Translate Me

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's about Time

Building a Blooming Garden Clock

The concept of time has insnared us all across the globe. We're enmeshed in all facets of time whether we consciously adhere to the scientific principle of a fourth dimension in space time or the banal realization that we have a ordinal daily behavior. As the digital age steadily composes new guidelines for how we conduct our lives so does the notion of time recompose itself. Conceptually time has simultaneously metamorphosed into an almost neurotic OCD laden encumbrance. It permeates our lives in slogans and jingles and mnemonic phrases like the ubiquity of commercial advertisements. These pervasive euphemisms are all to familiar: Time is of the essence; the time is now; no time like present; time to get up; time to leave; do we have enough time?; time to do whatever. Throughout anecdotal and recorded history and continuing up to present day, societies have fabricated codes and parameters for measuring time. These societies have bestowed this time keeping acumen on a fraternity of time lords. Historically these time lords were once exalted shaman or priests or soothsayers able to interpret the omens and miracles and predict occurrences, like the harvest moon, by telling time. Modern time lords are better known to the world as scientists and have been bequeathed the responsibility of recalibrating the global atomic clocks down to the nanosecond which behooves any traveler who expects GPS to function properly.

Clocks and timepieces have emerged as the de facto mechanism which facilitates a baseline for keeping time. This wasn't always the case. The first timepieces were based on the Sun, the Moon and the starry heavens. The phases of the moon were used to calculate large chunks of time but weren't especially useful for keeping time on a micro level. Consultations and planetary movement are magnificently pragmatic for charting relative time but don't work so well in the light of day. Enter the sundial into the fray of time keeping. Although the Sun's phases during the day can elucidate a general idea of fixed time (e.q. dawn, noon, dusk) it wasn't until the sundial that better incremented time could be kept. However glorious the invention of the sundial was it had its obvious limitations. Of course, there were other various ways of keeping time but they were highly subjective and situation specific like candles and hourglasses. With the invention of mechanized timepieces the baseline for keeping time seemed to have been canonized.

Although keeping time with clocks and timepieces was now regulated, allowing for better logistical control, the standardization of time remained elusive. The authority of the time lords had succumbed to hibernation after the proliferation of clocks and timepieces. For instance, if one had a clock in the home it could show a different time than the company clock at which one worked. Furthermore, all shops and businesses and governmental organizations kept their own specific time which meant that one was in a constant state of time warp. It wasn't until the heyday of the locomotive and train travel that standardized time keeping revolutionized our fixation on time. Railroad companies needed to coordinate arrival and departure times in order to essentially avoid collusions. Naturally, the marketing machine claimed that strict schedules and deadlines were paramount to affording better service; the underlying precept was to reduce crashes. This evolution of punctuality is the cornerstone of today's unwitting obsession with the minutiae of time and time keeping.

Interestingly, as orthodoxy rears its head in the behavioral conventions of a society too does opposition creep in as its concurrent anathema. There arise those who yearn for an innovative push back or an alternative to the protocol. Horologers artfully designed new and intricate clocks and timepieces to approximate time keeping to sate a growing obsession. There were clocks which chimed with varied aroma's or tastes which enabled the owner to reasonably assess the time primarily during the dark hours of night.

As the fledgling European saltwater expansion progressed during the 18th century they encountered vastly different cultures. Each of these cultures superficially appeared to the European explorers as benighted and culturally backward in comparison to European culture. Yet these cultures had unique and reliable means of keeping time which were symbiotically in tune with their milieux. For instance, some rainforest peoples of New Guinea adapted their children's peer group play time to the calls of particular birds. A certain bird call in the early morning signified that the children were free to roam and play. Conversely, a different bird call ushered in the end of the playtime and meant the children needed to set their compass to home.

Some revolutionary European thinkers in this period admired the romantic ideal of the “noble savage” as espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They tinkered at ways to introduce aspects of it into the cultural lives of Europeans. One such thinker was the Swedish renaissance man Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus, a botanist, physician and zoologist, is perhaps best remembered for his taxonomy of the plant and animal kingdoms. At some point amidst the herculean task of classifying and cataloguing all the known plants and animals, Linnaeus took a break and pondered about time.

Having amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of plants as well as being an avid gardner it wasn't long before he melded the two endeavors and applied it to time keeping. Linnaeus devised a botanical scheme for keeping time based on the general daily blooming period of plants and flowers. For reasons unknown, Linnaeus never brought his “noble savage”/ “back to nature” blooming garden clock to fruition. The theoretical botanical clock remains just that; a hypothetical. Despite that fact, constructing such a garden clock can be as enjoyable and entertaining as it could be functional. Here is a partial and by no means exhaustive list of plants and flowers with their corresponding opening and closing times which can function as a blueprint for ones own blooming garden clock. Happy gardening; it's time to get busy.

Flowering Plant                                  Opening                          Closing

Goats-beard                                          3 am                                 11 am

Chicory                                                 4-5 am

Hawkweed                                           6 am                                 5pm

Garden Lettuce                                     7 am                                 10 am

Scarlet Pimpernel                                  8 am

Ice plant                                                9-10 am                            3-4 pm

Day Lilly                                                                                       7-8 pm

Blue Sow-thistle                                  7 am                                   noon

Marsh Sow-thistle                               7 am                                   2 pm


  1. Afterwards Linnaeus had been too much of a romantic in his taxonomy. Meaning: he was wrong 'here and there'.

  2. Agreed. However, Isaac Newton is one of history's greatest minds and he was a devout Christian and tried in vain to make his square theories fit into a round peg. Hell, Newton was even a closet alchemist. But he was right on so many things that we tend to overlook his "wrong" premises.