‘Can you look out for a garden gnome?’

In this week's the Good Life column, Gemma Good looks at gnoming. Have you heard of it?

This request came from my Canadian friend. A group of four on a beautiful sunny Malta day, we were walking towards Sliema. Our chats were fuelled by the coffee we had just drank. It was International Women’s Day and we had decided to head out for brunch. We were on a high, we had written a message of thanks to the ladies who served us our coffee a few minutes previous. When leaving, the lady at the counter gave each of us a hug. As International students, this meant a lot; it felt like acceptance.

Afterwards we chatted while walking with no destination in mind. When asked to look out for a garden gnome, I said yes of course and went straight back into conversation. It never registered with me why one would want a garden gnome, I assumed it was to take a picture or something. The day continued as it began; sunny, bright and full of chatter.

Fast forward a few weeks, we had a new addition to the family in our student accommodation; a garden gnome. Hannah excitedly entered our room to say goodbye as she was leaving for Italy the next day. It was her first solo trip, she had booked a Maneskin concert in Palapartenope Theatre in Naples on a whim a few days previous. Although excited she was also nervous, but she would be going alone.

“I got the gnome,” she informed us with a smile.

Confused, we asked what she was talking about.

She told us about the ‘roaming gnome’ tradition, which her father took part in while touring Australia in 1986.

Her dad borrowed a garden gnome from a stranger's garden, leaving the note “Dear mum, couldn't stand the solitude any longer. Gone off to see the world. Don't be worried, I'll be back soon. Love Bilbo xxx.”

The tradition even gained the interest of the Sydney Morning Herald when the distressed owner came forward with the note. The gnome travelled Australia with pictures taken at each destination and notes written from ‘Bilbo’ (the garden gnome) to his mother documenting his time. At the end of the journey, Bilbo was returned to his rightful owner with several stories to tell in the form of photos, notes and postcards.

Although I love hearing of quirky ways people document their travels (and this is certainly top of the list) I was unconvinced about its popularity. Noticing my uncertainty, Hannah showed me the Wikipedia page dedicated to the practice and laughed.

As a child, her father told her he was famous for something and asked her to guess what it was. Needless to say, she never would have guessed travelling with garden gnomes. The practice is known as gnoming and takes place all over the world with some even meeting notable people such as Paris Hilton, appearing in newspaper headlines like Bilbo and the tradition even appeared as a plot in Coronation Street.

I would love to take part in the tradition and similarly I would love to see my garden gnome being taken. It’s a bold idea, the same of which can be said for solo travelling. Following in her father’s footsteps, Hannah is gnoming her way around Europe. So far she and the gnome have been to Italy. Her next travel plans include Portugal, Spain and possibly Greece - after that they have yet to decide.

At the end of her Erasmus in July, she will return the gnome with an account of their travels before returning to Canada. I love the story and everything connected with it, even though she is travelling alone, she is replicating what her father did in the years before her. It is an amazing story to receive and pass on.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a third year journalism student in University of Limerick


We could all learn a lot from children