The history of the gnome by the Garden Ninja

Guest blogger, Lee (a.k.a The Garden Ninja!) delves into the history of the gnome!

“Garden gnomes are often seen as lovable. The brightly-coloured, terracotta models stand steadfast in gardens all year, just like its summer every day. My hazy childhood gardening memories are filled with explorations of neighbouring gardens trying to find gnomes, or racing around garden centres with my grandparents to see what the latest selection of funny gnomes would be!

It seems the likelihood of seeing a cheery garden gnome is becoming diminishing. Even though they stand there with their painted dungarees and smiles never fading, in reality they are facing a crisis. Like a line up from Crimewatch, gnomes are in real trouble.

Even writing this article in defence of garden gnomes puts my credibility as a garden designer at jeopardy…! I am potentially risking expulsion from my peer group of fellow RHS show garden designers, horticultural denouncement from the allotment or being told ‘its members only’ next time I visit my local nursery. Eek!

However, the Garden Ninja has never shied away from doing what he feels is right, to I am following my heart, and shall try to calm the tides against the humble garden gnome. I’m not saying that every gardener should race out and binge-fill their borders with gnomes, but each gardener should at least respect the garden gnome and it’s pivotal role in gardening.

Like all trends ,the origin of garden gnomes is hotly contested by two opposing sides. On one side, we have Germany claiming that they invented them and the Swiss also laying claim to similar wooden gnome statues all around the same time period. However, in around 1840, the German ceramic industry started to produce the first commercial garden gnomes by the hundreds, churning out the happy little figurines far faster than the Swiss could whittle their wooden counterparts. So I guess Germany won the original argument by volume and material choice alone.

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It was in 1847 that Sir Charles Isham brought 21 gnomes back to his Northamptonshire residence Lamport Hall here in the UK. The gnome had landed on the UK Isles ready to infect the nation’s hearts with their cheeky demeanour, smoking pipes, fishing rods and dungarees. Lamport’s original gnome is famously known as Lamp, and is currently insured for £1 million! It is this gnome that gave way to the signature gnome fashion accessory; the red hat.

The British aristocracy has led many a garden design trend and gnomes are no exception. Playful and rambunctious gnomes arrived and were showcased by gardeners who were proud of their gardens. It was almost a nod to the most manicured of residential gardens, like a little bit of the garden elite were present.

‘A good enough home for a gnome’ was almost a subtitle to these gardens. By the 1960’s garden gnomes were an established fixture of British gardening!!”

That leads us perfectly on to the big Greenfingers December promotion with River Island– ‘Give a gnome a home’! Will you??

Read about why the RHS banned gnomes here!

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Catch up with Lee on twitter and his website, and look out for future articles about the humble gnome!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. mpanchuk says:

    Michael you are a wizard! Thanks!

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