Monday, 1 July 2013


“Around about 500 years ago someone suddenly realised that simply by planting a stick in the ground they could make a shadow and measure the passage of time. The gnomon was the name given to the stick which cast the shadows across ancient Sumerian sundials. With a gnomon you would tell the time of day, the day of the month, the seasons of the year, the east from the west. You possessed knowledge. [gnowledge is a temping thought].

It gave its name to the art of gnomology, the gnomists who practised it, gnomic discourse and extremely circuitously to gnomes. Gnomes are a stumpy clever species along with goblins and elves and sprites and trolls, who live in the interior of the earth. Gnosis, in Greek, means knowledge; and the name gnome originated with Swiss alchemist Paracelsus, who called gnomes gnomes because gnomes know where precious metals like cobalt and gold are found.

Despite this attribute gnomes are considered naff. They are the sort of garden icon that declares their owner to be lower middle class or even lower. Their usual habitat is the small town garden, with crazy paving painted white at the joins, plastic urns and ornamental miniature wheelbarrows topped off with a dazzling display of bedding plants in red, white and blue – with some orange and yellow for good measure.

Indeed they have such demeaning connotations that The Royal Horticultural Society won’t allow them in the Chelsea Flower Show. The list of proscribed articles specifically mentions ‘coloured figures of all kinds, gnomes, fairies or similar creatures, actual or mythical’.

The gnome is on a horticultural blacklist.”

from page 88 of the Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

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