Gnome Man’s Land: A California Fantasy Land 40 Years in the Making

Imagine walking into the backyard of an unassuming single family home, only to find thousands of pairs of beady little eyes peering out at you beneath pointy red hats.1No, this isn’t the setup for some creepy B-horror film; it’s a dream-come-true for every hardcore gnome collector. This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Gnome Man’s Land, an elaborate gnome home and garden in Santa Rosa, California.2Now this is no fly-by-night gnome collection tucked away in the bowels of obscurity. Oh, no no. This is a gnomish fantasy land nearly 40 years in the making, operated by my good friend and personal idol, Jean Fenstermaker.4Jean was inspired to create Gnome Man’s Land in the 1960s after a few key life events: her Disneyland storybook canal ride, her mother’s rock garden, and her friend who had two gnomes on an office desk. Jean’s first gnome garden was born on January 25, 1976 and spanned just 18 inches by 35 inches in size.

From the very beginning, Jean loved to create mini-themes within her garden and stories about her gnomes. With some plant clippings from her mother and tiny bridges and accessories built by her woodworking father, her gnomes’ stories began coming to life.3Over the years, Jean has created eight additional and separate gnome gardens in her backyard. There’s The Forest Rock Garden with wildlife, The Frog Garden with gnomes and amphibians co-existing in harmony, and the Life-Size Garden…which is, you guessed it, full of LIFE-SIZED GNOMES.

But keep your britches on…even in real life, gnomes are still pretty tiny.3You can find everyone from immigrant gnomes, partially-clothed gnomes using the bathroom, gnomes with gambling habits, gnomes fighting neighbor gnomes, and vegetable-growing gnomes lurking around every corner and begging for your attention.4The spring and summer seasons bring local visitors, out-of-state travelers, and gnome aficionados from around the globe to Jean’s gnome home. The typical crowd comes from church groups, “red hatters,” and senior living facilities. Gnomes are pretty fragile, and I know that if I ever have kids, I’ll be keeping my gnomes safely packed away ’til they’re old enough to understand how awesome they are.4I personally met Jean a few years ago through the International Gnome Club, where we are both tri-annual contributing newsletter writers. For over a decade now, I’ve gotten a kick out of being part of a subculture that baffles the other 99 percent of humanity.5I also just need to put this out there: Jean’s husband, Jim, deserves a ton of praise and recognition. Jim has helped build the gardens, weeds the plants, prunes the roses, AND he enthusiastically socializes with random gnome fanatics wandering through his backyard.

If I ever have a husband, he damned well better be as supportive of my gnome obsession as that Mr. Fenstermaker. And I’ll just leave it at that.6Despite Jean and Jim’s attempts at keeping a low profile, they’ve been featured in lots of newspapers – most recently the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to two subsequent radio interviews. Jean’s garden was featured in the amazing book Gnomeland by Margaret Egleton (yes, I have a copy). And TV crews have been out to her Santa Rosa home from Home & Garden TV, The Travel Channel, and ABC’s Dream Home and Collectibles.8Jean is one of the kindest and most welcoming human beings I’ve ever met. So much so that she made a sign (held up by a gnome, of course) welcoming my boyfriend and me to Gnome Man’s Land as soon as we pulled into the driveway.  Gnome collectors truly are kindred spirits.9After an extensive VIP tour of her gnome garden, Jean whipped out the Gnome Bingo cards and we settled in for some good ole’ fashioned non-monetary gambling with refreshments. Not surprisingly, each Bingo square depicted a themed section of Jean’s quirky gnome garden.7Much to my grumbling stomach’s delight, she offered to cook a delicious dinner to share with us to further chat about all-things-gnome and all-things-non-gnome. All of the dishes were adorned with gnomes, and there were even gnome cookies for dessert. Can you say gnome overload? I was practically hyperventilating for hours.10Jean has a true and unwavering passion for gnomes, and it shows so beautifully every time her eyes light up with the reflection of a red hat in the distance. She takes such pride in her home, yard, collection, and loyal following that I can’t help but admire her to the point of stealing her ideas for my own home display one day.

As I mentioned earlier, Jean and Jim like to keep a low profile. Although they are the friendliest of friendly to fellow gnome fans, they don’t exactly just open up their backyard to just anyone either.

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You just can’t be too cautious with vandals lurking in the night. I keep up with daily gnome news, and nearly every day there’s a police report filed about gnomes being maliciously stolen, broken, and vandalized!

However, if you’re ever planning a trip to the Napa Valley region of California and would like to have the BEST DAY EVER, I’m might just be able to hook you up with a Gnome Man’s Land VIP Tour.

(Restrictions and fees may apply. Kidding. Sort of.)11“Are there any real live gnomes in existence? If there are, I’d sure like to see one!” ~ The cautiously optimistic Jean Fenstermaker.

*This article was originally published in on November 12, 2014 in Alyssa v. Nature.

Breaking News! Gnome Fest in Tuscon TOMORROW! Hop on a freaking plane!

We had a nice quiet weekend in the countryside planned and welp, that just got thrown out the window!

Why, you ask?

Because we just remembered that Metro Gnome Music’s 3rd annual Gnome Fest is taking place TOMORROW!

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We have issued a gnome-wide alert to cancel manicures, find pet sitters, and disappoint distant relatives. It’ll all be worth it, because this year’s Gnome Fest is set to be even better than last year.

