Britain’s smallest minority is taking its fight for recognition to the heart of the gardening establishment this week in what gnome rights activists are calling a horticultural revolution.
For decades the victims of prejudice, gnomes are marching on the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens on 21 May, where they had been cruelly banned for years.
Elton John is championing their rise to the world’s most famous flowerbeds in the show’s centenary year. The singer, known for his fondness for flowers, has painted a gnome in his image, signing it with glitter pen.
The Royal Horticultural Society, which runs the show, denied targeting gnomes but critics said snobbery motivated its rules forbidding “brightly coloured creatures”. In 2009, Jekka McVicar was forced to hide her gnome, Borage, in foliage lest judges spot him. But the ruling council bowed to pressure and mini-Elton is joining a parade of 150 gnomes to be inspected by the Queen.
The victory comes as garden centres report resurgent gnome sales over the past five years. They arrived from their native Germany in 1847, when Sir Charles Isham placed 21 Gartenzwergs (garden dwarves) in the gardens of his Northamptonshire pile. Only Lampy survives and is insured for £1m.
A mania and thriving industry developed. Tom Major-Ball, John Major’s father, made gnomes in the 1930s. Poland emerged as a global centre for production (Nowa Sól, aka Gnome City, is still home to 30 firms who exploited the rise of garden kitsch). But changing tastes later threatened communities – until what gnomes hope will go down in history as the Glorious Summer of 2013.
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