By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
The tree in Jewel Hall’s front yard was struck by lightning several years ago. It was a tall, scrubby water oak that the Halls were going to have a tree surgeon take down to about a six foot high trunk. “We were having a big broken limb in another big water oak a few feet away removed at the same time,” Jewel explained. “It had been there ever since the tornado.”
As they were waiting for the tree surgeons to arrive Jewel came across a gnome house on Pinterest. She shared it with her son, Tony Sanford, who was home on vacation; he loved it and began the construction as soon as possible. “Everyone enjoys it and we plan to plant some Christmas tree-type cedars behind it along with tiny flowers and painted tiny clay flower pots,” she said. “We will add another window, a chimney, and a balcony along with more gnomes.”
The popularity of little mischievous garden gnomes began to spread across the world soon after their creation. According to Jewel’s research, upon returning from his travels in Germany, in 1847, Sir Charles Isham brought twenty-one terracotta gnomes back to his home in the United Kingdom. Only one of these twenty-one original gnome immigrants to England survives today. Known as “Lampy”, this aged gnome is still on display and is insured to the tune of one million pounds. With their reputation expanding across Europe, garden gnomes soon became a popular figure across Europe, particularly in England and France, where gardening is looked upon as a very serious pastime. Today, garden gnomes have become a familiar sight around the world, and now even in Cullman, Alabama.
The Halls, Jewel and T.O., have made their garden gnome home unique in many ways. Instead of a little door at the bottom of a tree, theirs is much more like a penthouse resting atop a large tree stump. The occupants of this luxurious domicile climb a set of custom made stairs to a door on the “second” floor.
“Tony uses a product called Hypertufa (that's the mix with mortar mix and peat moss). He adds some fiber mesh to his to make it easier to work with,” said Jewel. “He used this mix to form the door and make other molds. He got the recipe from my sister-in law, Nellie Hall,” said Jewel.
According to Jewel, hypertufa was developed to resemble stone, specifically the volcanic rock called tufa. “In England, farmers carved watering troughs from this soft, porous rock,” she said. “Eventually, these tufa troughs became too expensive, and hypertufa containers replaced them. The materials used to make our container are inexpensive, and the process is delightfully messy. I’ve read where someone on the Internet said that when it comes right down to it, a hypertufa casting is just a fancy mud pie,” she laughed.
The Halls are looking forward to spring when they can get out and do more plantings around the gnome home. “It is not an overnight project and requires saws, levels, hammer, nails and other tools and materials,” Jewel pointed out. “My son has multiple artistic skills and he is very picky with the patience of Job. He has done a lot of our landscaping using rocks as edging.”
Many people have stopped to admire the clever little house on the tree stump. “Everyone who sees the gnome house wants one,” Jewel laughed. “It’s like having a ‘little people’ family moved into our yard. Gnomes go back a long time in history. They are a sign of ‘goodwill’ and live deep in the woods. So far, they have been very nice neighbors!” smiled Jewel, who really gets into the “spirit” of the gnomes.
The Halls plan to add toadstools to the gnome garden. “We spray everything with a protective shield before concreting it into the ground,” Jewel explained.
As for the architect of this gnome abode, Tony is already back teaching English at a PMU, a university in Saudi Arabia. He does a lot of traveling and plans a trip to Italy in October.
“I love God's beautiful creations. I have always loved nature. As a little girl I used to roam around in the woods on our farm. My brother, Garland McCarn, and I used to follow streams and little waterfalls. We each had one or two we'd claim as our own and we'd check how swiftly they were flowing after a big rain, skipping along barefoot with mud between our toes,” Jewel recalled. “Somehow I always felt connected to the woods and wildflowers. I had several playhouses with my make-believe ‘Little People’, giving them names and singing them songs as the winds gently blew and the birds sang their beautiful songs. I never outgrew that peaceful feeling.”
No wonder Jewel’s favorite childhood stories were “Snow White” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
“Many times I thought how nice it would be if I could find their secret opening and walk in. We had no close neighbors, no phone or TV, but we found ways to entertain ourselves. When I found the picture of the little gnome house and we already had plans to take the scrubby tree down leaving the beautiful trunk, it was like seeing my childhood playhouse again.”
Jewel credits some of the supervision of the building to her husband, T.O., some blueprint assistance from her brother-in-law, James Hall, along with her son's artistic ability, for making her playhouse become a reality. “People walk and ride by watching it come together. I haven't found anyone who doesn't like it,” she beamed. “Maybe it's that little child still in all of us, but I find myself strolling among the gnomes at night and gazing at the moon and stars from their lovely little home. It's peaceful there.”