Sundials in the Garden… Have You A Place For One?

Sundials are interesting ornaments for the garden.

Previous to the development of modern clocks and watches, sundials were used extensively everywhere to mark the passing of time.

Because of their ancient origin, and the fact that they may often be used as a focal point in the garden, such as at the junction of two garden paths where they may be viewed from all sides

In the center of a formal garden or on a terrace, sundials are again being introduced as an ornamental feature in garden planning.

Even small gardens may have sundials, as they do not take up much space. There are many different types. Some can be used on walls, but the horizontal type set on a well-designed pedestal of concrete, stone, or bricks is the one most useful for the average garden.

Where To Place A Garden Sundial

When placing a sundial in your garden the location should, of course, be in full exposure to sunshine.

It is important that the dial in a horizontal type be level, the pedestal should be so constructed that it will not settle. A spirit level is used to make sure that the base on which the dial itself is placed is perfectly level.

Sundial in the landscape

Low-growing flowers or ivy can be planted around the base of the pedestal.

Sundials in Ancient History

Much of the interest in sundials is associated with their ancient history. Archaeologists have found that sundials were used in Egypt as far back as 1500 B.C. There are passages in the Bible, II Kings 20:9-11 and Isaiah 38:8, in which the dial of Ahaz is mentioned.

With the perfection of clocks and watches about the beginning of the 20th century, sundials for telling time became of less importance, although they are used in some parts of the world for this purpose even today.

Sundials In Stores and Online

Today the sundials may be purchased in stores or bought online. They are not regarded as being very accurate as timekeepers, even when set up properly, but garden sundials today are used now more as landscape ornaments, this fact is not of serious importance.

The dials now available are circular or angular in shape, made of metal and lined to show clearly the hours of the day. The gnomon (pronounced noh’mon) is the triangular part attached to the dial. The upper part of the gnomon is called the style and is the part that casts the shadow on the dial.

Setting Up The Sundial

In setting up the dial on its pedestal, one must first find when the sun will be on the meridian or due south of the location. Then the 12 o’clock line will be on a true north and south axis.

The elevated gnomon should point towards the north celestial pole. When the gnomon does not cast any shadow on the dial except a narrow strip pointing due north, it is noontime, and the dial may be fixed permanently in this position with cement.

The exact position of the 12 o’clock line so ascertained may be marked on the pedestal so that the dial may be replaced in the correct position after lifting it off to place the cement under it.

In the northern hemisphere the sun moves north of the equator in the Summer and south of it in the Winter. As a result, the sun appears to be speeded up or retarded slightly when compared with a good watch.

A part of this change is due to the fact that the earth’s path around the sun is not a circle. The number of minutes shown under “Sun Fast” for a given day tells how much sundial time is ahead of standard time at noon. This quantity is given for every day of the year in the Almanac. Similar data for other parts of the country can be obtained from almanacs prepared for those parts.

Armillary Sphere

Another type of sundial is the armillary sphere. It is supposed to have been originated about 250 B.C. It consists of rings put together in the form of a sphere with a globe or central part to represent the earth.

The rings represent the horizon, the equator and a north-south meridian circle with an axis pointing to the celestial pole. Some of these armillary spheres have other rings which represent the tropics of cancer and capricorn and the arctic and antarctic circles.

These rings correspond to the rings shown on the globe atlases known to all school children and mark the zones into which our earth is divided. The hour lines are marked on the inside of the wide equator ring. On the outside of this ring are the signs of the zodiac. It is the center rod through the north-south axis that casts the shadows on the hour lines.

The armillary sphere was used chiefly by the early astronomers for various observations rather than as a sundial. Later it was also used for this purpose.

Interesting Feature

An interesting feature of many of the sundials is the old mottoes found engraved on them, such as the following:

“Let others tell of storms and showers I’ll only count your sunny hours.”

“I stand amidst the garden flowers, To tell ye passage of ye hours, When winter steals ye flowers away, I tell ye passinge of their daye.”

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