CRANFORD, NJ — The Green Thumb Garden Club of Cranford has been bringing the community together since it was founded in 1954 for the purpose of studying all aspects of the fine art of flower design, gardening and the conservation of trees, shrubs, flowers and birds. Its latest venture is rather unusual: reusing artificial Christmas trees, the club constructs garden gnomes. Some, not all, will have a wooden stump base as a support.
Green Thumb Garden Club President Deb Murphy spoke of the club and how they thought of the idea of making garden gnomes, which spawned partnering with Downtown Cranford for a Garden Gnome Scavenger Hunt.
“Green Thumb Garden Club is one of three garden clubs in Cranford, and our club meets once a month,” said Murphy on Sunday, Dec. 19. “Traditionally, we accommodated women who worked and still enjoyed and wanted to garden. Green Thumb traditionally has been running a holiday boutique every December (on) the second Sunday after Thanksgiving, in conjunction with the Cranford House Tour. We run the boutique and we also participate in a boutique at the Methodist Church.”
Three or four years ago, at the Cranford United Methodist Church, Murphy said, a customer came to their table and asked if they had any gnomes. She said she hadn’t heard about gnomes at that time, so she asked her about them. Murphy said she did some research and, the following year, she crafted a design for a gnome using a tomato cage with fresh greens. A few sold, and it snowballed from there. She said they were then asked to make 10 the following year, 2020, for the scavenger hunt. She said people were contacting them and they had a waiting list last year for gnomes.
“They bring a lot of cheer and they spark joy. Each one is unique. They have a different hat, different nose, whiskers, they’re holding a stick, they have other decorations on them — so each one is very different,” she continued. “During the scavenger hunt, people were going around and it was really quite competitive, trying to find them, and some were difficult to find last year. There was one in a store window in particular that was very difficult for people to find. But most of them were out in plain sight and scattered around town. The idea was to encourage people to walk downtown during holiday shopping and, at the same time, have some fun with the family and with children being outside because, last year, being outside was important.”
For last year’s scavenger hunt, participating residents completed a form with the location of the gnome. Each gnome has a punny name assigned to it, such as Sherlock Gnome, Gnome Worry Be Happy, Gnome Alone and Hanging With My Gnomies. Residents of all ages participated.
Murphy explained how it worked: If residents could identify each gnome with the location and get all 10 right, they were entered into a drawing. All 10 gnomes were raffled off. This year, 10 gnomes are again being raffled off for the scavenger hunt. Their sizes vary — some are about 2 feet tall, the smallest in size, with the largest standing more than 6 feet tall. The average gnome is 3 to 4 feet tall.
“Even though the gnomes alone do bring in funds as a fundraiser for us, we also do a lot more than just the gnomes — we craft individual, miniature, fresh boxwood trees, with each one decorated uniquely. This year, we made over 100 fresh green arrangements to sell. We do raise enough to complete our projects around town, and we’re continually trying to fundraise so we can continue to beautify around Cranford,” Murphy said. “Most people like to put the gnomes out on their front porch, so it’s really neat to see them as you drive around town, and you spot the gnomes in different neighborhoods on different people’s porches and we’ve learned from our customers, too, that they’re putting lights on them, lights on the base of the gnome or the hat, or their walking stick. They put them on their porch, their tree stump, in their garden; in different places. The neighbors are doing a nice job displaying them for the holidays.
“We’re excited to partner with Downtown Cranford. We have a very close-knit community and all of our volunteer organizations support one another, so we’d like to be able to contribute to the downtown and bring some joy during the holiday season to our residents,” she continued.
“We love the fact that there’s so much enthusiasm for the gnomes and people are entering the contest, wanting to win them. We’re not sure about next year. We thought that the craze might die down, so we’re waiting to see what happens next year.”
Green Thumb Garden Club Vice President Ellen McHenry said she was thrilled at the popularity of the garden gnomes.
“We’re happy to participate with Cranford. When the pandemic happened, I … people were hesitant to go into businesses. Having the scavenger hunt outside was wonderful and Cranford really has a sense of community, so we’re very happy to participate and partner with Downtown Cranford,” McHenry said on Sunday, Dec. 19. “If they call us to do something, we’re happy to do it. This helped give our club more of an identity and, even if we didn’t get the kudos, we loved what we were doing. We know how well we do, and it makes the ladies of our club feel very proud to be able to say we’re responsible for that — it’s a sense of pride that, whether we get the credit, we know we did it and we feel good about ourselves.”
Cranford Downtown manager Caren Demyen praised the Green Thumb Garden Club’s Gnome Scavenger Hunt, saying how happy they are to showcase the amazing work the club does for the Cranford community.
“We created a form for the community to download for our Gnome Scavenger Hunt. All the gnomes are throughout the downtown — a few more difficult to find than others,” Demyen said on Friday, Dec. 17. “Once the form is complete, they email it back to us to win a gnome of their own. It has been a lot of fun for not only residents but also our business community. The businesses are always excited to have a gnome outside or inside their store. It’s also great foot traffic, so people can explore all of our wonderful shops.
“The Green Thumb Garden Club has been a wonderful partner on not only this event but other projects in the downtown (area). It’s a great partnership and we are so happy to showcase the amazing work these volunteers do for the Cranford community.”