“I see gnomes as guardians of the unconscious,” says Ann Atkin, founder of The Gnome Reserve and Wildflower Garden in Devon, England. “At the same time they are very humorous.” As the holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gnomes and pixies, Atkins is a true gnome-it-all and the ideal human to ask about a gnome-friendly garden.I
Her over 2,000 gnomes and pixies live in the woodlands of her four-acre garden near Cornwall, with a “stream running through, bluebells and mosses, and views across open countryside to Dartmoor in the distance.” Her, or their, wildflower garden grows “many species of wildflowers, herbs, grasses and ferns, labeled for people to identify with birds, butterflies, fairies and a few more gnomes all living happily together.” The Reserve is open to the public from April – October and for about only $5 visitors can commune with the little fellas, all while wearing a borrowed gnome hat. Many of her visitors “laugh like a child while they are with the gnomes…. which is lovely.”
You don’t have to travel to England to see gnomes in their natural habitats, just check out the Denver Botanic Gardens Instagram page on Gnomatic Mondays. Communications Director Erin Bird takes their currently unnamed gnome out for his popular photo op every week. Though he spends much of the time in the staff offices, he looks forward to his weekly expeditions. “He’s in a different, obscure part of the gardens” says his caretaker. They find a hidden spot in the 23-acre park, snap his pic and post it on the public garden’s account, for fans to guess where he’s hiding.
“He really enjoys the tropical conservatory because it’s warm and humid,” says Bird. “In the summertime he likes to check out all the seasonal flowers outside,” especially the brightly colored flowers that draw butterflies and other pollinators to the Birds and Bees section of the Gardens. “That would be a fun spot if the gnomes and fairies are attracted to those kind of nectar and pollinating areas.”
Amy Yarger, Director of Horticulture at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster agrees. “Bright colors from early spring to late fall are key in attracting and keeping your gnomes,” she writes via email. “By choosing the right flowering plants and creating broad swaths and clumps of pinks, purples, yellows and oranges, you are adding nectar for adult butterflies and creating a beautiful backdrop for gnome frolicking.”
Yarger suggests creating an environment similar to what butterflies enjoy. “Butterflies and gnomes appreciate a lot of the same things when they look for a garden to call home. A sunny, yet sheltered spot, featuring different heights of shrubs and flowering plants, creates the right balance of warmth and safety. Butterflies and gnomes both like to soak up the sunshine, but they don’t like cold wind, so they will nestle in among the protected parts of the garden at night or when the weather is bad.”
One trip to your local home and garden, craft, or ranch supply store gives budding horticulturalists everything they need to create an affordable gnome garden, or to decorate the one they already have.
Front Range Gardens in Broomfield carries “just about any type of outdoor gnome, from the concrete ornamental ones to the ones that you put out during the summer and you bring in over the winter time.” says their long time grower Misty Phillips.
They carry all different sizes and personalities too, “because we’re not all the same types of people so why should our little garden people all be the same?” Her personal favorite? The ‘grumpy gnome’. “He’s playing an instrument and he’s just grouchy. It’s funny because the people who gyrate towards him, you look at him and (they) think ‘you’re just a little grumpy, you’re going to be happy with us, little friend.’ We have a complete line of fairy gardening stuff too,” she adds.
Jax Ranch and Home in Lafayette also carries a wide array of gnomes, particularly the ones doing industrious things like “hoeing or shoveling or holding a lantern,” says an employee there. Good old McGuckin Hardware keeps the statues in stock all year round, and is adding more as the weather warms.
Prices for the standard foot-high lawn run about $15 – 35 at most of these local shops, though artisanal ones may cost you more. As popularity of the traditional, 12-18 inch gnome with his red pointed cap grows, they’ve become more customized. Want to rock a Denver Broncos gnome on your front porch? GnomeFanatics.com carries it for about $20, if you can’t find one at the mall. Proclaim your favorite team, hobby, interest or profession with a quick online search. GardenFun.com carries hundreds of different types.
While all their candy is “gnome made,” buying one of these little guys from The Gnome’s Nook might be a tougher. Every child who attends a Nook party leaves with their own gnome, but it’s more of an adoption than a purchase. They’re more about the experience than selling you a souvenir.
For the more subversive gardener, Uncommon Goods sells Gnome-Be-Gone metal sculptures carrying off a gnome for $125. The zombie apocalypse has not let gnomes get away unscathed. Think Geek carries undead, survivor, and just plain evil lawn gnomes, and Darkside Creations in Colorado Springs makes especially gory gnomes (check out his etsy shop).
Gnome Sweet Home
Whether you choose a traditional gnome, or a tiny, more whimsical gnome, they’ll all want furniture and accessories.
“In truth we really are more focused on fairy gardens, a very popular trend right now,” admits Ashley Giles from Sturtz & Copeland Greenhouse in Boulder. “We do have little miniature gnomes that go along with the fairy gardens.” But she assures everyone gnomes get along with fairies and love when they decorate. “We get into the more decorative elements as far as fairy swings, helping them create fairy swings and benches, picnic areas.
