ASPEN, CO—The last thing a family from Aspen, Colorado expected to find when returning home from a month-long trip to the Bahamas was a colony of garden gnomes taking up residence in their backyard.
In a photograph taken by the family from a safe distance (above), one of the garden gnomes can be seen using a wheelbarrow to haul his belongings into the family’s backyard. A pack mule follows behind him. Minutes after this photograph was taken, the gnome set up camp in a shady patch of grass beneath an aspen tree and hitched his mule to a succulent planter.
Soon after, more gnomes arrived.
“It felt like we were watching a conga line as the gnomes filed into our backyard one after another,” said a member of the family. “Their demeanor was excruciatingly jolly. They were smiling, whistling. One of them even carried a Welcomesign.”
As the family watched the gnomes’ numbers grow, they realized it was time to involve law enforcement. They contacted the sheriff to report the unwanted dwarfish creatures, but were met with unexpected push back. After driving past their home to “take the temperature of the situation,” the sheriff declined to remove the gnomes, saying it was a job for the Aspen City Council.
Exasperated, the family contacted city council. The news they received was mixed. They discovered Aspen had no ordinances prohibiting garden gnomes from taking up residence in peoples’ backyards. They did, however, have rules forbidding the boarding of pack animals in a residential area without a permit.
“If the family can demonstrate the gnome that arrived with the pack mule did not pull a permit for keeping the animal in a residential zone, they may have recourse,” said a member of city council. “But the devil’s in the details. If the gnome can make a compelling argument that the pack mule is a service animal, the homeowners are out of luck.”
Fearing their options were quickly dwindling, the family got creative. They contacted an attorney specialized in settling homeowner-garden-gnome disputes. From the attorney they learned that if they could demonstrate the gnomes were being a nuisance, they could have legal grounds for removing them. But that might be easier said than done.
According to the family’s attorney, many garden gnomes have figured out how to work around the system. Hit particularly hard by Aspen’s housing affordability crisis, these gnomes are more motivated than ever to find a way to be persuasive. Once their new colony is established, they don’t want to leave.
“Garden gnomes are quickly learning that if they rake a few leaves, fix a sprinkler head, hold up a Welcome sign, the courts will not view them as a nuisance, but as beneficial additions to the neighborhood,” said the family’s attorney. “And if the gnomes do those actions while the homeowners are away, the courts will view them as de facto caretakers. Then there’s no getting rid of them.”
Our only hope is to get the ear of someone who’ll be rational about the situation,” said the family. “We aren’t asking for the moon. We’re just asking for some common sense.”