Read My 2013 Post About Gnome FestLet’s All Go to Tuscon on Saturday!

The festivities are taking place tomorrow October 18th at 4044 E. Speedway in Tuscon – between the hours of 11:30am and 6:00pm.

Once again, this crew will be trying to break the Guinness Book World Record for the Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Garden Gnomes. The current record is 468.

Let’s blow that lame number to smithereens, people!

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But alas this is a music shop, so the fest is also all about the music.

According to a Metro Gnome press release, Amosphere, led by 2005 Grammy Award finalist AmoChip, female-fronted trio Copper & Congress, multi-format ensemble group Genevieve & The LP’s, the 90’s alternative/grunge rock band Lollapaloozers, and the self-described “opposite of robots”: Sorry About The Garden.

There’s gonna be some weird freaking contests, including prizes for the fastest Twinkie eater and quickest Brompton Bike folder. What am I looking forward to the most? That’d be the Gnome Wobble Contest.

Stumped by those three words strung together in a sentence? Watch this wobble instructional video and boost your pop culture quotient. It’s at 3pm, and gnomes have no patience for tardiness.

Haven’t we always been telling you how much gnomes and animals get along? Metro Gnome Music will be selling gnome hats for $5 and $2 of each one will go to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. Woof! Meooooooowwwwww!

Love eating out of a motorized vehicle? There’ll be plenty of food trucks, like You Sly Dog and Gigi’s Mexican & Peruvian Fusion to satisfy your obscure cravings.

We’ll see you at the fest!

xoxo,
Kamikaze, your last-minute party guide gnome

Sleepy Gnome Bloggers Wake Up for Movie Premier!

The blogging gnomes have been a wee bit too tipsy for blog posts lately it seems. For whatever reason, the grog supply has been dwindling more than usual and they’ve been capable of little more than dumb Facebook quips.

Well I’m here to revive long-form gnome rants, once and for all.

Here, here!

No, really. Down here. Have you forgotten how short we are?

I like to think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur of the arts, so when I saw a headline today about a gnome film, my stubby ears perked up.

“Coota gnome rescue immortalised in film”

That’s what the headline read, and it’s all about the great gnome rescue of 2009.

Unfamiliar with that whole ordeal?

Photo credit: Cootamundra Herald

Photo credit: Cootamundra Herald

Around 1500 garden gnomes rescued from the late Shirley Elford’s home in 2009. They were tattered and torn, but still beautiful gnome souls in need of a little TLC.

Following the rescue, they were restored and adopted out to caring homes. Filmmakers caught wind of this phenomenon and also about the annual Australian Gnome Convention, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

According to the Cootamundra Herald, “Film producer Murray Fahey said the film will include flashbacks to the Cootamundra rescue mission as well as interviews with some of the people involved including ‘Gnome Master’ David Cooke.”

The film’s due to be released in early November, but we stateside gnome are worried that we might not have access to the screening.

Sob…sob…help us?

We might be far away, but we’re not giving up hope. We’ll be following this story as the first of November approaches and hopefully find a way to see this wonderfully promising film. Gnome films aren’t exactly the easiest to come by, so you’ve got to jump on the bandwagon while the tubas are still playing.

Until then, this is your gnome culture news for the day. Signing off…

Horace The Gnome

Do Gnomes Belong in Renaissance Fairs?

Many gnome enthusiasts believe that gnomes originated in Germany in the early 1800s and that the first gnomes appeared in England in the 1840s. However, as I attended my very first Renaissance Fair in Bristol Wisconsin, I couldn’t help but notice gnomish influences all around me.

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But wait! The Renaissance is categorized as the period of European history between the 1300s and the 1600s. So how did gnomes begin sneaking their way into these festival celebrations?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “gnome” comes from Renaissance Latin gnomus, which first appears in the works of a 16th century Swiss alchemist named Paracelsus. He described gnomes as diminutive spirits that were small, lived underground, and appeared in Renaissance magic and alchemy. In his publications, Paracelsus wrote that gnomes were about a foot tall, could move through solid earth, and were weary of human contact. You can read more about Paracelsus’ gnomes in Alan G. Hefner’s essay, “Paracelus’ Natural Spirits,” and Princeton’s history of gnomes.

But as I walked around the Renaissance Fair chomping on an oversized turkey leg and admiring the costumes, I couldn’t help but notice more trolls, wizards, fairies, and elves than gnomes for sale. One fair vendor selling mushrooms had a lovely lady gnome with her two children on display. The vendor revealed that he and his wife used to run a Renaissance fair booth that was all about gnomes and sold gnomes in all shapes and sizes. I tried to convince him to bring that booth back next year…we’ll see.

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I visited another fair vendor who created handmade pottery sculptures of all kinds. As you can see in this photo, gnomes sat alongside wizards, Santas, and leprechauns. Just as I find with Christmas markets each year, identifying true gnomes in crowds like this is always a challenge.

So I ask again, do gnomes belong at Renaissance Fairs?

As I see it, the purpose of a Renaissance Fair is to take a step back in history to enjoy a day in another place and time. So while the true origin of gnomes is still debated,  gnomes have a special place in history and I think they would really enjoy the Renaissance Fair activities. And if wizards, elves, and trolls are allowed to attend, then I see no reason for gnomes to be left out of the celebration! Cheers!

xoxo,
Roxy the Gnome

*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the upcoming International Gnome Club Newsletter!