They also teach Fairy Garden Magic classes. “We show them from the bottom up,” how to create a fairy garden that most gnomes would love to share. “The Spring classes we get a lot of people, because these end up being projects parents want to give to their kids through the summer.” Giles says. Building fairy gardens outdoors or in terrariums are, “something to give (kids) to work on over the summer when they’re out of school.“
Classes are always free, they just ask customers to buy their supplies there, though they also welcome people bringing in a few of their favorite things to plant in. “Often times it’s a container, a loved container that folks will bring in and sometimes it actually is, ‘I have this little spot in my garden that I just need advice on creating space for” and buy the ornaments. “Then again, sometimes people really just want to do something they can have on their coffee table.”
They also offer terrariums classes. “It’s a similar kind of feeling of doing a garden in miniatures” says Giles. “We find that adults tend to really enjoy doing the terrariums where kids like to do the fairy gardens or the gnome gardens but it’s really the same idea.“
Sturtz & Copeland’s terrarium and fairy gardening classes are free and are best for ages 8 and up. The next fairy gardening class is Saturday, March 21 at 1pm. “Check our website often because the classes are added weekly.“
For examples of completed fairy gardens, drop by Gwynne’s Greenhouse in Longmont. “We’re just refreshing ours right now,” says Kate Hart, this year’s official fairy garden designer at Gwynne’s. She’s brainstorming a new look like for their official fairy garden, like finding old treasures to “creatively fix up something to make it look new again.” She plans on using a lot of bright colors like key lime green, oranges and wildflower blues. “It’s going to be on our front table so… when people walk by they can see examples of what a fairy garden would look like.”
Not all fairy gardens are full of tea parties and frills. “Some of this fairy garden stuff is very rustic,” says Hart. “Right now we have a great supply of farm barns and silos and things to set up like a pig and little animals and cows and rabbits that you could make a little garden scene. We also have little bird houses for the fairy garden even little slides like a playground slide ,” pagodas, and chairs and trellises. “You gotta have everybody there to make the whole system work, right?”
Furniture and accessories at Gwynee’s, Front Range and Sturtz & Copeland, average about $5 for fairy sized furniture, but tiny watering cans and tools start at only 99 cents and more artisanal items can run up to $30. Gnomes are not as fancy as fairies; most would be happy to live in a little house made or bark or stones if a loving child made it. Front Range Gardens recommends just coming in and asking for advice. “I’ve always said ‘pick out one thing that you really like and I’ll help you work with it.’” Says Phillips. “We have no problem working with people’s ideas. We’re always available to help people put stuff together in fun and exciting ways. Once you give them a couple of good ground ideas they are just pretty much able to run with their own desires and thoughts on how they want it to look and feel.“
Creating a gnome garden is one of the easiest ways to introduce gardening for kids of all ages. Phillips says incorporating little gnome and fairy sculptures into the family gardens helps children “connect with the plants and with the ground. You are creating a miniature landscape for creatures your kids can relate to and who they want to keep happy and healthy.”
“When it comes to little children I always suggest, have fun with them,” advises Phillips. “Move these things around your yard, let your kids go explore and play and see what’s going on.”
At Sturtz & Copeland, “when we teach people about fairy gardening, the first and most important thing is compatible planting.” says Giles. “Being that we’re a greenhouse and nursery we’re really more focused on the plants, the success of the plants and therefore the success of the gardener.
We really want to make sure that the plants are appropriate for the environment and that they work well together so we’ll ask our customers questions like ‘is it going to be a shady area, is it a wet area? Is it partial sun/shade ? How often is it really going to be attended to? Does it need to be fairly self sufficient, that sort of thing.“
“Bright colors from early spring to late fall are key in attracting and keeping your gnomes,” says Amy Yarger, director of Horticulture at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster. “By choosing the right flowering plants and creating broad swaths and clumps of pinks, purples, yellows and oranges, you are adding nectar for adult butterflies and creating a beautiful backdrop for gnome frolicking.” She suggests creating an environment similar to what butterflies enjoy. “It turns out that butterflies and gnomes appreciate a lot of the same things when they look for a garden to call home!
“A sunny, yet sheltered spot, featuring different heights of shrubs and flowering plants, creates the right balance of warmth and safety. Butterflies and gnomes both like to soak up the sunshine, but they don’t like cold wind, so they will nestle in among the protected parts of the garden at night or when the weather is bad.”
The Gnomatic Mondays gnome agrees with Yarger. With their many pollinating plants, the Botanic Gardens host quite a few butterflies too. “We have a lot of butterflies and we also have a lot of plants that attract bees, so we have a specific birds and bees garden,” says Bird, “so that would be a fun spot if the gnomes and fairies are attracted to those kind of nectar and pollinating areas.”
You’ve Come a Lawn Way, Baby
Though just about every retail shop from Walgreens to Walmart starts carrying the standard red and green yard gnomes every Spring, garden centers Like Front Range, Sturtz & Copeland in Boulder, and Gwynne’s Greenhouse in Longmont tend to carry a larger variety of gnomes all year round and will guide you in finding the right figure and all its accessories. Prices run about $15 – $35.