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Written by Mitzi VanSant   
Sunday, 01 February 2009 01:50

#24 Locating a Sundial in the Garden

Over the last several weeks we have been discussing the placement of ornament of various kinds in the garden. The easiest of the old fashioned ornaments to place is the sundial. We should obviously choose the sunniest location--one which receives unbroken sun over the longest period of time--for this ornament can also be utilitarian.

When I think of sundials, I immediately think of one of the first antique books I fell in love with, Old Time Gardens. As described on the title page, “Newly set forth by Alice Morse Earle, A Book of the Sweet O’ The Year”. On the grey-green cloth cover is a statuesque concrete sundial, set with metal gate behind and poppies peeking through the fencing.

There is an entire chapter on sundials! Written in 1901, she describes how at one time nearly every garden in England, Scotland, and America had a sundial. Over the years those in “the old country” remained, while in America their presence declined until “they have become so rare that many people have never seen one”. Fortunately they soon began to return to gardens “planned by our skilled architects”, and “sundials are now springing afresh like mushroom growth of a single night, and some are objects of the greatest beauty and interest”. If you are interested in such things, she goes into a history of the most primitive modes of knowing the time of day, and goes forward with a description of a variety of such implements. I know this book is once again available in print. About a month ago I appeared on KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener, and produced a booklist for their website. Shortly after, a woman contacted me through my website, stating that she had written a forward to the new reprint, and that it would soon be available from book dealers. You might check on Amazon.com or other online sources for its debut. Mrs. Earle mentions that the Smithsonian Institution has a public collection of sundials. I tried to research that through GOOGLE, and found no evidence that it still exists. I did, however, find a link to another collection at the Franklin Institute, and connections to other sites on the internet. Those links include Learn about Sundials, Web Resources, and also a Book List. There is even a link to the North American Sundial Society.

Sundials are most often the flat kind, with an elevated marker that casts shade on markings about the perimeter. They may be placed in the horizontal position on a pedestal or other support, or in the vertical position on a wall. The armillary sphere, less frequently seen, consists of a series of rings in the planes of the equator and the meridian, and a rod parallel to the earth's axis and passing through the center of the rings.

Probably the most common location for a sundial within the garden would be at a point of intersecting paths, but any sunny location along a path, near a seating area, or with easy access to the house will do. Mrs. Earle’s first mention of plants associated with sundials were “it may be planted with vines, or stand unornamented”, and later noting them located along a walk hedged with boxwood, or in a bed of zinnias.

Plant of the Week

Zinnia elegans or Zinnia
The species was introduced into England in 1796. It was a small lilac colored flower; the first double forms did not appear until 1858. As a tropical annual, it grows easily from seed sown directly in the garden, and matures quickly to blooming size. It is native to Central America. Available in a rainbow of colors, it is very well adapted to our hot and dry climate and flowers from spring until hard frost. It obviously requires full sun, and many mildew resistant varieties are now available. This provides me an opportunity to introduce you to a favorite catalog of mine, as well. It is from the company Select Seeds and entitled “Heirloom Treasures for Modern Gardens”. You can order the catalog online, or call 860-684-9310 to order one by phone.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 March 2009 21:00


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