Now, to England where another hallowed tradition is under siege. This year, they are allowing garden gnomes at the annual Chelsea Flower Show. The little figures are being sold to raise money for a charity that encourages young people to garden.

The gnomes are causing some to have their knickers in a twist. We're joined now by Dr. Twigs Way who's author of "Garden Gnomes: A History." Dr. Way joins us from our studios in London. Thanks so much for being with us.

DR. TWIGS WAY: Hi, really nice to be here.

SIMON: So why do these gnomes raise such a stir?

WAY: They're probably about the most contentious garden ornament that has ever appeared at Chelsea and the most contentious garden ornament really ever. If you put a garden gnome in your garden in England, the neighbors kind of get, oh no, you know, the neighborhood's going right downhill.

SIMON: Dr. Way, I don't understand what garden gnomes are all about. Are they merely decorative? Did they begin as kind of like scarecrows?

WAY: Historically they go back to the Victorian period. They were brought in from Germany, but they were seen by English people who were visiting places like the Black Forest and they saw these figures in gardens in Germany and they decided to bring them back to England. And originally they were very highly sought after, they were expensive, but the link with Germany, I'm afraid, was their undoing because, of course, as soon as the First World War broke out, not only could you not get German gnomes anymore, but of course people really didn't want German gnomes anymore.

Coming into the sort of '40s and '50s, fashion is reborn for these kind of garden, little garden creatures particularly on the back of the animation "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

SIMON: OK, I get that the British inherited garden gnomes from the German tradition. Why did the Germans have garden gnomes?

WAY: They believed that little folk, the mythical folk, helped out in the garden and around the farm and in the mines. It was a mining area of Germany.

SIMON: So what's the resistance with putting them into the show?

WAY: When the RHS started having the show, they put a blanket ban, not just on gnomes, but on any colorful mythical creature. And it became a point of discussion, and so for about the last decade or so there's always been somebody that tries to sneak in a garden gnome because all they want to do really is say who is this garden show for? Is it for the suburban gardeners who may love their gnomes, or is it just an exclusive show at the high end.

SIMON: Dr. Way, I'm going to assume you have a garden.

WAY: I do, but I've only been in my present garden for the last nine weeks because we just moved house.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, any gnomes?

Not yet. I have yet to find the right gnome for me.

SIMON: Garden historian Dr. Twigs Way.


SIMON: You're listening to NPR News.


Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from