It's just a matter of time

By Lynette L. Walther | Sep 21, 2018
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Start the day off with a burst of color with morning glories.

There is no time like the approach of the end of the growing season to contemplate the passage of time in the garden. Tick, tock — garden views change as the minutes and seconds pass. The sun rises, moves overhead — casting its warmth and light on some plants, throwing shadows on others — signaling plants to begin photosynthesizing. Leaves wave and move imperceptibly, flowers nod their heads and unfurl their petals, and then bloom, some fade — and then the sun finally sets. Day is done, but in the hours that pass, the garden has kept track of time.

While many flowering plants serve as indicators of season — like those snowdrops that defy winter, sweet peas in late spring to the roses of summer to fall’s asters and goldenrod — some plants actually indicate the time of day. The idea of a garden -- or flower -- clock is based in history. It was first floated by Carl Linnaeus, who noted that certain flowers would open or close at particular times each day.

According to Wikipedia, he proposed the concept in his 1751 publication “Philosophia Botanica,” and he called it the “Horologium Florae” (flower clock). It is not known if Linnaeus actually planted a flower clock garden, but history reports that it was a popular theme for botanical gardens in the early 19th century, with mixed success. That is because actual flowering times are affected by weather and seasonal variations. Not only that, but flowering times recorded by Linnaeus depend on the latitude where he noted them. Linnaeus’ measurements were based on flowering times in Uppsala, Sweden, where he taught and had received his university education.

Even so, Andrew Marvell memorialized the concept in 1678, in his poem "The Garden."

How well the skilful gardener drew

Of flow'rs and herbs this dial new;

Where from above the milder sun

Does through a fragrant zodiac run;

And, as it works, th' industrious bee

Computes its time as well as we.

How could such sweet and wholesome hours

Be reckoned but with herbs and flow’rs!

Anyone can grow their own flower clock to note the passage of time each day. A flower clock garden can fill your day with blossoms, and is best situated in an area that receives full sun. Clock gardens can be planted with annuals, many of which are easy to start from seed. A few perennials and species tulips can also help keep time in the flower clock garden as well. A sundial would make the perfect centerpiece for the display, with varieties arranged circling it to correspond with the face of a clock. No time like the present to plan a clock garden for next year. Some, like rose of Sharon and species tulips, can be planted now, others will have to bide their time until next spring.

Here are some suggested varieties listed from early to late in the day blooms:

Morning glory

Species tulips ‘Tarda’

Daylily (blooms one day)

Asiatic day flower (spiderwort)

Rose of Sharon (blooms one day)

Hibiscus (blooms one day)

Four o’clocks

Sunflower — follows sun

Evening primrose


Night blooming cereus

Open early, spiderwort, or Asiatic dayflower, closes up its blue blossoms by noon. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
It takes a sunny day for these species yellow tulips (‘Tarda’) to open. Plant now to start your flower clock garden early next spring. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Perennial bush rose of Sharon ‘Sugar Tip’ from Proven Winners is a lovely addition to any sunny garden, but especially so in a flower clock garden. These sweet, creamy blooms are only open for a day, but the blue-green and cream variegated foliage is handsome all season long. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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