Have gnomes had their day in modern gardens?

Nicholas Warliker and Digby the Gnome with the large selection of gnomes at Podington Garden Centre.
Nicholas Warliker and Digby the Gnome with the large selection of gnomes at Podington Garden Centre.
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Like them or loathe them, it seems gnomes are the Marmite of the gardening world.

Last month they were accepted into Chelsea Flower Show for the first time following a 100-year ban and one of the guest stars was Lampy of Lamport Hall, who is believed to be the world’s oldest garden gnome.

But has their warm welcome at Chelsea brought an end to gnome snobbery, or are these fellows as hated as they seem to have been in previous years?

At Podington Garden Centre, which has its own gnome, Digby, as its symbol, not only have more gnomes been brought in, but there has also been an increased demand from the public.

Senior plantaria assistant Nicholas Warliker said: “Our range of gnomes have increased and we do have a varied range. We have one that is apple eating, a traditional one, one with a fishing rod, a rugby player, footballer, one asleep in a hammock and a concrete Gnomeo and Juliet.

“I think gnomes being at Chelsea has helped. There was even a storyline involving a gnome on Coronation Street a few years ago. They are an integral part of British humour and bring a bit of humour into the garden as well. People still look out for the traditional ones and we have got some really big ones here, we have one of 3ft.”

But elsewhere, the pint-sized garden characters do not seem as popular.

Jim Leatherland, of Hollowell, who belongs to gardening groups including the Hardy Plant Society, said: “They are very much out of favour and I can’t understand why people at Chelsea changed their rule. I think they belong to the 1930s and not 2013.”

John Pearson, assistant manager at Woodmeadow Garden Centre, Hannington, said apart from some stone ornaments featuring gnomes, the traditional varieties are not stocked.

He said: “We haven’t really had anyone asking for gnomes. I think it is more contemporary stuff now as opposed to traditional garden gnomes. Some people think they are tacky (not me personally), but they are more of a comedy thing. I think there will always be a place for gnomes, they will come into fashion again.”

Fact file on the world’s oldest gnome

Lampy was one of 21 gnomes brought to the UK from Germany by Sir Charles Isham in 1847.

In 2010, Lampy was voted the sixth most iconic object in Northamptonshire.

Sir Charles Isham – who believed in fairies and gnomes and was convinced they came alive at night – spent about 50 years populating the Lamport rockery with garden gnomes.

In his book, Notes on Gnomes, he gave details of reported sightings of gnomes by others.

As early as the 1870s, Lamport’s rockery of gnomes became a visitor attraction.

Sir Charles died in 1903, aged 83, and his two daughters had the gnomes removed.

According to Lamport’s assistant property manager Neil Lyon, Sir Charles’ two daughters are believed to have shot the gnomes themselves with air rifles.

Lampy managed to survive, falling into a crevice where it lay hidden for years.