Look amongst the greenery of Germany’s lush gardens and you might spot a red-capped gartenzwerg, or garden gnome. Today’s Doodle – just in time for Garden Day in Germany – celebrates these tiny statues for their big role in German history.
Gnome figures first appeared in 13th-century Anatolia and re-emerged in 16th-century Italy. The common garden gnome originated in 19th-century Germany from the mining area of Thuringia. Here, local craftsmen are given credit for hand-crafting the gnomes as we know them—with shaggy beards and pointy hats.
Propelled by local myths and increased leisure time, the gnomes began to find homes in gardens throughout the country. Legend has it they protect these gardens and bring good luck.
In today’s interactive Doodle, you’ll learn a bit more about how the humble gnome is made. Then, you’ll enlist a group of gnomes to help you decorate a garden of your own!
Here’s how the game works: Use your trusty catapult (or trebuchet to be precise) to launch your clay gnomes into the farthest reaches of your garden. The farther your gnome travels, the more flowers you plant—and the more points you earn! Once you learn the basics, you can choose from six colorful gnomes with different shapes, weights, and bounciness. Try each one to see which gnome goes the greatest distance towards making your garden the most beautiful of all.
Go behind-the-scenes of today’s Doodle below!
The Doodle Team explored many different ideas, concepts, and creative directions for celebrating the history and culture of the garden gnome.
To help set context, the team designed a brief history lesson on how German garden gnomes were originally made. You can see this introductory animation below:
Early draft of the introductory story below
For the visual design of the game, lead artist Gerben Steenks found inspiration in Germany’s rich traditions in wood carving, village architecture, and folk history. He was also able to draw from a wide variety of flowers, trees, and other plant life that are unique or commonly found in German gardens.
An exploration of the design possibilities with wood carving below
Early sketches of various flowers and other plant life below
Early sketches of traditional German houses below
Gerben also spent considerable time exploring different designs for the gnome statues featured in the game, including a variety of different hairstyles, mustaches, beards, and clothing.
Once your gnome lands to rest in your garden, we wanted to give players a fun, visual reward to highlight the humor found in many traditional gnome statues. Gerben explored different ideas to have each gnome transform into a unique and funny pose.
More polished final poses. FUN FACT: At one point, there was an idea for a gnome hot tub pose!
The varying sizes and shapes of the gnomes also allowed our Doodle engineers to play with the physics of the gnome statues. In other words, this allowed them to bounce and travel at different spees on the grass and in the air. In some cases, you can even take advantage of some helpful butterflies, mushrooms, or logs to keep your gnome moving and bouncing along. Examples of this below.
The Garden Gnomes Team
Lead artist: Gerben Steenks
Engineering: Brian Murray, Jordan Thompson
UX: Diana Tran
Program management: My-Linh Le
Project lead: Brian Kaas
Marketing: Perla Campos, Marlene Meissner, Carlos Diaz
Doodle team lead: Jessica Yu
Cultural research & writing support: Tom Zeller
Sound: Silas Hite