Garden gnomes invaded Chelsea Flower Show on Monday as the prestigous horticultural event relaxed a ban on the diminutive ornaments to raise cash for charity.
Musician Elton John and Downtown Abbey actress Dame Maggie Smith are among celebrities who have painted individual gnomes in support of the Chelsea centenary appeal, which aims to bring more young people into the industry.
The gnomes, which appeared inside the showground overnight ahead of Monday’s preview of the flower extravaganza, will be auctioned on e-Bay. The show in London formally opens on Tuesday.
“A survey of 1,000 people last year revealed that 70 percent of 18-year-olds believe horticultural careers should only be considered by people who have failed academically,” said broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh, a vice-president of the show’s organisers, the Royal Horticultural Society.
“We must act now to make horticulture appeal to young people. We must engage with them in an interesting way to discover the immense job satisfaction and wealth of opportunities horticulture can offer.”
The appeal aims to fund projects including apprenticeships, creating a learning centre at the RHS’s Hyde Hall garden in Essex and supporting the society’s campaign for school gardening.
More than 16,500 schools have signed up to the school gardening project.
RHS director general Sue Biggs said: “We’ve all got a duty to engage youngsters with getting their hands dirty and getting back to nature, and finding out what horticulture is about.
“Gardening is such a good thing to do, it’s outdoors, it’s healthy, you can meet your neighbours, grow your own and cut your costs. Everything about gardening is positive, but it’s not cool.”
The RHS established its Great Spring Show in 1862, staging it in Kensington then at the Temple near the Embankment until 1911, before it transferred permanently in 1913 to the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea.
The Chelsea event was cancelled in 1917 and 1918 but was fully revived in the 1920s, although the general strike in 1926 caused it to be delayed by a week. After cancellation during the Second World War, the show has been staged every year since 1947.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were scheduled on Monday evening to visit the show, where special features this year include displays in the Great Pavilion showing brand new plants alongside favourites from 1913. A total of 550 exhibitors have stands or display gardens at the show.