If you are walking uptown in Edinburgh, chances are you will pass by the floral clock in West Princes Street Garden. The clock is not only an immaculately tended floral display in the shape of a clock, it also tells the correct time. Commissioned in 1903, it is the first of its kind in the world.
The City's green-fingered experts maintain the flower bed all the year round - tens of thousands of small colourful plants in the Summer months and more hardy plants through the Winter. Clock hands, numbers and the surrounding display comprise of growing, photosynthesising life. In 1973, an electric motor was installed to keep the clock hands moving. Before then the clock's mechanism had to be wound daily.
The exact location: the floral clock is situated half way down the stairs into the gardens across from the National Galleries, at the foot of the Mound. You have to lean over the stone wall to see the temporal flower bed. See aerial photograph and map below.
Edinburgh's Floral Clock was inspired by a carpet bedding display in West Princes Street Garden in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII. The following year, John McHattie, the City's park superintendent at the time, and Edinburgh clockmakers James Ritchie and Son created the floral clock by installing a clock mechanism in the base of the Allan Ramsay Monument.
The early designs for the clock were carried out by John McHattie who was advised by James Mossman, a direct descendant of the court jeweller to Mary Queen of Scots. The first clock began ticking on 10 June 1903 with an hour hand only, a minute hand was added in 1904.
In 1905 the mechanism based on organ pipes and bellows to replicate the sound of the cuckoo was installed in a box next to the Floral Clock to record the hour. The early mechanism did not include the house for the cuckoo or indeed a full scale model of the bird.
Until 1928, the design of the floral clock was based geometrical shapes with the clock numerals being clearly identified by using a yellow leafed plant. William Grant was appointed Head Gardener in Princes Street Gardens in 1928 and designed and supervised the planting of the clock until he retired in 1946. During the Second World War, motif designs on the clock commemorated wartime events and victories.
The existing mechanism installed in 1903 to drive the Floral Clock was converted to be electrically driven in 1973. In 1953 a house for the cuckoo was installed and the life size replica of a cuckoo appears to sound every quarter hour.
Each year a new display is planted in West Princes Street Gardens along the lines of a topical theme. Last year it celebrated the Queen's Golden Jubilee, in 1994 it took as its inspiration the centenary of the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and in 1974 the clock celebrated 100 years of West Princes Street Garden.