Garden Sundials: Beautiful Ornamental Timepieces


Garden Sundials: Beautiful Ornamental Timepieces

Sundials have been around for centuries. It was one of the few ways to get a reasonable method for telling time. Sundials date back to 1500 BC and were adapted by the early Greeks. However it was the Romans that developed it into the way a sundial appears today. By 100BC the sundial was a garden ornament used for various events and services and by 30BC Vitruvius could describe 13 different sundial styles in use in Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy.

Sundials and the means of time telling were important for many things such as agricultural purposes (planting, harvesting), ceremonial needs (location of sun, worship times), and to base many mathematical formulations.

Most sundials have a raised structure called a “gnomon”. This is the item that casts the shadow on the dial so that time can be told. The dial itself will show the hour, and sometimes shorter time frames and other information. Most garden sundials are horizontal sundials; ones that sit on a raised pedestal and has a raised gnomon and etched dial. It uses trigonometry calculations to work properly. This is the focal point of many formal themed gardens. Traditionally sundials have light dial faces and dark etched numerals and a motto engraved on the pedestal. Marble and thick bronze are two favourites of sundial makers to use as the base component.

It is important to remember that sundials go by “solar time” not official time. Keeping one as a timepiece wouldn’t be useful in today’s society and would require many adjustments to it throughout the seasons. My “solar noon” is not your “solar noon” and therefore never a true match for the atomic clock. But for English gardens or fairy gardens, a sundial makes a more balanced and beautiful addition than a mere birdbath.

Sundial Terms:
Gnomon: Raised structure that throws shadow on the dial, the pointer or indicator
Dial face: The circle and complete dial that the gnomon sets the time on
Style: Time indicator, the etched line where the shadow falls
Solar noon: When the sun is directly overhead
Furniture: All features on the dial face other than the numbers are referred to as dial furniture.

For More Information:
North American Sundial Society
General Contacts: Roger T Bailey
3-9494 Lochside Drive
Sidney, BC
Canada B8L 1N8

Sundial Links: – a huge listing of sundial links – Sundials on the Internet – British Sundial Society

Sundial Books:
Sundials : History, Theory, and Practice
by Rene R.J. Rohr
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Dover Publications (July 9, 1996)
ISBN: 0486291391

Sundials: Their Theory and Construction
by Albert Edmund Waugh
Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Dover Publications (December 1, 1973)
ISBN: 0486229475

Making a Clock-Accurate Sundial Customized to Your Location (for the Northern Hemisphere)
by Sam Muller
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Naturegraph Publishers (May 1, 1997)
ISBN: 0879612460

Leave a Reply