Chelsea Flower Show includes gnomes this year

A traditional no-no, gnomes will be welcomed -- this year only -- at England's famous Chelsea Flower Show.

Courtesy of Lynn Hunt
Gnomes can expect the red carpet this year at England's famous Chelsea Flower Show, but will be banned again in 2014

For the first time in its 100-year history, the Chelsea Flower Show has lifted its ban and will allow gnomes to be included in the prestigious garden displays.

As part of the centenary celebration, the Royal Horticultural Society will turn a blind eye and become gnome-friendly, but for this year and this year only
(May 21-25, 2013).

For decades, gnome lovers in fancy dress have organized demonstrations outside the gates on opening day to protest the ban. This year their beloved garden statues will be welcomed with open arms.

Two nine-foot white gnome statues will greet visitors at the show entrance. There will even be a celebrity gnome-painting competition with a star-studded list of participants including actress Maggie Smith and "Downton Abbey's" Julian Fellowes.

A gnome among the herbs

This gnome-tolerant policy is a far cry from what happened as recently as 2009. A scandal was exposed at that year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show when a banned item was spotted in one of the lush display beds.

The illegal object was a garden gnome named Borage. Once he was spied, Royal Horticultural Society officials moved swiftly to have the gnome removed from the premises.

According to the Times of London, organizers were even more shocked to learn that one of the members of their own ruling council had been “implicated in the affair.”

Jekka McVicar, a 13-time gold medal winner at Chelsea (and prominent garden-book author) had put together what was described as a stunning display of medicinal and culinary herbs in the Grand Pavilion.

Since this was to be her last appearance in the show, she decided to place Borage, a tiny statue holding a fishing rod, behind some of the greenery.

A show official insisted that the “offending gnome be ejected,” reminding the offender that gnomes are against the rules at the Chelsea Flower Show. The Times reported that the country’s gardening elite consider them to be taboo. (Is it just snobbery? asked the Guardian.)

Mrs. McVicar fought back saying her gnome was in “wonderfully good taste.” She went on to declare that he is “not brightly coloured … and is a subtle gnome.” She refused to extract Borage from the display but promised to cover him with foliage.

Apparently she was successful in her efforts since the queen and other members of the royal family were able to view the often-spectacular displays without further incident, and without having to avert their eyes.

Even though Britain was (and is) suffering through a recession, almost 150,000 tickets were sold for that Chelsea show. It is not know if many of the visitors would have shied away had they known the outlawed gnome Borage was lurking in the basils.

Does anyone care?

Then again, I’m assuming many who love Chelsea don’t consider themselves to be among the gardening elite. They just enjoy seeing all those fabulous flowers and plants.

And like me, probably didn’t know about the ban and therefore didn’t realize that gnomes have been perennial no-nos.


Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, blogs regularly at the Monitor. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. After a recent move, she grows roses and other plants in her garden in the mountains of western North Carolina. To read more by Lynn here at the Monitor, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter and read her Dirt Diaries

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