Gnomes Crash Distinguished Garden Show In England

Gnomes marched their way into one of England's most prestigious gardening events this year. The 100th annual Chelsea Flower Show, which ends Saturday, opened its gates to the flower-friendly creatures for the first time.

Gnomes decorated by celebrities made their debut at the show and are now up for auction on eBay to raise money for a campaign that encourages school gardening. The highest bid for the seedling gnome decorated by Elton John tops 2,000 pounds. The figurines are available until Sunday at midnight.

"Alternately loved and loathed, the gnome epitomises the social divisiveness of garden design," garden historian Dr. Twigs Way wrote for the BBC.

That divisiveness has been playing out among the show participants, The New York Times reports:

"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."

Way, author of Garden Gnomes: A History, tells NPR's Scott Simon that gnomes were brought to England from Germany, where it was believed that the "mythical folk" helped in the garden and on the farm. When they first arrived in England during the Victorian period, gnomes were all the rage — and expensive.

"But the link with Germany, I'm afraid, was their undoing," she says, "because, of course, as soon as the first world war broke out, not only could you not get German gnomes anymore, but of course people didn't really want German gnomes anymore."

Then, in the 1940s and '50s, garden gnomes were back in style. Way says the animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves helped give them a boost.

Whether to include gnomes in the Chelsea Flower Show has been under debate for some time, she says.

"When the [Royal Horticultural Society] started having the show [in 1913], they put a blanket ban not just on gnomes, but on any colorful, mythical creature," Way says.

"For about the last decade or so, there's always been somebody that tries to sneak in a garden gnome. Because what they want to do, really, is say, 'Who is this garden show for? Is it for the suburban gardeners who may love their gnomes? Or is it just an exclusive show at the high end?' "

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


'Steve Jobs': As Ambitious As Its Title Character

Danny Boyle's new biopic, Steve Jobs, is a look at the man who made Apple mean computers, not fruit. NPR film critic Bob Mondello says it's an invigorating story told in three acts of crisis.

Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

The bees that pollinate crops are on the brink of collapse. One big reason why: a virus-carrying mite. Now, researchers think a rare fungi could boost bees' immune system and attack the mite itself.

'Quartet' Member: Nobel Peace Prize Is 'Very Important For Tunisia'

NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Wided Bouchamaoui, president of the Tunisian Employers' Union, and a member of the National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia, about winning the Nobel Peace Prize Friday.

Volkswagen Faces Uphill Battle In Repairing Tarnished Reputation

Volkswagen faces two enormous repair jobs: fixing its polluting diesel cars and its battered reputation. Both may be much harder to fix than anything other scandal-plagued car companies have faced.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.