Sundial Uses For Gardens: Tips On Using Sundials In Gardens

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

What are sundials? Sundials are ancient time-telling devices that have been around for thousands of years – long before primitive clocks were created in the 1300s. Sundials in the garden create artistic conversation pieces. Some, created by talented craftsmen, are extremely beautiful. Read on to learn about using sundials in gardens.

How Does a Sundial Work?

There are several types of sundials and all use slightly different methods of time-telling. However, all sundials tell time according to the position of the sun.

In general, most sundials consist of a rod (known as a “gnomen”) that casts a shadow on the flat surface of the dial, with lines on the dial that align with the shadow, one hour at a time. The shadow moves around the sundial much like hands move around a clock, although a sundial isn’t quite as exact.

Sundials in the Garden

While it’s possible to build your own sundial, most gardeners prefer to purchase a ready-made one. Sundials can be simple or elaborate, but sundials in the garden are generally made of bronze, brass, iron, stainless steel or other sturdy, long-lasting material. Most are displayed on attached pedestals, but sundials can also be bolted onto large stones.

When properly aligned, sundials can be functional time-telling objects. However, you can simply place use them as a unique accent in a flower bed or alongside a garden pathway or sidewalk.

In a formal garden, a sundial can be implemented as a focal point surrounded by classic plants, like boxwood shrubs and roses, which creates an atmosphere of peaceful elegance. In a casual garden, sundials are a central object in a bed of petunias, geraniums and other colorful annuals and perennials.

Sundials can also be placed in a peaceful, shady garden spot, usually next to a garden bench where visitors can sit and relax while contemplating the steady passage of time.

Some public gardens contain large, ground-level, human powered sundials. If a person stands in a designated spot, the person becomes the gnomen and the shadow indicates the time. This is among the most interesting sundial uses.

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