Gnomes invade Chelsea Flower Show – Oh, the horror!

The Hewitt brothers dressed for the occasion

To people in the world of British gardening, the announcement was as startling as if the authorities at Wimbledon had suddenly decreed that players could compete in cutoffs and sequined tank tops.

So it was not surprising that the staid Royal Horticultural Society‘s decision to allow garden gnomes — creatures commonly associated with the landscapes of the unrich, the unfamous and the untasteful — at the Chelsea Flower Show this year elicited a variety of responses.

Such as people all but fleeing in horror when the word was mentioned. “Gnomes?” said one exhibitor on Monday, when the show opened in preview. “I can’t comment on gnomes.”

Some exhibitors went proud and loud, putting gnomes in places they would not be missed, like in the middle of the grass. Others seemed to feel that gnomes may be fine for other people, but certainly not any people they know, or want to know. One renowned landscape architect, Robert Myers, hid a gnome in a tree in his display, lost his nerve and took it out again before the judges could see it.

“I don’t know where he went,” Mr. Myers said of his erstwhile gnome…

The flower show is the horticultural society’s most important and influential occasion in this gardening-mad country, drawing Britain’s top gardeners and thousands of horticulture enthusiasts. Exhibitors spend several weeks and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of dollars creating entire gardens that compete for various titles and are seen by the country’s keenest and most discerning gardeners.

Gnomes, which are called “brightly colored mythical creatures” in the handbook governing the show, are not really part of the Chelsea aesthetic. (Nor are balloons, flags, “feather flags,” or “any item which, in the opinion of the society, detracts from the presentation of the plants or products on display,” the handbook reads.)

But outside the rarefied world of the flower show, garden gnomes — small and cheery, or small and creepy, depending on your perspective, and typically dressed like the dwarves in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — are extraordinarily popular.

“Tackiness, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder”…is how Sarah Lyall puts it in her article. Delightful, witty and quite accurate about gardens, gardening and gnomes – depending on your class outlook.

Read the whole article and enjoy.

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