by Jenny Morrill

If you own a garden gnome, you'd better keep a close eye on it, as in recent years these garden dwellers have developed a reputation for going AWOL.

The practice, known as "gnoming," involves "borrowing" a garden gnome from a nearby resident and taking it on vacation, sending photographs to the owner of their gnome in various exotic locations (or maybe just at the local pub if finances are a bit tight). Crucially, it is an unwritten rule that the gnome is always reunited with its owner after its adventures.

The first recorded incident of gnoming was in 1986. A garden gnome in Sydney, Australia was stolen and the crime reported to The Sydney Morning Herald. The Gnome, christened Bilbo by its captors, was said to have left a 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."

Back in 2008, a U.K. gnome named Murphy traveled to 12 different countries; his owner, Eve Stuart-Kelso, was stunned to receive pictures of Murphy rappelling, swimming, and riding a motorcycle.

Arguably the most high-profile traveling gnome was Gnome Severson, who was taken from a garden in Redmond, Washington and given a free trip through California and Las Vegas. On his travels, Gnome Severson was photographed with the likes of Paris Hilton, and was even featured in People magazine. When he was reunited with his owner, Marianne Severson, the pair made national news, and were interviewed on Good Morning America.

In France during the late 1990s, a group known as le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (translation: The Garden Gnome Liberation Front) was responsible for stealing at least 150 gnomes, arguing that gnomes deserved freedom, and people did not have the right to own them. Perhaps their strangest act was the "mass suicide" of 11 gnomes in 1998; residents of Briey in northeastern France woke to find the gnomes hanging from trees. Again, a note was found: "When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decorations.”

However, most incidences of gnoming are relatively harmless, and involve nothing more than posing for a few holiday snaps. So if you own a garden gnome and find him missing one day, you might want to wait for a postcard before calling the police.