Gnome Garden

By Lance Gardner (Lance) on November 7, 2013

My son's school has some helpers that show up while the children are not around. One of the most helpful are the gnomes, which are about the size of a mouse. We decided to thank them for all of their help and build a gnome garden for these industrious little helpers.

A Gnome Garden

My son's school has many helpers that show up while the children are not around. One of the most helpful are the gnomes, which are about the size of a mouse. These industrious little assistants are especially fond of helping out the youngest children when they are a bit slow with some of their projects. Quite often, children will come in to find that their project, whether it be knitting with needles, finger knitting, creating shapes or similar hand crafts, has been worked on to help them catch up a bit.

My son is known for requiring a bit of this assistance from the gnomes. Although he knows what to do, he is easily distracted (or over concentrates) by the mechanics of the project and forgets to actually finish it! The gnomes have proven helpful many times so that he does not get too far behind the other children, but not to the point of taking over his work, just helping him along a bit.

As a way of thanking the gnomes some people build temporary gnome or fairy huts, make small gnome items such as cups from acorn caps and similar. One of the more appreciated gifts is a gnome garden, complete with small plants and furnishings. In our house, the gnomes often share Christmas traditions with us, leaving little presents around, so we know we have some helpful little ones around. We decided to make them a potted gnome garden, complete with a small building, chairs, table and some decorations.

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To begin, we chose a decent sized pot, but no so big we could not move it around with the seasons. We made sure the pot had drainage holes and some interesting decorations. The pot was then filled about 2/3 with a mix of potting soil and amendments to ensure it would grow healthy plants for many years. We used a combination of coir, worm dirt, some ashes, sand and a touch of kelp. Extra space was left so we could put in the plants, filling in the soil around the roots as we put in different ones.

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One of the most exciting parts of this project is choosing the plants. First, we purchased a miniature cedar type evergreen as a center. Although not necessary, it does given the garden a focal point and anchor to design around. The roots were separated to limit root binding, then placed in the pot and filled around with the potting soil. Since this was our largest plant, we filled the pot the rest of the way with our soil mix, leaving some head room for mosses and decorations.

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Next, we took a walk around our neighborhood looking for very small plants. We did not want anything that would take over the whole pot, so we were careful to avoid large and aggressive looking vegetation. We already knew of several places with a variety of mosses, so we harvested several small clumps of varying types. I should note that we do not harvest established wild plants unless we are saving the plants from destruction, such as mowing, traffic or construction. The mosses were along a roadside that is mown on a regular basis, which is probably why the soil is so compacted that it gets lots of moss to grow there. Lots of pieces were already ripped up by either squirrels, dogs, mowers or something, so we took mostly disturbed clumps and pressed many back into place. We carefully lifted a few additional small clumps so the rest could fill back in. We also found an area with partridge berry growing on top of the moss, so a small piece of that was added to our collection. The photos are from a photographic expedition for mushrooms, which also happened to be growing in the mosses.

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As we walked along the roadside, we looked for other small plants and found several small yellow flowering plants, not sure of its ID, but similar to a small perennial Helianthus. At home we knew of a place to save some striped wintergreen from getting stepped on and a spot with lots of ebony spleenwort (small fern), so those got added in as well.

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We got all this home, put everything in a pan with water to keep it moist, then thought about how to arrange it all. We knew we were going to add in a small building, some furnishings and a path, so we did not want to crowd it too much. The small tree came with some white gravel which we used for the path. Mosses were arranged around the remaining area. If we can find more of the gravel, we will add that in around the base of the tree some more. After arranging the moss, we thought about where best to put the other small plants. Once we had it all arranged, the moss was temporarily moved aside, the wintergreen, ebony spleenwort and flower were planted by digging a small hole and inserting the plant. After the roots were covered with soil, the moss was put back and gently pushed into contact with the soil.

