Princes Street Gardens' Floral Clock should honour NHS's Covid heroes – Steve Cardownie

The Floral Clock in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens could be laid out with flowers to create a rainbow as a tribute to NHS staff and their work during the coronavirus outbreak, writes Steve Cardownie.

By Steve Cardownie
Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 7:30 am
The floral clock in Princes Street Gardens could be laid out with flowers making a rainbow when gardeners are able to start work (Picture: Greg Macvean)
The floral clock in Princes Street Gardens could be laid out with flowers making a rainbow when gardeners are able to start work (Picture: Greg Macvean)

Normally at this time of year, gardeners in West Princes Street Gardens would be getting ready to begin the work of laying out the plants required for the Floral Clock at the foot of The Mound but the work has been held back and the clock area is bare.

It takes two gardeners five weeks to plant the colourful display with up to 30,000 plants precisely placed to reflect the intricate design themes that usually take up the space twice a year, once in summer and the other in winter, and hopefully the lockdown will not have jeopardised this year’s plans.

The clock started its life in 1903 under the supervision of the then Edinburgh Parks Superintendent, James McHattie, and it only had one hand until one year later in 1904 when fate took a hand (or rather provided two).

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The city took ownership of a superannuated turret clock from Elie Parish Church in Fife which replaced its predecessor and lasted until 1936 when it was also replaced. The eminent Edinburgh clockmaker James Ritchie was instrumental in its establishment and the company still takes care of maintenance to this day.

Originally it was weight-driven and had to be wound each day until it was modernised and electrified with its workings concealed in the plinth of Alan Ramsay’s statue which overlooks it along with a cuckoo box which was introduced in 1950 – and its call still delights adults and children alike.

As one of the oldest clocks of its kind in the world, its dramatic floral displays stretch to a circumference of 36ft and a diameter of 11ft 10in and when fully planted the big hand alone weighs in at around 80lbs. At least 15 varieties of dwarf annuals in shades of grey, blue, red, green and cream make up most of the display which include pyrethrum golden moss, lobelia Cambridge blue, begonia semperflorens and profusions of sediums and echeveria – that was for the benefit of all the gardening enthusiasts among you!

Seventeen years ago, a model of the clock in its centenary year took part in the Chelsea Flower Show, where it was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal for horticultural excellence.

When it was unveiled, it was greeted with great acclaim and inspired other towns and cities to establish their own versions. The concept has since been repeated in such far-flung places as New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Canada and South America.

Although quiet just now, the Gardens will surely once more welcome visitors, both local and international and notwithstanding any “new normal” requirements will resume its place as a “must-see” venue with the Floral Clock taking its place among the many statues and monuments. It is a constant feature in promotional photos of the city’s attractions and makes the perfect backdrop for selfies and the like.

Organisations with significant anniversaries or importance to Edinburgh are generally selected for display and have been delighted to have their design or insignia depicted. This brings me nicely to the point.

Why not give over the clock display this year to the NHS. The rainbow design festooned in windows throughout the country could be embodied to encapsulate the city’s visual support for an institution that has been to the fore and performed outstandingly during these current turbulent times.

It would indeed be another fitting tribute to the men and women from all nationalities, who have performed heroically and in some cases with tragic consequences at a time when we have needed them most.

Over to you, City of Edinburgh Council!

Media needs to be clear about official advice in Scotland

Twitter, Facebook and the like, as well as the news media, have been awash with views of the Government’s handling of the current crisis. Westminster has come in for a fair bit of criticism, with Holyrood fairing much better in that regard, according to the recent opinion polls.

The public is entitled to its view, particularly surrounding the confusion regarding the do’s and dont’s of the lockdown.

Some time ago I wrote in this column that the clarity of the message, with clear reasons given for the restrictions, proposed or imposed, was what was required and not “on the hoof” pronouncements such as we have heard from London, which only serve to confuse people and undermine confidence in the whole process.

Although there has been a marked improvement there is still an element of confusion. Whether it be on the use of face masks to the timetable for the easing of lockdown conditions, the Scottish media should take particular care when reporting such matters to ensure that those conditions that are applicable to Scotland are adequately and clearly aired.

For instance, I have read in some newspapers about conditions that applied south of the Border but not to here, on the opening of public parks that were closed, for example – they have always been open in Scotland. Information from trusted sources, both national and local, as well as websites reflecting the Scottish Government’s position, is more likely to reflect the true situation rather than those that compete for sensational headlines.

They are using conjecture in an effort gain readership and promoting concern and anguish rather than presenting the bald facts which may be reassuring.

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