THE QUEEN TO INSPECT GNOMES AT THE CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW
This year, on the 100th anniversary of the show, gnomes are not only to be allowed into the grounds – but will be positively celebrated.
Celebrities will be invited to decorate the diminutive gentlemen… and a parade of 150 of them will be lined up for official inspection by the Queen.
In the society’s rules for Chelsea, gnomes are classified as “brightly coloured mythical creatures”, being part of a wide-ranging ban on anything too garish, including balloons and flags. But in 2009 the designer Jekka McVicar managed to sneak a gnome, albeit discreetly clad, into her garden, provoking raised eyebrows but no formal rebuke. And in 1993 an antique gnome from Leicestershire named Lampy, dating from the 1840s and insured for £1 million, was allowed in, presumably on the grounds that nothing so valuable could be totally naff.
Lampy is the only survivor of what are believed to be the first band of gnomes to come to Britain. Made in Germany, they were imported by Sir Charles Isham, a believer in spiritualism and the supernatural.
Gnomes have always had spiritual associations. As Martin Cornwall wrote in The Complete Book of the Gnome (1997), they are “a legacy of the ancient human need to populate the world with spirits, their presence sensed in trees and boulders, caves and streams”.
The little folk caught the public imagination as the 19th century progressed, and later with the growth of the suburbs, when more people boasted gardens of their own. John Major’s father had a thriving gnome-making business between 1947 and 1962.