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Now for the decorations! My son had some grand ideas for this, as well, but mostly was excited about making them a small building. We measured how much space we thought the building should have, then sketched out some plans (you can see the sketches on the white paper). I had some leftover poplar strips that were the perfect size, so we used those to make walls. Craft sticks, chopsticks, plywood or other materials could also be used. Since the poplar strips were about an inch wide, 4 strips across made a good size. We measured and cut the strips then laid them out, arranging smaller and larger pieces to leave a door and window. Once we were happy with the size of everything, the strips were edge-glued together with Titebond III to make the walls. Then the walls were glued to make the structure of the building. The saw is a Japanese dovetail saw, perfect for small hands and small projects, very easy to use but also very sharp, so be careful! The combination square and straight edge were used to draw lines so it was easier to cut exactly as we wanted, even the angled roof pitch.

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After the house was glued together, it was determined that it needed to look more like a natural log cabin. So we went outside to a holly tree that was knocked over last year to get some already dried twigs. Since the structure of the building was already set, we did not have to be concerned about perfect fits for the twigs; that was the reason for making a solid structure to begin with - the twigs are just decoration glued onto the building. My son wanted it to look mostly real with overlapping edges, just like a real log cabin, so we placed some twigs along the sides of the building to figure the sizes needed. Then I cut lots of pieces of the sizes needed while he cleaned off a side for gluing and laid them out. The bark and any other loose stuff needed to be removed so the glue would hold it all in place.

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To glue the sticks into place, I opted for a polyurethane glue. This type of glue, made famous by Gorilla Glue, foams to fill in gaps and still holds well. One side at a time this was spread over each side of the structure, then the sticks stuck to each side. This was a bit tedious, and glue got on the fingers as well, but it got done. To hold it all in place, the foam and rubberbands were wrapped around everything. The foam was to make up for uneven diameter sticks – the foam would press against the sticks regardless of whether or not they were the same width. This is a good step to practice first, getting everything all set without glue before trying the actual gluing, or else you may have some surprises with little time to correct it all. Make sure it all looks good, then take off each side and glue the twigs into place. The polyurethane glue was smeared all over the surface of the wood, then the sticks stuck into place. That way, even if the sticks were not straight, some of the glue would foam around sections that were touching the sides of the building.

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After the sides were finished, we still needed to put on the roof. I used some scrap pieces that were previously cut off the side of a 2x4. These were also glued into place with polyurethane glue. You can see the interesting clamping job for this part!

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After everything was glued and dried, I sprayed everything except the roof with a clear varnish from Rust-oleum meant to withstand being outside. I put on lots of coats to ensure everything was well coated and protected, both inside and out, in between the cracks and everywhere. The top was coated with what was supposed to be a clear spray on rubberizer to fill in cracks and waterproof the roof. It foamed a bit and made the finish cloudy, but we now say it looks frosted! It should be well protected and last for many years.

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The furniture included chairs and tables.  These were actually made earlier in the summer, so I don't have pictures of making the furniture.  We used sweet gum branches as we have lots of that around and they need constant removal.  The chairs were made by cutting an "L" shape into a small piece of branch, while benches and tables were made by cutting a flat side on a small section of branch.  Some small round sections were also cut as seats.  This was done with a small bandsaw, but a small handsaw could also be used.  I recommend holding these small pieces with a clamp of some sort to avoid slips that could prove quite painful!

As with all gardens, this one will change. The gnomes have already decided to make some changes. They moved their building and some moss around, spread out the gravel a bit more to fit the footprint of the house, took the building off some moss and put it on the gravel. As the plants decide to thrive or not, we may replant some areas or even put in some annuals next spring. Many years of fun and gardening should be had with this garden!


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Related articles:
children, family, garden, gnome

About Lance Gardner
I have an interest in just about anything that gets me outside, as well as anything that is alive or grows, and in making things. So my hobbies include gardening, outdoors, photography, dogs, woodworking, and most importantly raising my son.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Love it lovemyhouse Nov 14, 2013 10:44 AM 14
Too cute !! starlight1153 Nov 8, 2013 11:23 AM 2

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