England's banished garden gnomes fight back

England's garden gnomes, banished from the world-renowned Chelsea Flower Show because of their perceived vulgarity, are fighting back. Pink-cheeked and red-capped, these cheerful inhabitants of middle-class gardens throughout the land have even begun ingratiating themselves with the aristocracy.

The threat to English gnomes became manifest last year when the Royal Horticultural Show, which organizes the Chelsea Flower Show, declared that gnomes lowered the tone.

''They do not fit in,'' an organizer said.

Gnomes, and their lesser brethren, pixies, were nonplussed at first. But there are millions of them in England and, with a little help from gnome owners and suppliers, they began to organize.

The National Gnome Club, hitherto a placid association of gnome lovers, joined forces with a magazine, Gnome News. The result was a campaign dedicated to the restoration of the gnome in the nation's affections.

The gates of Chelsea refused to yield, but gnomes were let into the International Garden Festival at Liverpool. A national gnome week was declared, and the marquis of Bath allowed his family home, Longleat, to be the venue for an ideal gnome exhibition.

Visitors were invited to bring their favorite gnomes to Longleat and picnic in the grounds. Those who arrived at the grounds wearing a gnome's conical hat were given a 50 pence discount on the entrance fee.

Heartland of the on-going pro-gnome movement is a gnome reserve in a garden in Devonshire owned by Ann Atkin.

She believes gnomes are fun. Beyond that, they help a person to look at a garden through the eyes of a child.

All but a handful of the people who enter the reserve agree to don a gnome's hat. ''Wearing the hats breaks down barriers of time and age,'' Ann says.

The English Gnome Manufacturers Association is not entirely hostile to the gnome revival. A gnome can cost up to (STR)50 (some $70), depending on size and quality.

Ann Atkin belives a house is not really a home without a gnome - and that applies to Chelsea as well as Cheltenham.

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