Thyme Clocks

The ultimate herbal pun: mixing time and thyme in a pot.

| June/July 1993

Thyme heals all wounds. Thyme is of the essence. It was the best of thymes, it was the worst of thymes. . . .

Do your friends and loved ones flee when they see you coming because they anticipate being subjected to yet another bad pun involving this hardy, cheerful, sunny little herb? Give them a break! Confine your fondness for low-down word play to visual puns. Make a thymepiece. You won’t need to say a thing; thyme will tell.

Sundial in a Thyme Pot

Humans have made “shadow clocks” for centuries, simple devices that mark the passage of hours by the movement of a shadow on a calibrated surface. The ancient Chinese, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all had more or less elaborate sundials that consisted of an erect element on a base marked to divide the daylight hours into segments. One seventeenth-century English model focused the sun’s rays at high noon through a small lens in such a way that they set off a small cannon, thus marking midday with a bang!

You don’t really need to make your own sundial; attractive sundials in cast bronze can be found in garden shops in sizes ranging from tiny windowsill models to large garden centerpieces. Yet making one is simple and instructive, and especially fun to do with an alert child. Here’s how we made the one shown here.

What you’ll need:

* 6- or 8-inch flowerpot with drainage hole and flat rim (you may have to search a bit for a flat-rimmed pot)
* Several 2-inch pots of low-growing thyme (see What Thyme Is It?)
* Fast-draining potting mix (wet roots are thyme’s nemesis)
* Twig about 8 inches long (ours is festooned with grapevine tendrils)
* Self-sticking clock numerals (available at craft shops)
* Map or atlas showing your latitude
* Protractor

Plant the thyme in the pot. If the foliage doesn’t cover the entire surface of the soil, just wait: creeping thymes grow quickly. Using the protractor to measure the angle, set the twig firmly in the soil at one edge of the pot at an angle equal to your latitude. (The latitude of Boston and Seattle is about 47° north, that of Denver and Philadelphia about 40°, Santa Fe and Little Rock about 35°, and New Orleans about 30°.)

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