Sunday, April 21, 2013 12 comments

A traditional no-no, Gnomes will be welcomed this year at Chelsea

An American gnome reconsiders his plans to visit Britain

For the first time in its 100-year history, the Chelsea Flower Show has lifted its ban and will allow gnomes to be included in the prestigious 2013 garden displays.

As part of the centenary celebration, the Royal Horticultural Society will turn a blind eye and become gnome-friendly, but for this year and this year only.

For decades, gnome lovers in fancy dress have organized demonstrations outside the gates on opening day to protest the ban. This year their beloved garden statues will be welcomed with open arms.

Two nine-foot-tall white gnomes are slated to greet visitors at the show entrance. There will even be a celebrity gnome-painting competition with a star-studded list of participants including Maggie Smith and Julian Fellowes.

This gnome-tolerant policy is a far cry from what happened as recently as 2009.

A scandal was exposed at that year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show when a banned item was spotted in one of the lush display beds.

The illegal object was a garden gnome named Borage. Once spied, Royal Horticultural Society officials moved swiftly to have the gnome removed from the premises.

According to the Times of London, organizers were even more shocked to learn that one of the members of their own ruling council had been “implicated in the affair.”

Jekka McVicar, a 13-time gold medal winner at Chelsea had put together what was described as a stunning display of medicinal and culinary herbs in the Grand Pavilion.
2009 Fenland Alchemist Garden

Since this was to be her last appearance in the show she decided to place Borage, a tiny statue holding a fishing rod, behind some of the greenery.

A show official insisted that the “offending gnome be ejected” reminding the offender that gnomes are against the rules at the Chelsea Flower Show. 

The Times reported that the country’s gardening elite consider them to be taboo. (Is it just snobbery? asked The Guardian.)

Mrs. McVicar fought back saying her gnome was in “wonderfully good taste.” She went on to declare that he is “not brightly coloured… and is a subtle gnome.” She refused to extract Borage from the display but promised to cover him with foliage.

Apparently she was successful in her efforts since the Queen and other members of the royal family were able to view the often-spectacular displays without further incident, and without having to avert their eyes.

Even though Britain was (and is) suffering through a recession, almost 150,000 tickets were sold for that Chelsea show. It is not know if many of the visitors would have shied away had they known the outlawed gnome Borage was lurking in the basils.

Red carpet treatment this year, buh-bye again in 2014

Then again, I’m assuming many who love Chelsea don’t consider themselves to be among the gardening elite. They just enjoy seeing all those fabulous flowers and plants.

And like me, probably didn’t know about the ban, and therefore didn’t realize gnomes have been perennial no-nos.

Monday, April 1, 2013 18 comments

A thorn by any other name

While pruning my roses last week I got to thinking about thorns. L D Braithwaite is loaded with them.

Thumbing through a compilation of favorite sayings, you might find 300 or more quotes referring to roses. Many of these adages also mention the dreaded thorns. For instance, Anne Bronte wrote “he that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.”

And of course we all know “every rose has its thorns.”

But the truth is, those nasty spikes we call thorns are not thorns at all. Botanists actually call them prickles. 

The Bourbon rose Zephirine Drouhin is thornless
According to the American Rose Society, a thorn is a branch of a plant that becomes woody, hard and pointed. Cactus plants, locust trees and many varieties of citrus have thorns. These thorns are deeply embedded in the plant itself and are difficult to break off.

Rose prickles, on the other hand, can be snapped off quite easily since they are part of the outer layers of the stem. Just give a prickle a little push sideways and see what happens.

Prickles are smaller than thorns and are useful in helping roses climb across other plants. They can also give potential predators a painful rebuke.

Although prickles aren’t supposed to be as intimidating as thorns, my arms, legs and face can’t tell much of a difference. When I’m out doing a little impromptu pruning and neglect to dress properly, I come in covered with scratches. I always tell people it’s because my roses love me and want to give me hugs.

Seriously, however, there’s an important reason to protect yourself from prickle punctures.

Commonly known as rose thorn disease, Sporotrichosis is an infection caused by the fungus Sporothrix schenckii that usually affects the skin but can spread to other parts of the body. Infections in the joints, lungs and central nervous system are possible, although rare.
James Galway doesn't snag me
The fungus is found naturally in soil, on the tips of rose thorns, on sphagnum moss and hay. It enters the skin through small cuts or abrasions and first appears  -- sometimes several weeks after getting pricked – as small bumps. Left untreated, these bumps can later develop into open sores.

The best advice is to completely avoid this ugly disease by wearing long sleeves and sturdy gloves while working around your roses. I truly love my Bionic Gloves – they are triple layered goatskin gauntlet gloves designed by a hand surgeon that protect my arms up to the elbows. After a weekend of serious pruning I ended up with nary a scratch, avoiding a potentially thorny situation.

Kahil Gibran noted that “the optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.”

Crocus Rose does when she can
I admire the rose but remain mindful of the thorns just to be safe. And I say thorns because even though I know better, I can’t bring myself to call them prickles.

“Every rose has its prickles” simply doesn’t sound right.

And I prefer the sentiment of this German proverb: “Instead of complaining that the rosebush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.”