Thanks to everyone who commented on my Garden Whimsy piece at the weekend. Happily you were positive so I needn't have worried about what I showed you but as Niels quite rightly said about Pig pig pig, to each his own and I think that certainly is the case with that most polemical item of garden whimsy, the garden gnome.
Some think they're an icon of England. You either love them or hate them. I fall into the latter category, but I had a colleague at work who not only collected them, she positively went out of her way to find new ones. I spent quite a few of our business meetings after her confession actively trying to erase this fact from my mind, otherwise our time together would not have been so productive. It was quite a distraction for a while.
I don't know whether garden gnomes are so prevalent in non-UK gardens, but here they can be prolific. Most people who buy them don't seem to stop at one. Often their first purchase will be the classic gnome with a fishing rod, which guess what, they then site next to their pond. After that, they then set about finding friends for him 'so he won't be lonely'. Gaudily coloured and often smiling through their long white beards like synchronised swimmers, the garden's population steadily increases. Or perhaps they multiply of their own accord?
In researching this piece, I was shocked to discover that the garden gnome is an introduced species - from Germany in the 18th Century. Unlike the modern gnome, pieces from this time are considered to be tasteful and command high prices at auction. There's even a Garden Gnome Museum containing some examples from this time. You'll see that the form and colouring of this garden species has hardly altered over time. However, any good taste credentials the museum may garner are far outweighed by The Gnome Reserve attraction on the same site, where visitors are actively encouraged to dress up in lifesize pointy red hats.
It's rumoured that the garden organisation of good taste, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has banned garden gnomes from its shows. However, in a rare moment of anarchy for rarified events such as these, I believe the Head Gardener of Tatton Park tries to smuggle one into the exhibition somewhere without the RHS finding out. This story if true, appeals to me a lot.
Gnomes are not exclusive to the UK and Germany. I see that gnomania has also found its way across the Atlantic to my American cousins, where of course the largest examples of the genre can be found. In New Zealand, they've been used as a cover for criminal activies - drug smuggling by a pensioner, no less. There's even been gnome rustling in France. However, my favourite gnome story can be found back home in the UK, where an ongoing dispute between two neighbours over some land resulted in an anti-harassment order being issued by the police over a solar powered gnome in 'an offensive position'. Do click on the link - the actual appearance of the gnome in question is very relevant to the story!
Being gnomeless myself you will have gathered that extensive fieldwork was required to bring you this article. My local garden centre was plundered for pictures, then I was surprised to find they'd also infiltrated the local steam rally I visited recently (see the top picture). However, I have to concede that the gnome for sale there was tasteful in comparison with the other garden ornaments the stall had on offer that day.
This is another post for the Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop, hosted by Gardening Gone Wild.