EDINBURGH’S floral clock is the most recognisable face in town and every year like clockwork it delights visitors and locals in their thousands with its unique and colourful designs.
Situated on a sloping bank at the Mound entrance to West Princes Gardens, the floral clock has been ticking away and attracting the crowds every summer for well over a century.
Next to that other well-kent local time keeper, the One O’Clock Gun, it’s one of Edinburgh’s longest standing traditions.
First commissioned in 1903 (there was a floral display for the 1902 coronation of Edward VII, but no clock), it was the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
However, it looked a little different compared with today.
The inaugural clock’s design, while intricate and pleasing to the eye, carried no words and was bestowed with an hour hand only. Its mechanism was installed and fitted into the base of the Allan Ramsay monument by renowned local clockmakers, Messrs Ritchie.
In 1904, a minute hand was added, followed by the famous cuckoo the year after that.
Over the next couple of decades, the design changed very little, but in 1927 the saying ‘Tempus Fugit’, the ubiquitous Latin phrase meaning ‘Time Flies’, was laid in flowers around the outer clock face.
A typical floral clock of this era featured between 13,000 and 14,000 individual miniature plants, with in the region of 40,000 flowers used over the course of the summer. In 1955, 25,000 small plants were planted to represent the title, crest and scroll of the Royal Highland Show.
Variations of the Tempus Fugit design continued until 1935, when the first commemorative clock was created, marking the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
This kick-started a tradition whereby each new floral clock would mark an important anniversary or major event.
During the Second World War the clock took on the important role of boosting civic morale and was emblazoned with spirited messages, “Now’s the Day and Now’s the Hour” and “Fear Naught”.
At the war’s end, the flowerbed featured a celebratory: “Our Shining Hour 1945”.
In the seven decades since, the floral clock has given public nods to a long list of events, institutions, anniversaries and achievements.
These include the inaugural Edinburgh Festival in 1947; the Festival of Britain 1951; Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953; the 150th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade in 1974; the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1970 and 1986.
And the most recent and current design celebrates The Scotsman’s bicentenary and features the iconic thistle emblem in the bottom left hand corner of the display.
Discussing the floral clock’s importance to the city, Marion Williams, Director of Fundraising at the Ross Development Trust, said: “It’s such a major attraction for locals and tourists. I met an American lady there the other day who was visiting after 45 years. Her father had taken her there to see the cuckoo popping out all those years ago. It was a lasting memory for her.
“It is a real labour of love for the gardeners and given the numbers there every day taking photographs it’s obviously very much appreciated.
“The floral clock is a good example of how the heritage of the city survives over the years and can continue to give joy to so many.”
For 114 years the floral clock has done more than just tell the time. It’s a unique public display that has educated us, moved us, spurred us on, championed our collective achievements and helped remind us of those most special of moments.
We suspect this time-honoured tradition will be there to do all that and more for quite some time yet.
A selection of landmark years in the floral clock’s history courtesy of Edinphoto, which features a full list:
1902: Coronation of King Edward VII A floral crown (No clock)
1903: Edinburgh’s first floral clock
1904: Minute hand added to clock
1927: “Tempus Fugit”
1935: King George V Silver Jubilee - First Commemorative Clock
1937: Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
1940: RAF 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron
1945: “Our Shining Hour 1945”
1947: First Edinburgh International Festival
1950: Centenary of the Birth of Robert Louis Stevenson
1951: “Festival of Britain 1951”
1953: Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation
1959: Robert Burns - 200th Anniversary of his birth
1961: Edinburgh Photographic Society 1861-1961
1965: Salvation Army 1865-1965
1970: IX Commonwealth Games
1974: Edinburgh Fire Brigade 150th Anniversary
1977: Queen’s Jubilee
1986: XIII Commonwealth Games
1999: Royal National Lifeboat Institution 1824 -1999
2006: Duke of Edinburgh Award 1956-2006
2012: Olympic Games, London 2012
2013: Edinburgh Zoo 1913 - 2013
2017: The Scotsman 200 years