- Author: Karen Metz
As one year passes and another begins, I think we all pay a little more attention to time. Whether it was watching that clock for the big countdown, throwing away our old calendar, or writing that new number on checks and documents, we all are a little more aware of time moving on. And when that change is not only the end of a year but the end of a decade, that awareness is even more acute.
I got to thinking about time and plants and realized that several have common names related to time. Some like Morning Glories, Ipomoea pupurea; Four O Clocks, Mirabilis jalapa; Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis; and Moon Flower, Ipomoea alba, have common names that refer to the time of day or night that the blossoms open. Others like Daylilies, Hemerocallis sp., and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Brunfelsia pauciflora, describe a length of time of bloom or a pattern of blooming.
Then I remembered another connection between plants and time. In 1996 my husband and I saw a floral clock in Weymouth, England. In a public garden, a large plot was decorated with a clock face made of beautiful blooming annuals. Even the moving clock hands had plants on them. It had been built in 1936. But this was not the first floral clock.
According to Edinburgh City Guide, in 1903 John McHattie, the Superintendent of Parks, collaborated with a local clockmaker, James Ritchie, and Sons, to create the first floral clock. It continues to this day. The clock is replanted annually and changed to represent a topical theme or an important anniversary. This clock has inspired floral clocks around the world. There is a beautiful floral clock in Niagara Falls, Canada and even one near the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
Carl Linnaeus (the father of the binomial, scientific identification and classification system) had ideas about a different kind of floral clock back in the 1700s. According to an article by Brian Gardiner published in The Linnaen in 1987, Carl Linnaeus kept records of the opening and closing times of the blossoms of plants. He found that certain plants seemed very consistent and he generated long lists of these plants and their respective flower opening times. He envisioned a clock that would have plants sequentially placed around the clock face depending on their opening time. The clock would not need clock hands for people would see what part of the clock had open flowers.
It turns out that Linnaeus' ideas were not that easy to actually put into practice. Blossom opening times can be affected by too many variables including latitudes, amount of sunlight on a given day, changes in weather, and even changes in seasons. It's a lovely idea though.