Garden statues can add just the right touch of character to our home’s yard and let more of our personality shine through. A stone head of Buddha or a statue of an angel can set a spiritual tone, while animal garden statues of frogs, rabbits, ladybugs, and similar shapes might bring a more whimsical feel.

Statues have adorned gardens for centuries. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Greeks and ancient Romans built thousands of bronze statues in honor of the gods, heroes, and philosophers. When Rome was the world’s capital, priests would place sculptures of gods in the gardens to guard against evil spirits, bring fortune, and pave the way for a more prosperous future.

Deep in the forests of our most beloved and charming fairy tales, you will find fascinating mythical human creatures who are short in stature, rotund in shape, and cheerful in nature. These are gnomes, earth dwellers, protectors of crops, flowers, and treasure.

We see gnomes in many fashionable gardens. Those small, chubby, mischievous-looking outdoor statues pose and pursue various life activities like fishing, napping, or even smoking a pipe. The gnome is the symbol of the magic of a garden.

With their colorful history, gnomes remain one of the most popular garden statues. How did the tradition of placing statues of these tiny men with beards and pointy red hats begin?

During the Renaissance period, gnomes grew in popularity as Swiss literature described the creatures’ protective properties and mystical nature in detail and noted their protective powers.

Small gnome statues began appearing in Europe in the early 1600s, and the garden or lawn gnomes appeared in Germany in the late 1800s. Local myths suggested that underground gnomes came alive at night to work in the garden and protect the gardens from evil sorcery.

Stories of the garden gnome’s magic delighted children and landholders felt secure knowing that the gnome would help protect them from intruders, much like a religious statue is said to protect from evil spirits. Gnomes would move at night, watching properties and taking measures to improve garden growth. The fairy tale stories grew, beginning the garden gnome’s legacy.

From Germany, garden gnomes’ popularity quickly spread throughout Europe to France and England, and eventually, the statues made their way into gardens in North America. The migration of Europeans to the US brought with it the garden gnome tradition, and it survives here as much as it did in these migrants’ home countries.

The garden gnome’s popularity waned during World War I but was reignited by Walt Disney in the 1930s with the release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which focused on the gnomes.

It is hard to deny the magic of a garden gnome when considering its rich history. Garden gnomes are found in the garden, but these mystical creatures grace pillows, greeting cards, and kitchen décor as well.

These tiny creatures are part of modern-day life. Today garden gnomes are still extremely popular and are seen on lawns and gardens worldwide, and their appeal will continue for years to come.

With an array of gnomes available on the market, we are sure to find one that perfectly represents our sense of humor or passions while accenting the garden, porch, or patio. Garden gnomes come in various styles, designs, and colors, adding life and even amusement to our garden area. Lawn gnomes add a sense of magical whimsy to any outdoor space and make a fun addition to any garden. Modern garden gnomes can also portray famous figures or stereotypes. Biker gnomes, for example, have the traditional pointy hats but also wear leather vests.

The garden gnome stands ready to protect, charm, and flourish in the backyard, garden, or on whatever part of the earth it dwells.

Nancy J. Schaaf is a retired English/literature educator and also a retired nurse.

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