Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Thursday, 31 July 2008

GBDW - Gnomeless

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.

17 comments:

  1. Hooray for VP! I'm putting together this month's summary for the Design Workshop, and I think I've seen only one gnome in the whole bunch. Thank you for coming through with a great post on the quintessential representative of garden whimsy.

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  2. The best gnome story (and it is true) that I have ever heard is of a neighbour or my in-laws. they had bought couple of gnomes 'for the grandchildren'. After a few days the gnomes disappeared. So the doting grand p's bought some more - a few days later the gnomes disappeared. So the doting....... get the picture? This was in a very nice part of town that was generally a gnome free zone. Doting gp's having been shopping again, kept watch and to their amazement saw a fox running off with the precious gnomes into the old railway line at the bottom of the garden. This conjures up the the most incredible images of a gnome sanctuary around a foxes lair . Love Maggi

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  3. LOL! I'm another Gnome hater, but I also love them. I love to see them in other people's front yards where I can snicker (Ok, guffaw) at them. Thanks for the link to that hysterical article - as an attorney, I truly appreciate the charge of "placing a garden gnome with intent to cause harassment." I admire the spirit of the garden designer trying to sneak gnomes in because they are forbidden. Make a rule like that & you have to expect attempts to violate it because it's there. There was a funny thing where a gnome was stolen & photos of it in front of monuments around the world started turning up, but then it got ruined by corporate America - Travelocity's mascot is the "Roaming Gnome." I have to admit, I like the "Jaws" ornament & would put it in my garden.

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  4. Well I am afraid they have even got to the US and we were presented with 30 of them sitting at the end of the drive one morning of every shape and colour , turns out our daughter was pissed at her friends over something and in the middle of the night friends raided homes around the area for gnomes.

    Now we have 30 gnomes sat on our deck and even though I always hated the little things , each morning I go out they make me smile remembering the morning they appeared so they will stay

    steve

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  5. I forgot to mention that my favorite part of the movie "The Full Monty" is the scene where the guys are goofing with the garden gnome. I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe.

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  6. Lovely post VP.
    I don't have any gnomes - but I do remember my shock and outrage when an "artists gnome" mysteriously appeared in my last garden on valentines day!
    Secret valentine cards OK - but secret valentine gnomes - another matter. Fortunately it did not survive my children's football games.
    :)
    K xx
    PS - How bizarre - thinking about him now - I quite miss the old gnome.

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  7. My mother has always said that gnomes are unlucky so I have never had one

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  8. Did you know there was a Gnome sanctuary in Dorset?

    There was a good article about this last week in the Manchester Post, with an equally funny video of the protest on the town hall steps! You might enjoy it too.

    When I was younger( student layabout type) we used to kidnap Gnomes and hold them to ransom during Rag weeks!

    My best prank was lining them up queue-like (dozens of them) outside an old red BT phone box (albiet it some years after I had completed being a layabout) with some raggish type friends and sticking a note on the phone box door, that read' Please be Patient whilst they Phone Gnome.

    I'll grow up one day.

    ::sigh::

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  9. Enjoyed your post VP. Not a gnome fan on the whole but I do have great sympathy for Gordon MacKillop - no need for the local constabulary to knock on his door at that time of night ! I must also confess to smiling and singing along every time I hear the David Bowie song 'The Laughing Gnome'- a real golden oldie - how sad am I ?

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  10. I don't have any gnomes per say but i do have a collection of forest sprites that resemble gnomes. I don't put them outside but I do like them. A friend of mine likes gnomes. When I found out about this I was so surprised as she is a very streamlined style type of person. She has one that someone gave to her that has IU on it. She actually put it into her garden. People and their stuff always amaze me.

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  11. That was a very amusing post!
    Considering some of the ghastly (and expensive)stuff the RHS allow into their shows I can't see why they discriminate against garden gnomes. Personally I find them a bit creepy but I was given one as a joke present years ago and somehow I can't throw it away.
    I like the shark but my pond's too small.

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  12. I have finally done the tag you left me. So you will have to go to my site to read it.

    Are gnomes and trolls the same? The trolls in Scandinavia are pretty scary looking.

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  13. Easygardener - COULD NOT agree more. Ridiculous old TAT like sculptures in the shape of fairies and you are not allowed gnomes? What kind of crazy world are we living in?

    Why aren't gnomes 3 for 2 where I live? One more reason for a trip to Chippenham

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  14. I'm not a gnome fan either, but MIL collects them by the dozens.

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  15. I came over from Aunt Debbis Garden. She had posted a message about the site meter problems.
    Anyhow just had to comment about the Shark. I would luvvvvvvv that in my garden!!! How cute. Lots of cute things there!!!

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  16. I don't do gnomes, either, but I enjoy other people's quirkiness and sense of humor. If it is fun for them, I enjoy their fun and show of personality.

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  17. Hi everyone - I've really enjoyed your comments on this piece, particularly those of you who've contributed your own gnome stories. They've made me laugh - a lot.

    A special welcome and thank you to my first time commenters - The People History, Lisa, Cinj, Cindee and Barbee. I'll hop on over to your place for a visit soon I promise!

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