Members Area

News: From the GCA Collection at the Archives of American Gardens: Floral Clocks


September 05, 2018

Telling time with flowers at the turn of the twentieth century.

Floral clocks started appearing in outdoor public spaces at the turn of the twentieth century. The clocks were large-scale timepieces placed amongst richly colored and contrasting carpet plants in elaborate patterns. Some worked like sundials, dependent on the sun to mark time, while others were fully functioning timepieces. These floral clocks are not to be confused with botanist Carl Linnaeus’ flower clock which laid out a variety of flowers in a clocklike design according to the hour of the day they opened and closed.  

One of the earliest floral clocks is located in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. The design is credited to Parks Superintendent John McHattie who arranged to have clockmakers Ritchie & Son install the necessary mechanical parts. When it began operating in 1903, the clock only had an hour hand; the minute hand was added the following year.

The Princes Street Gardens’ floral clock featured an impressive twelve-foot dial. The hands were created from long, shallow troughs of sheet metal planted with flowers. It was not only a work of ingenuity combining the technology of clock making with the art of garden design, but also an engineering masterpiece due to its installation on a forty-degree incline.  

Floral clocks were regularly showcased at world’s fairs and in public spaces ranging from parks to cemeteries. They were a perfect match for the ornately planted Edwardian-era carpet beds that featured figurative designs such as historic scenes, lettering, or a coat of arms.


Images from the J. Horace McFarland Collection and the Historic Gardens Stereograph Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. By Jessica Brode, GCA Garden History and Design Intern, February 2016.

Main image caption: Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland. c. 1910s  

Secondary image caption: Floral clock in front of Agricultural Building at Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904      



In Other News...

GCA Clubs Are Changing the Landscape
The cumulative impact of GCA clubs, by the numbers.
September 04, 2018

Neighborhood Action for Conservation
Your next front yard.
August 29, 2018


See All News