Whilst pushing my trolley around a local supermarket last Friday, doing the usual weekly chore of household shopping, I ground to a standstill in front of a display of garden gnomes. Not the usual size but much, much larger and priced at £25, certainly big enough to be eye-catching in anybody’s garden if you happen to like that sort of thing. I’m not really a fan myself but they did make me laugh, they were so bright and colourful, and looked so incongruous standing to attention in a busy supermarket amongst the aisles full of washing powder, sliced bread and all the other things we browse through on a regular basis.
As garden ornaments they have been with us for quite a long time and first appeared in Britain when Sir Charles Isham of Lamport Hall built a spectacular rock garden in the late 1860s and imported a whole workforce of porcelain gnomes from Germany to inhabit his creation, where they appeared as groups of miners working in the caves. An idea later used by Walt Disney in his masterpiece ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’.
It seems we either love them or hate them and evidently no other item of garden ornamentation triggers off such strong emotions as the sight of a family of gnomes. They acquired a reputation of being the epitome of bad taste and it would seem that the majority of gardeners retreat in horror from any suggestion of incorporating them into any part of their property. In a survey on garden ornaments they came a definite bottom of the list.
Today garden gnomes still have a great following although they are now made of plastic and not porcelain. The Gnome Reserve and Wild Flower Garden in North Devon opened in 1978 where a great variety of gnomes can be seen living happily in their woodland glade. They even have their own sites on the Internet and there is an International Gnome Club, but whether or not you like them yourself only you can decide.