KENNEWICK -- Not everyone is a fan of garden gnomes, but I am.
I like the little fellas that are statues of mythical humanlike creatures who supposedly help out in the garden at night. And let's face it -- everyone could use a little extra help in their garden.
This year at WSU Master Gardener Exhibit at the Benton-Franklin Fair & Rodeo there will be a small collection of the garden gnomes that I've picked up during the past several years.
This year I couldn't resist a 2-foot garden gnome named Bashful. He will be there too.
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Today in the U.S. you can find a variety of plastic, resin, concrete and pottery gnomes in different sizes and poses along with varying personalities from friendly to gruff. Traditionally, garden gnomes have a long, white beard and wear a red, pointy hat.
The custom of garden gnomes did not start in the 1960s with plastic versions of Snow White's seven dwarfs. This quaint tradition actually started in the 1800s with a German statue maker who crafted various terra cotta figures. Phillip Griebel manufactured ceramic garden statues of deer and fairies in a rural part Germany. Griebel made an excellent decision adding gnomes to his line of garden statuary.
Not only were these little guys (traditionally less than 14 inches tall) decorative, but superstitious farmers and gardeners believed gnomes protected their crops from thieves and pests. The Germans went wild over Griebel's gnomes, necessitating mass production. The statues originally were called Gartenzwergs, or "garden dwarfs," but in the 1930s they became known as gnomes.
By the 1870s, Griebel and another manufacturer, August Heissner, had become the two big names in garden gnome production, enabling the tradition to spread throughout Europe and beyond.
Garden gnome production came to a stop with the beginning of WWII, but you can't keep a good gnome down, and production started again after the war.
In the late 1940s, the gnome statues became a leading export of East Germany. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, other eastern European countries decided to manufacture gnomes too, but the Griebel family was not deterred by all the copycats and still manufactures their pottery gnomes today.
In the 1960s, large, brightly colored, plastic garden gnomes became a craze in the U.S. While many considered them campy, for others they became a symbol of tackiness and fell out of favor.
In recent years, I've noted a resurgence of gardeners' passion for gnomes. Gardeners with a little whimsy in their soul find a tasteful garden gnome is a fun decoration. But it's up to you to decide: gnomes or no gnomes.
Come visit our modest collection of garden gnomes at the WSU Master Gardener Exhibit in Building 1 at the fair. Our exhibit this year focuses on 10 easy-to-grow herbs you can grow in your garden.
There also will be Master Gardeners available to help answer your questions. See you at the fair.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.