For thousands of years, people have used sundials to tell time. In its simplest form, a sundial uses the position of the sun to cast a shadow and show us the hour of the day. More complex devices even can highlight celestial events such as the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, or winter and summer solstices. Beyond the core function of keeping time, many sundials are works of art — sculptures that blend science and design in a way that feels like a natural fit for a natural space like a garden.
The Missouri Botanical Garden has five sundials, each unique in its own way. See if you can spot them all during your next visit.
Located in the Herb Garden section of the Botanical Garden is the beautiful little Child Sundial. It was installed in 1965 as a gift from Mrs. Herman Husch, made by an anonymous English artist. The daydreaming child figure with sundial is at ground level in a bed of creeping thyme, perhaps a gentle Herb Garden pun. The sundial is adjusted to show standard time in St. Louis. The gnomon is slightly bent, and the dial surface is slightly cupped.
Gnomon – The part of a sundial that casts a shadow.
Kemper Center Sundial
A second sundial is located in the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening. It is sculpted as a sunflower and inscribed with the motto: How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned but with herbs and flowers.
The Schmoyer Sunquest
The Schmoyer Sunquest sits outside the west entrance to the Linnean House. The unique analemma design of the gnomon allows this sundial to display civil time. To read it, the gnomon is rotated until the light beam forms a narrow slit. The direction of the rotation is determined by the winter and summer solstice. A rough casting of this sundial was donated to the Garden by Dr. Donald Snyder, and it was completed by Bill Gottesman of Precision Sundials LLC.
Analemma – a graduated scale shaped like a figure eight that indicates the daily position of the sun throughout the course of a year.
Ottoman Garden Sundial
The sundial in the Ottoman Garden is modeled after an historic sundial located in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Roger Bailey, of Walking Shadow Designs, designed the dial’s time-markings, and St. Louis sculptor Abraham Mohler made the marble pedestal and engravings. The dial was installed in the Ottoman Garden in May 2008. This sundial is unusual because it shows times in a variety of time-measurement systems. Not only does it display hours in our usual system of 24 hours per day starting at midnight, but it also shows Italian hours (24 hours per day starting at sunset) and Babylonian hours (24 hours per day starting at sunrise). It also displays Islamic prayer times, which are defined by the position of the sun and the lengths of shadows, and the direction to Mecca.
150th Anniversary Sundial
A fifth sundial is located on the North side of Linnean House. This dial accommodates both standard and daylight saving time, as well as the date. Both time and date are indicated by the point on the dial plate where the shadows of the crossed rods intersect. The dial plate contains logos for both the Missouri Botanical Garden and the North American Sundial Society. The inscription at the bottom of the plate reads: This sundial was designed, constructed and donated to the Missouri Botanical Garden by Dr. Ronald Rinehart to commemorate the Garden’s 150th anniversary. The dial was presented as part of the 2008 Annual Conference of the North American Sundial Society.
This post was adapted from an original piece by Dr. Donald Snyder, Senior Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering at Washington University, and a member of the North American Sundial Society. The Garden is one of 15 sites on his Sundial Trail for St. Louis.
Cassidy Moody — Digital Media Specialist