
PICTURE: RHS/JUSTIN TALLIS

Celebrity gnomes

Gnome movies helped to bring gnome culture back into fashion with the 3D animated film Gnomeo & Juliet in 2011. A gnome version of Shakespeare’s famous play, the movie helped to revitalise interest in garden gnomes.

Around this time, Australians introduced the well-known celebrity travelling gnome prank, which involves taking pictures of a garden gnome next to famous landmarks worldwide.

“Kern the Gnome” was photographed at the North Pole’s Amundsen-Scott Research Station in 2012, and “roaming gnomes” have made appearances on the reality TV show The Amazing Race.

In 2013, the Royal Horticultural Society lifted a quarter-century ban on gnomes for the 100th Chelsea Flower Show in London to help raise funds for charity. Celebrities such as Elton John, Joanna Lumley and Jerry Hall participated in the fundraiser by each painting a gnome that depicted their characters for a special Royal Horticultural Society Showcase at the centenary show.

Singer Elton John painted a bright pink gnome with sparkly sunglasses for the 100th Chelsea Flower Show in London. Picture: Supplied

Not surprisingly, Elton John’s gnome was bright pink with sparkled pink sunglasses.

Modern gnomes

Nurseryman Morné Faulhammer shows off his favourite gnome. Picture: Supplied

Gone are the days of the tacky 1950s plastic gnomes that fade after just a few months in the sun. Today, modern gnomes are made from high-tech polyresin, improving their look, craftsmanship and longevity. With gnomes making a comeback, should you be looking to include one in your garden? 

“Absolutely,” says Morné Faulhammer from Super Plants in Tokai. “Gardening is fun and should be whimsical, with an air of fantasy. Gnomes provide a colourful accent to the garden and there are so many to choose from.”

Modern gnomes are manufactured from polyresin, improving their look and longevity. Picture: Morné Faulhammer

Faulhammer’s range includes imported gnomes of all different shapes, colours and poses. The gnomes are manufactured from poly-resin and are lightweight, but are also able to withstand the wind, with a good quality paint to resist fading. Locally made concrete gnomes are also available.

Landscaping with gnomes

Where should you place a gnome? Gnomes can be used as accents in the garden and the same rules apply for placing any small ornament.

◆ Choose gnomes according to your garden theme. For example, a fishing gnome close to a pond. Gnomes with welcome signs are popular at entrances or along a pathway that leads to the front door.

◆ Gnomes can also be placed on a stepping stone or wood slice on the lawn, tucked away in the foliage or placed on the steps leading to a patio or pool area.

◆ For a colourful gnome, choose a place with lots of greenery and pick up on flowering plants in the colours of the gnome’s clothing. For example, a gnome with a blue shirt in a sea of purple alyssums or a gnome with a yellow hat close to a yellow or purple pansy bed.

◆ A collection of small gnomes can be placed in a large container for a whimsical gnome “village”, suitable in a garden where children play.

◆ A collection of gnomes can add interest to a garden seating area when placed accordingly. Many collectors display their gnomes in a woodland-like setting with other forest folk.

◆ Gnomes can also be placed on decks or patios.

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