Gnomes: Pandemic problems plus other issues around the world have had a surprising knock on effect… on gnomes!
They say a global crisis affects so-called ‘little people’ the most. Well that’s certainly true in this case. A garden staple, the sight has become all too rare in the time of Covid-19.
How so? Is there a gnome-based strain of the virus?
Of course not. But the next worst scenario has arguably come to pass. Those comforted by these pipe-smoking, toadstool-grabbing creations are feeling anxious right now.
Take the UK for example. Like any business, garden centers were hit by lockdown. Yet crisis was averted – to a certain extent – by their status as sellers of essential supplies.
BBC News reports, via Ian Byrne of Highfield Garden World, that trade is up 97% compared to the pre-Covid climate of 2019. Meanwhile the Guardian refers to the Office for National Statistics, which noted an 8.5% increase in garden center sales during late 2020.
Record numbers of people are checking out green-fingered locations. And gnomes appear high on their shopping list. Existing stock is as depleted as a carrot patch over a rabbit warren. “We haven’t seen a gnome in six months now” Byrne tells the BBC.
The market is “facing a perfect storm of lockdown” according to Iain Wylie, Chief Executive of the Garden Centre Association. Quoted by The Guardian, he reminds readers of the tight time frames required for plant growing. A problem that could take root if delays continue.
Speaking of delays, they don’t come bigger than the recent situation in the Suez Canal. The container ship ‘Ever Given’ spent several days clogging up the busy trade route. Proof that even in the modern age nature must take its course. Gardeners no doubt appreciate that philosophy.
With the ship run aground and blocking passage, materials have been unable to reach their destinations. These apparently include plastic, stone and concrete, without which the humble gnome couldn’t exist. It isn’t just diminutive characters that are out of the picture. Garden furniture is also affected.
The current troubles are a far cry from the English gnome’s origins. As described by Garden Collage Magazine, the trend started thanks to wealthy enthusiast Sir Charles Isham. In 1847 he returned from a trip to Germany with no less than 21 terra cotta gnomes in tow for his epic rockery.
Sir Charles was signed up to the British National Association of Spiritualists. Perhaps he saw something compelling in these offbeat ornaments. Garden Collage describes Germany as “steeped in the folklore of gnomes, trolls, fairies and other forest folk”. News of Sir Charles’ additions spread and the rest is history.
His daughters reportedly deemed the gnomes “unfit for the aesthetic of a palatial estate”. Maybe the static bearded ones heeded this call. They eventually populated gardens owned by people of varying income brackets.
Ironically the single gnome that wasn’t disposed of – named “Lampy” – was eventually insured for $1.4 million (£1 million). He’s believed to be the oldest known of his kind. “Gnome” itself, “Gnomus” in Medieval Latin, is believed to come from Swiss scientist Paracelsus, who lived in the 16th century.
Garden Collage also mentions the 2nd century AD, where Emperor Hadrian welcomed visitors into the outdoor spaces of his villa. These weren’t gnomes by the way but living people – hermits, who’d keep the greenery in good order.
Flash forward to the 18th century, and people in England could apply for the relatively new position of “ornamental hermit”. Strangely, the growing of beards wasn’t permitted.
The connection between man and ornament isn’t fully established. But safe to say, without the whims of the well to do, gnomes wouldn’t be a part of people’s everyday lives.
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With a sprinkling of fairy dust, or rather gnome’s tobacco, the show should get back on the road. Before that however, fantasy is being well and truly eclipsed by reality…