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What are Yard Gnomes?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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Yard gnomes, also known as garden gnomes, are decorative figurines placed in lawns and gardens. They usually look like a small older bearded man, or occasionally a woman, wearing pointed red hats. They are very popular for decoration, primarily in Europe and North America. Yard gnomes are generally fairly inexpensive, and many people purchase numerous gnomes for their yards.

Yard gnomes may be made of stone, ceramic, terra cotta, or heavy plastic; they are typically colorfully painted, but some are just stone-colored. These yard ornaments are of German origin, and were first manufactured by Philip Griebel in the mid-1800s in Thuringia, Germany. The German people believed that the ceramic yard gnomes would help out in the garden in the evening, after the occupants of the house had gone to sleep. It was also popular at the time to decorate one's yard with ceramic animals, and the gnomes were a natural progression.

By the late 1800s, yard gnomes had become popular in Europe, and eventually made their way to the United States by the 1930s, where they continued to steadily increase in popularity. These yard decorations are now readily available in gardening stores or online. Yard gnomes are often depicted doing different activities, such as smoking a pipe, napping, fishing, or gardening, for example. They are available in different sizes; miniature garden gnomes may be placed in smaller potted plants, for instance, but full sized garden gnomes are usually not much taller than one or two feet (30 to 60 cm).

In addition, yard gnomes are often used in pranks. People frequently steal gnomes out of other people's yards; conversely, some people leave gnomes in yards, which is sometimes called "gnoming." It is common for people to take a small yard gnome on a trip and photograph the gnome in front of important landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, for example. The travel company Travelocity™ has used this idea of a traveling yard gnome in its advertising campaign.

Garden gnomes can make a nice housewarming gift as well. Yard gnomes may be used in addition to other types of lawn decor to decorate a yard or garden. Bird baths, lights, stone work, other types of figurines, and reflecting balls are all popular lawn decorations that are often used for aesthetic purposes. It is important to use lawn decor in moderation, however, and consider the size of the lawn that is being decorated to avoid going overboard.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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