How well I recall my first visit to The Chelsea Flower Show. As I was leaving ,a young lady from local radio stuck a microphone in my face and asked me : “So was this your first time?” Yes, I replied. “And what did you think? Just a quick comment”. Not enough gnomes I said firmly. “Seriously? “ Yes, absolutely. I didn’t see a single gnome. At first I thought maybe Chelsea didn’t go in for bad taste and silliness, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case at all. For a start, if you want a good giggle just clock some of the ridiculous hats women wear. I presume they only get worn twice a year : Chelsea and Ascot , and a Royal Garden party if they are invited, as I assume most of them are. No doubt they would consider garden gnomes to be cheap and vulgar. Maybe traditional gnomes are banned ,from Chelsea, but this doesn’t mean that so are all manner of humanoid garden creatures. Some are inoffensive. Some are hideous. None of them are cheap.
In recent years, gnomes have been usurped by woodland folk such as faeries- with an e to denote that they are magical- pixies, nymphs, goblins and sprites. The standard type wears tights, a Peter Pan jerkin, and a perky little cap with a feather , so twee that even Robin Hood would be embarrassed to be seen out in it. Most of them have an expression on their faces that I expect purports to be cheeky or mischievous, but is in fact more of a lascivious leer. Presumably their ardour is directed at females of their kind, though it seems that all pixies, goblins and sprites are male, whilst all the females seem to be faeries- or fairies if you prefer. Come to think of it ,I have never ever seen a lady gnome. Presumably it is all done by magic.
Actually ,it is all done by “craft” companies, who constantly wrack their brains to come up with this years hot ornamental garden creature. They have of course taken a frightful bashing from Meercats. I am in fact a considerable aficionado of fake garden animals, but I have very strict rules. Principally, that they have to be realistic and really do look like they are supposed to. A rummage through my new book will reveal much much more about the menagerie I have accumulated. There are some really accurate resin creatures, ranging from a piglet to a gorilla (neither fully grown). The best ones are almost exclusively made by a company called Vivid , who no doubt exhibit at all the big flower shows. Moreover, they are by no means exorbitantly pricey, which cannot be said about many of the work on show, which would have to be carved from gold to justify their price tags. The amazing thing is that at Chelsea there will be people who can afford to buy them.
There are some people who would consider contorted creatures fashioned from copper, tin cans or scrap metal to be art. And some of it certainly is . However, surely no one could claim the same about the ‘comical captions’ section that delights those who have a sharp and eloquent sense of humour. Oscar Wilde would have been jealous. “ Never mind the dog, beware the husband.” “ Or beware of the wife.” “ It’s a bad day, piss off.” (Wow that’s a clever one.) “ I am down the pub”. Why is that funny? “ Gone hunting” I am reporting that one to the League against cruel sports).At least they are cheap, in both senses.
But surely -you may be wondering – I do have a browse round the flowers? I do, but only outdoors. The massive marquees give me claustrophobia , and the flower displays look like a massive funeral parlour. I far prefer gazing at the “wildflower” gardens ,which happily seem to improve and multiply each year. Natural colours are delightful ,so why on earth is it becoming a fashion to spray blooms in your flower bed to change their colour!. My wife recently came home with a large hydrangea and a spray can of flower paint to enhance its natural pink! Heathers and rushes seem to be popular targets in parks and flower shows. The natural purple of wild heather looks wonderful, spray it gold or silver and it looks ridiculous.
I don’t know if this little piece -or my book -is helpful or a harangue . The fact is, the only rule about my gardens has been ‘anything goes ‘. My only advice is”Do your own thing.”
Bill Oddie OBE