With the recent news that garden gnomes have won the day and will be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, I thought it would be fun to take a look into the history and lives of gnomes.
Historically, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has not permitted gnomes to be displayed, although they have made a brief foray in previous years. Jekka McVicar, a garden designer, went against RHS policy in 1993 and in 2009 when she included her garden gnome called Borage. Borage was instantly banned from her display and turfed out of the Chelsea Flower Show.
This year, regulations have been relaxed and gnomes are going to be allowed to be displayed. Some will see their inclusion in this year’s show as a drop in standards by the Royal Society. However, for the majority of visitors, gnomes are seen as fun and bring a smile to people’s faces.
The history of the gnome
There are many definitions of a gnome but most agree on the following:
• They are ‘a mythical imaginary guardian from the inner parts of the Earth’
• They wear bright clothes, conical hats, have beards and are from a few inches to a foot or two tall.
• They were said to walk through the Earth, but if caught in sunlight they would turn to stone.
The first group of 21 gnomes came to Britain from German in 1847 and were imported by Sir Charles Isham, 10th Baronet, landowner and gardener in Northamptonshire. He displayed them in the grounds of his estate and was a believer in the supernatural and spiritualism.
To me, a garden gnome is a little person that can be found sitting, standing, working and protecting the garden. They keep an eye on things, making sure the wildlife is alright, flowers look their best and help to keep the garden looking nice when you are not there. Gnomes are hard working and come along with their own selection of garden tools, toadstools and fishing rods. They brighten the darker parts of our garden and bring humour and a smile to all our faces.
Norwich City Football Club Gnome image sourced from the Museum of East Anglian
Here are some facts about the little people: –
– It is thought that gnomes have magical powers that can protect or punish people, make them happy along with their usual plant growing powers. Male gnomes can be glimpsed working in the garden, but the ladies are never seen and remain hidden from our eyes.
– The word ‘gnome’ is thought by some to come from the Greek word ‘Gnosis’ meaning knowledge, but is more likely to come from the word ‘Genomos’ meaning ‘earth dweller‘.
The book ‘Gnomes’ by Wil Huygen, illustrated by Rien Poortvliet. Image sourced from abilliontastesandtunes.blogspot.co.uk
– Not to be confused with goblins, dwarves and elves, gnomes can be found in many parts of the Europe, i.e. Switzerland, France, Finland and Ireland. Other parts of the world also have their own mythical little people as in Japan, where they are called ‘Bakemono’.
– Garden gnomes were first created by Phillip Griebel a sculptor in Germany in the mid 1800’s. At their creation they were called ‘Gartenzwerg’, which literally meant ‘garden dwarf’. They were created to help people enjoy myths and stories of the folk that looked after gardens at night.
No place like gnome
In recent times gnomes have been kidnapped and held to ransom for as much as $10,000 before being returned. They have changed gardens, professions and locations and have holidayed in some very glamorous parts of the world, with picture postcards being sent back to their owners showing they had reached their unexpected destination.
As in the case of Murphy, who was renamed Barrington by his travel companions. He was returned to his owners with a note to say that his impromptu tour was down to ‘itchy feet’. Barrington’s return home was accompanied by a leather-bound photo album containing 48 pictures of his trip.
Image sourced from the Daily Mail showing Barrington’s adventures
Seen by some as not suitable for smarter gardens, a revolt by enthusiasts all over the world has seen demonstrations at the gates of Chelsea Flower Show and a mass release of gnomes in woodlands in France, which is considered their habitat.
The Garden Gnome Liberation Front was particularly active during the mid to late 90’s, when it was responsible as they put it, for rescuing (stealing) garden gnomes from captivity (people’s gardens) and letting groups of them go free in woods and forest clearings, which is where they said they came from and was their natural habitat.
Whether you consider them a guardian in your garden or just an ornament, we look forward to seeing these brightly coloured fellows in gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show this year.