From the blog of Twigs Way, author of Shire's Garden Gnomes and the upcoming Tudor Garden:
That most socially divisive of garden ornaments, the humble garden gnome, is making a triumphal entry to the Chelsea Flower Show in its centenary year.
Back in 1912, when gnomes ‘graced’ the International Horticultural Exhibition, they were the height of fashion in the most exclusive of gardens. Hand moulded and painted, and expensively imported from the ‘Gartenzwergmanufactur’ heartland of Thuringa in Germany, these were gnomes with country homes. Some indeed claimed ancestry as far back as the garden gods of the Romans, or at the very least the ‘grotesques’ of the Renaissance, although others might have admitted to more humble origins as the helpmates and ‘little folk’ of the mines that studded their homeland.
Alas for the gnome, the Germanic association resulted in a rapid fall from grace in the war and inter-war years, and had it not been for Disney’s popularisation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the late 1940s, chaps with pointy red hats and fishing rods might have faded from our gardens forever. Sleepy, Sneezy Doc and Dopey brought garden ornamentation to the masses as concrete moulds both quickened and cheapened production, a trend intensified with the introduction of plastics.
The fickle finger of fashion has however finally forgiven the gnome for its colourful cheerfulness, and where fashion leads the RHS has followed (or should that perhaps be the other way around?). Gnomes from round the country are yet again heading back to the sacred show-ground of all things horticultural; fishing rods, toadstools and of course, garden spades, packed and at the ready!
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