Thyme Clocks

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°.)

Set the pot in a sunny location with the twig pointing straight north. The twig is your sundial’s gnomon (NO-mon), an ancient Greek word meaning “one who knows”. The gnomon’s shadow should point north at noon (or 1:00 p.m., daylight savings time); stick your arabic or roman numeral 12 at that spot on the rim of the pot. You’ll determine the other daylight hours by observation: check your sundial each hour and mark where the shadow falls. Don’t expect your sundial time to agree exactly with clock time as the days pass, though. Your location within your time zone and the tilt of the Earth on its axis will prevent the two from synchronizing perfectly.

Water your sundial when the soil feels dry, and check the soil frequently until the thyme plants become established. Prune the plants if they threaten to conceal the gnomon or the numerals.

A Tyme Clock

Many sundials cheerfully advise, “Count only sunny hours.” What if you want to know what time it is on a rainy day or at bedtime? You’ll have to resort to modern technology. Our thyme clock uses an inexpensive battery-operated clock mechanism planted right in a pot. What could be simpler?

What you’ll need:

* 10-inch terra-cotta saucer
* Several 2-inch pots of low-growing thyme (see What Thyme Is It?)
* Fast-draining potting mix
* Battery-operated quartz clock movement (available at craft stores)
* AA battery
* Small plastic box, such as a soap box, large enough to hold the clock mechanism
* Antiqued brass hanging lamp faceplate (available at hardware or lighting stores)
* Self-sticking clock numerals
* Finishing nails
* Craft or hot glue

Insert the shank to which the clock hands attach through the center hole of the faceplate. Attach the hands according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Put the battery in the clock and place the clock in the plastic box. (Alternatively, you can wrap the clock in heavy plastic wrap. The object is to keep the battery from getting wet.) “Plant” the clock in the center of the pot and surround it with creeping thyme plants. The clock hands must clear the top of the plant material.

Glue each numeral to the head of a finishing nail (hot glue works best). Stick the nails into the soil in appropriate locations. Set the clock by moving the hands gently.

Place the thyme clock in a sunny spot. Thyme plants in the clock may need watering more frequently than those in the sundial because the shallow saucer will dry out faster than the deeper pot. Trim plants if branch tips interfere with the movement of the clock hands.

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