There are six million of them in Great Britain and interest in having them has increased twenty percent during the pandemic.
One of the unintended consequences of having an oversized ship plug up the Suez Canal last month is a shortage of garden gnomes in Great Britain. Garden gnomes are a hot item.
During the pandemic and lockdowns in Great Britain garden centres have been allowed to stay open, and of course that is where you purchase garden gnomes. The Independent’s Clara Hill interviewed Highland Garden World’s assistant manager Ian Byrne in Whitminster, who stated there was a “massive upswing” in customers purchasing garden gnomes.
“We haven’t seen a gnome in six months now, unfortunately. Raw materials are becoming a bit of an issue and unfortunately, gnomes are a victim of that shortage… Gnomes of any type, plastic, stone or concrete, are in short supply.”
The history of garden gnomes tells a lot about class. In the 17th century garden statues in Europe contained “gobbi”, which evolved to be happy playful forest folk said to provide vigilance and protection of gardens. In Germany which has an ancient tradition of folk tale lore, gnomes began to have the classic toques, round tummies and beards.
But later British attitudes to garden gnomes has a deeper, darker side. In the 18th century British gentry hired people posed as “ornamental hermits” to live in their palatial gardens and inhabit rustic shacks. They were told exactly how to behave, right down to not talking, and being asked to grow beards and long toenails.
The British found a cheaper way to continue the gnome craze when Sir Charles Isham brought 21 pottery gnomes from Europe to decorate a rockery in 1847. This pottery form began just after the Industrial Revolution and allowed more people to have garden gnomes. These gnomes were inert and inanimate, as opposed to hiring people to act like gnomes.
By the 1900’s pottery and cement gnomes populated many gardens, and were cheap enough in cement form for anyone to purchase. As a popular item accessible to the masses, the gnome became a thing of scorn. The Chelsea Flower Show has banned them every year from 2006 to today, with only one exception: the 100th anniversary of the show.
And why for the 100th anniversary was the gnome allowed back? Tradition.
Take a look at the YouTube video below from Britain’s “This Morning” Show that interviews a garden gnome collector in Cornwall that has made gnomes a passion. This segment spends seven minutes talking on all things garden gnome.