Did you see the news yesterday? A woman in Devon found 107 gnomes marching up her garden path. She was delighted: “It’s the best, most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t know who did it but I would love to know. I would love to shake their hand and say: ‘Well done, you made me laugh.’”
Good for her, and the card who put them there. But why gnomes in gardens? When I was a kid there were several gardens up our road that had them ... and they puzzled me then. Maybe there are members of this site who still have them?
But where in the world do they come from? I imagined it might have been some Daily Mirror promotion from the 1930s or some such that took hold. But no. Apparently they started in 19th century Germany as Gartenswerge (garden dwarfs) and manufacturers of the ceramic characters, with beards and pointy red hats, spread myths that they would help the garden at night. Today there are still estimated to be some 25 million garden gnomes in Germany.
Gnomes were introduced to the UK in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham and one remaining character from his first set, 'Lampy', is said to be insured for £1m.
They were not, however, to the liking of the Chelsea Flower Show who, with a powerful curse, banned them from the show for 100 years! Graciously the ban was lifted for the centenary year in 2013.
In France there is a gnome liberation movement Front de Libération des Nains de Jardin (FLNJ) who spirit them away at night to put them in the woods, which they say is the natural gnome habitat.
Back in the UK, John Major's father, Tom Major-Ball, was a major manufacturer ... which got me thinking someone might have made a John Major gnome that was rather good, but I couldn't find one.
At which point, I'll confess gnomes in gardens have never been quite my cup of tea. But do share photos if you have them and tell us why you like them. It's all rather intriguing.