Opinions vary on garden gnomes, those ceramic or plastic statues that first cropped up in the 1800s and have been adorning yards ever since. Some people think they're charming, while others find them tacky.
Fans of the peculiar lawn ornaments looking forward to adding yet another tiny statue to their collection may be out of luck, at least in the UK. The country has been engulfed by a gnome shortage.
According to United Press International (UPI), production of the gnomes has slowed owing in large part to the recent blockage of the Suez Canal by a cargo ship. That led to a reduction in the availability of raw materials. Coupled with the increased demand for the gnomes by people tending to private gardens during the pandemic means their population is beginning to dwindle.
No gnome has been spared, regardless of whether it’s made of plastic, stone, or concrete. Ian Byrne, the assistant manager of Highfield Garden World in Whitminster, a small village in Gloucestershire, put the issue in sharp perspective. “We haven’t seen a [new] gnome in six months now, unfortunately,” he told The Guardian.
“There aren’t any [gnomes]. There’s definitely a shortage. It’s a combined thing with garden centers being so busy. I looked at some figures based on March which said garden centers were 97 percent busier than they were in 2019. Every day has been like a bank holiday. That’s good but it’s definitely causing some issues because it’s not just English garden centers that are booming, it’s all across Europe, so it’s causing issues with supply.”
Outdoor garden furniture is also hard to come by for many of the same reasons, leading garden shops to try and source inventory from suppliers in Europe and China.
The shortage doesn’t appear to be impacting the United States, where gnomes are freely available on sites like Amazon. One listing offers a gnome for $20 and Prime shipping. “Adorable beard,” the copy reads. One buyer advises that the gnome is vulnerable to squirrel attacks. Another cautions that it’s “barely” 9 inches tall, not the 10 inches advertised.
Gardeners with an existing gnome presence might feel fortunate, but they can also fall victim to a different kind of disappearing act. In a prank known as gnoming, thieves swipe the gnomes from yards and then return them along with pictures of where the gnome has been. In 2000, a radical group calling itself the Garden Gnome Liberation Front took a number of the sculptures from the Bagatelle Gardens in Paris, France.