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Despite the horror of it all, one of the most amusing stories of the day involves the public reaction to Britain's Royal Horticultural Society's decision to allow the presence of garden gnomes — those adorable, elfin statues people put in their yards, and sometimes, as in Amélie and Travelocity ads, help to travel the world — at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Hint: People did not like it! Not at all! (But some did, defending their gnomes, "proud and loud," writes Sarah Lyall in The New York Times.)

There were gnome-reactions aplenty. Some involved "people all but fleeing in horror when the word was mentioned." Stalwarts put their gnomes right out there, front and center, in their exhibits. Waffling types hid their gnomes, then removed them. "And then there were the Hewitt brothers, Paul and Richard, who were exhibiting greenhouses and who showed up dressed in gnome outfits that they had purchased on eBay and accessorized with beards they had fashioned themselves." They'd thought lots of people present would have similar outfits on. They were wrong. 

The Chelsea Flower Show is a pretty fancy event, "the horticultural society’s most important and influential occasion in this gardening-mad country, drawing Britain’s top gardeners and thousands of horticulture enthusiasts," explains Lyall. Hence, not all were amused by the common presence of the quirky, kitschy garden gnome in this distinguished affair. That notwithstanding, lots of people adore gnomes, and garden gnomes are some of the more popular variety. “'There are a lot of people who are gnome fanatics, who will literally buy any gnome going,' said Sally Chambers, décor brand manager at Solus, a company offering gardening-related products that has sold 200,000 gnomes in its Woodland Wilf line since 2009." I don't even have a garden, but I've got my eye on this gnome

Whether you like gnomes or not, what you may not know is that gnomes are not just gnomes. They are potentially viral entities, to be photographed and displayed and sold on the Internet, to be put wherever a person likes, to be played tricks with (hidden in strange places; in one reported case, "decapitated" — not nice!), to be dressed up in creative attire, and even to be used to unify groups or society. Lyall reports, “'Gnomes are very symbolic in English gardens, as an anti-class statement,' said Mr. Llewelyn-Bowen, who happened to be passing by his painted gnome as he prepared to tour the garden show. He said he had a colony of gnomes in his garden."

Despite a certain amount of resistance from gnome snobs at the show, there appears to have been a marked surge in diplomatic gnome relations this year. But in 2014 there will be no gnomes at the Chelsea Flower Show at all. The lifting of the no-gnome decree was, alas, only for its centenary year, or, you might call it, The Year of the Gnome. 

Image via Shutterstock by Ariel Bravy.

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