Is It Time Yet?

I recently read an article on Horologium Florae or Flower Clocks. It is a concept that began with Carl Linnaeus – to design a clock in the ground with plants whose flowers open at specific times of day. By observing which flower was open or closed, one could ostensibly tell what hour was at hand.

It is a charming concept. In theory, it should work beautifully. Pumpkin blossoms open at 6 am, rose mallow between 9 and 11 am, goat’s beard close its flowers at noon, evening primrose shine after sunset and close at noon of the following day. You get the picture. In reality, it has never been truly accomplished. That’s not to say attempts haven’t been made – too many variabilities have prevented any success. On cloudy days, the evening primrose might stay open all day.

Latitude, temperature, sunny/cloudy days, rain, changing length of day/night, light intensity, humidity, preferred pollinators all play important roles in determining exactly when or if a flower opens or closes. For example, a flower that opens at night, does so to attract pollinators like the sphinx moth. However, when conditions change, it either stays open too long into the next day so, day pollinators get to the flowers thus making the flower too depleted for its natural pollinator. Or, the flowers may not open at all so once again, the moth cannot play its designated role.

Growing up, I recall coming across a few attempts at flower clocks in public gardens. Already familiar with traits of common plants, I’d observe how poorly the flowers told time. I remember thinking that if I went by such a clock, I’d become the Mad Hatter and rush about saying I’m late, I’m late. The friend who had sent the article that started me thinking about this subject said that from now on, she was not going to apologize for being late. Instead, she’d say she was on flower time. To which I responded that people would think she’d been smoking the flowers.

Personally, I prefer the idea of becoming so familiar with one’s immediate outdoors that a general sense of time can be kept quite accurately and organically. Birdsong is one way to understand time of day.
It is common for different species to do their dawn singing at different times. The dawn chorus can start as early as 2am! And it progresses sequentially by type of bird. The romantic in me would like to determine parts of my day by listening for favored birds like cardinals, chickadees and blackcaps.
As a child, we lived quite close to the local zoo. Early each morning just before sunrise, the white peacocks would fly out to settle in the tall mango trees in my neighborhood. The birds would remain there all day and leave at sunset. They would spend their time gossiping loudly. The sound was not particularly pleasing but it amused me no end to imagine visitors coming away never having seen the white peacocks, the pride of the zoo.

In the summer, when the sun burnishes the lower half of the Heritage rose on the path outside my studio, I know it is about 6 pm. Time to cease all work and settle down to appreciate the garden. Preferably with a cool drink in hand.

In the early weeks of spring, the tulips close by 4 pm. Tea time. The roses waft their fragrance most strongly just after the sun reaches its zenith. Time to go back into the house, open the windows to draw in the perfume and cool off. The clove-like scent of summer phlox at dusk call one to linger in the garden for a little while longer. Time to just be.

Gardeners are more likely to tell the course of time by the progress of a season; as when a fruit is ripe. Or certain flowers are in bloom. As soon as summer starts losing heat, my Concord grapes will be ready for harvest. The lilacs burst open all of a sudden just in time for Mothers Day. A week after the cherry blossoms drop off, the pear trees put on their show. Closely followed by the apples. When the ornamental grasses in the front of the house glow gold in the evening light, there is just about an hour left of daylight to finish all outdoor chores.

I have a dream that one day, I will be so in tune with nature that I will know the hour by the subtle movements of the leaves, by specific bird calls, by the order in which different flowers are visited daily by the bees, by the degree of warmth of the grass beneath my bare feet. I want to know time by the tilt of the sunflower heads, the moment the first dew drops form on the leaves of the lady’s mantle, when the squirrels emerge from their nests in the dawn, when the robins call it a day.

When Einstein said – The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once, I do believe he was in a garden.

The images below are for you to contemplate your own horologium florae.

In case you are interested in reading the article that started me off on this article, – click here
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

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2 thoughts on “Is It Time Yet?

  1. Beautiful column! Love the use of the Einstein quotation. I also measure time passing by the snowdrops, the lilacs, the return of the fireflies. So much more involving than a simple calendar . . .

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