Gnome on the range

Oct 30th, 2015 | By | Category: Latest News, Our Patch
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Just what is the cultural history of the garden gnome in New Zealand?

Garden gnomes were originally expensive, highly valued items

Garden gnomes were originally expensive, highly valued items


Fortunately, we need wonder no longer thanks to senior lecturer at Waikato University Ian Duggan who turned detective to reveal the, at times, pilloried life of the kiwi garden gnome.

And we know of Duggan’s extra-curricula studies (he’s usually a freshwater ecologist) thanks to the intrepid reporting of our sister community news website Number 8 Network.

Duggan’s latest publication is a slight departure from science topics, wrote N8N’s Annette Taylor who followed Duggan down the historical garden path.

A senior lecturer at Waikato University, Ian’s specialty is invasion biology and how microscopic zoo-plankton and larger animals are spread around the world. He has published numerous papers on the subject, and has worked in Canada’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, one of the top freshwater labs in North America. He has even discovered exotic creatures new to New Zealand, including a snail in a geothermal stream and two tiny crustaceans in home aquariums.

While undertaking this work, he has spent a lot of time around garden ponds, here and in North America, as well as Kew Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

While at antenatal classes with his wife Kathryn, he met Waikato University environmental historian James Beattie and discovered they shared an interest in gardens.

“James was interested in the history of gardens.” Ian also had a fondness for garden gnomes which James soon picked up on.

“Part of my love for gnomes comes from my sister, who was always into kitsch stuff. My grandparents had a gnome which sat by the fireplace; granddad brought it home close to Christmas after a night out – he thought he was bringing Santa Claus home for grandmother. Gnomes have always been around since I was a kid.”

His new colleague James Beattie was organising a garden history conference at Hamilton Gardens in 2013.

“He invited me to address the conference, detecting my interest in gnomes. It was a bit daunting because some noted garden historians from around NZ and Australia would be there and it’s quite different from science. It was a fun challenge.”

The paper, The cultural history of the garden gnome in New Zealand, published in the journal Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, was a result of that talk which was very well received, he says.

Read on: To find what Duggan discovered about garden gnomes, including their place in early New Zealand high society click to read the full story here.

Do you have you a garden gnome? Let us know if you have, it’s background and if it has had any adventures.

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