In the second of the series of blogs covering the story of the gnome, guest blogger ‘The Garden Ninja’ explores why gnomes attract haters…! 

“Why are gnomes under threat?

Gardening has always been a serious hobby; taking time, effort, some horticultural skill and patience. Commercial garden centres have over taken many of the local nurseries and the sheer variety of garden ornaments you can now buy means that the gnome has stiff competition. I believe that the cheeky garden gnome has simply been replaced with bigger, more ‘serious’, ornate structures that are available. It has become a bit of a class war, as the cheap and cheerful gnome is replaced by expensive water features and larger resin statues. Sadly the gnome has been labelled as tacky, pastiche and outdated. As with every garden feature, sometimes less is more and knowing the boundary between something that compliments and something that can ruin a design is a tricky one. No one knows this more than a show garden designer…

RHS show gardens banning gnomes

When I recently showcased my RHS show garden ‘Fancy a brew? Take a pew’ at Hampton Court this year, the rules of show gardens clearly prohibited gnomes. Now I’m not saying that gnomes were on my must-have list of design requirements for my Manchester inspired front garden. In fact I must agree that having a balanced cohesive garden design with gnomes would be impossible for my brief, as they are too tongue in cheek and the scale of them makes it very difficult to do a serious design. That’s not to mention how I would link them to Manchester’s industrial heritage and mills. However, it did get me thinking though about the position of the good old gnome, a symbol which holds such happy childhood memories for me and my first forays into gardening. Are we all just following suit with the gardening elite or have people forgotten about the jovial fun side of garden gnomes?


Just looking at the incredible show gardens produced each year at the various RHS shows, you can see the level of skill, diligence and creativity these designers display. Truly incredible works of art, the gardens combine design flair with horticultural mastery. There are very few bad show gardens, as the pressure is so high, competition fierce and medal allocation strict. It is this expectation for perfection and planting du jour that means there is little room for gnomes. In fact, the RHS had banned gnomes from show gardens, apart from in 2013 at Chelsea in order to celebrate the 100th year anniversary. This in itself almost started a class war between garden experts and designers!

Given the movement towards aspiring Chelsea standard gardens, what does the future hold for our vagrant red hatted outcasts? Don’t get me wrong, I am an advocate of upholding the highest design and planting standards. You don’t train in horticulture and design for years to churn out slapdash designs or use inappropriate ornamental elements, so I can see why the gnome is excluded from most show gardens. Maybe gnomes are so hard to design with, perhaps this is the real reason they are not allowed. I mean how could you really put a winking gnome into a £100,000 Chelsea garden? This brings us to an important point; a show garden and a residential garden are two vastly different things.

Giving a gnome a home

We must not lose sight of one of the main reasons for gardening; to relax, enjoy and to not take oneself too seriously. If so, all gardeners could be in therapy when that Rhododendron fails to flower or the Rose black spot we simply cannot eradicate means our horticultural reputation was in tatters. I believe that gnomes still play a huge part in gardening, whether it is to entertain children by hiding the cheeky fellows around a garden or simply using a gnome as a comic nod in a garden bed. There is still a place for them. Gnomes can bring us back to earth a bit with the ‘day to day’ gardening we are more used to. Why not introduce one into your garden or hide one near that shrub you simply can’t remember the name of?”

So, what better way to ‘give a gnome a home’ than to pop along to your River Island store and purchasing one of the cheeky critters! A whopping great donation goes to Greenfingers too!

Read back on the history of gnomes by clicking here.

Check out more about the Garden Ninja!


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