In disciplines such as landscape design there are core principles to follow for success. There are also seemingly hard and fast rules put into place by defenders of the aesthetic that fail to take into account the core purpose of a garden, and that is joy. No matter what the main reason for having a garden, be it a patient healing garden at a major hospital or a cozy little backyard oasis for a sweet little old lady, the garden should ultimately bring joy. Sometimes though, design professionals get too caught up in their own design sense and rigid approach and set out mandates to eradicate things they deem tacky or incongruent with the principles of design. And so a jihad is issued against garden gnomes, resin statues, wooden cutouts, and puntastic signs all in the name of “design.” As a perpetual rebel and outlier I of course had to respond in defense of garden gnomes and other “tacky” yard art.
Wave Your Freak Flag (Just Remember To Wear Pants)
Commercial spaces tend to have to appease a broader range of folks, but when it comes to our homes, they are our safe place. Our oasis and retreat in this crazy world where we can be ourselves, let our hair down, binge watch embarrassing shows, blast 80’s pop, and paint the walls any damn color we choose. The yard is an extension of that personal canvas, a place to stretch our legs, cultivate a piece of earth, and connect with Mother Nature. So if we want to mark our territory with a monogrammed flag fluttering in the breeze and dot the flower beds with concrete angels and tubby gnomes we should.
Yes, in some instances people have chosen to live in neighborhoods with HOAs and so yes in those instances do play nice with the neighbors and abide by their rules. But self-expression is the cornerstone of the human condition. Its our way of showing our relation and connection to the prime creator while proclaiming our self-identity among the masses. Its also our way of bring that which brings us joy and we find beautiful right to our doorstep.
If It Makes You Smile
My motto is if it makes you happy and you’re not hurting anybody then do it. For me, those silly wooden cutouts of the old lady in her dress and bloomers bending over in the garden makes me smile. My grandmother G.G. had one in her Victory garden. The best part was she wore the same dress and bloomers and every time she was weeding you would see double. Its one of my favorite memories, paired with her baking fresh bread and making her famous apple butter.
And I think the gnome revolution and the plethora of styles that have manifested are fantastic! You can have a traditional gnome, a biker gnome, glow in the dark gnomes, zombie gnomes, and even a dinosaur terrorizing gnomes. You can mottle your garden with pun ridden signs like “Aloe, how are you” and “No Thyme Like The Present.” Or the hopeful, yet ineffective, “Free Weeds: Pick Your Own.” You can repurpose wine bottles and mattress springs into art and show off your Pinterest hacking skills with up cycled finds. The possibilities are endless!
The garden isn’t supposed to be a stuffy, over-stylized space where everything is so refined and uniform that you’re afraid to touch it. It’s an interactive creative extension of the self and the home, not a museum. I just want folks to realize it’s okay to not have an Architecture Digest quality landscape, and that a whimsical, eclectic space isn’t by default “tacky” or “wrong.”
Yes it is our job as landscape design consultants to help clients achieve the vision they can’t on their own and to guide them to make choices that will yield the best results. However, I can’t tell someone what to like and not like. Furthermore, all of us have quirks and affections toward goofy things that bring us joy and spark fond memories, like GG’s bloomer’s in the garden. So let us have our garden gnomes and other tacky yard art and focus on more important issues, like stopping folks from wearing socks with sandals.