Celebrating Garden Gnomes: Google Doodle Game Reveals Forgotten History

Your garden never looked this good.

There are an estimated 100 million gnomes protecting gardens worldwide, so it was only a matter of time before Google would want to honor the storied lawn ornament with a doodle.

Google launched the garden gnome doodle on Sunday, creating one of its most complex, interactive doodles in 2018. The gartenzwerg, or garden gnome, has played a prominent role in German folklore for centuries and is finally getting its first Google Doodle. Not only does the game let users explore gardens and score points, but Google created an illustration of how these ubiquitous creatures were made.

The history of the garden gnome.

The interactive game requires the user to launch a cartoon gnome from a catapult into the farthest reaches of the garden. From there, users can guide the gnome as it travels through the landscape, earning points with each flower it plants. In addition to the game, which feels like playing Angry Birds with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, players will also see a humble factory where the gnomes are made, cruising through an assembly line before acquiring their signature pointed hats. Then, a player can enlist a group of gnomes to help them decorate a new garden of the player’s own design.

While first seen in 13th century Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey, the gnome as we know it became popular in 19th century Germany. Local craftsman in the mining town of Thuringia began hand-crafting these gnomes as little garden protectors. Thanks to local folklore, the gnomes became associated with good luck and protection and began appearing in gardens across the region.

Gerben Steenks' sketches of traditional German houses.

This multi-tier interactive game required a lot of research on the part of the design team. Google recruited Gerben Steenks as lead artist for the visual design of the game, who found inspiration from traditional German wood-carving and village architecture. Keeping the realm consistent, Steenks made sure the flowers, trees, and other wildlife found within the game can be commonly found in German gardens.

These figurines continue to be a staple of modern culture, thanks to the lasting imagery from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — which based Snow White’s companions on the mythical figures — to the celebrated Priceline ad campaign that featured a jet-setting gnome. They’re even a sought-after find for any Fortnite player.

Sunday’s Google Doodle not only gets players excited about their own summer gardens, but it illuminates a nearly forgotten history of how the modern garden was formed.

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