Edinburgh’s Floral Clock: a timeless masterpiece

In the heart of Edinburgh, nestled within the lovely West Princes Street Garden, lies a flower-laden marvel that has captivated visitors for over a century – the Edinburgh Floral Clock. 

This intricately designed timepiece is not only a testament to the city's rich horticultural heritage, but also a charming symbol of precision and artistry. Commissioned in 1903, it was the first of its kind in the world, and to this day, it continues to enchant both locals and tourists alike.

Comprising tens of thousands of vibrant, colourful plants carefully arranged to form the shape of a clock, this floral display is a testament to the skill and dedication of the two gardeners who take five weeks to plant and shape the clock.

Each year, the floral clock comes alive with an array of 50,000 vibrant plants, each carefully selected to create a tapestry of colours and textures – created to depict a different theme each year. For 2023, the clock marks the centenary of the Flying Scotsman.

While the specific plant varieties may vary each year, some commonly used plants include Lobelia, Pyrethrum, Golden Moss, and an assortment of succulents such as Echeveria and Sedum.

A timeless legacy

The inspiration for the Edinburgh Floral Clock can be traced back to a bedding plant display in West Princes Street Garden in 1902, commemorating the coronation of Edward VII. 

The following year, John McHattie, the City's park superintendent, collaborated with Edinburgh clockmakers James Ritchie and Son to create the floral clock by integrating a clock mechanism into the base of the Allan Ramsay Monument. The clock began ticking on June 10, 1903, with just an hour hand, and a minute hand was added the following year.

The early designs for the clock were a collaboration between John McHattie and James Mossman, a direct descendant of the court jeweller to Mary Queen of Scots. In its early years, the floral clock featured geometrical shapes, with yellow leafed plants used to clearly identify the clock numerals. 

During the Second World War, motif designs on the clock commemorated wartime events and victories.

How to take a peek

If you’re in Edinburgh and fancy taking a peek at Edinburgh’s Floral Clock, you’ll find it located halfway down the stairs into the gardens, across from the National Galleries. Just lean over the stone wall and marvel at the meticulous craftsmanship that brings the clock to life. Do hurry though – only nobody knows how long the clock will continue to bloom!

Edinburgh's floral clock in numbers

  • The minute hand measures approximately 2.4 meters in length, while the hour hand measures around 1.5 meters.
  • When filled with plants, the large hand weighs approximately 80 pounds (36 kilograms), while the small hand weighs 50 pounds (23 kilograms).
  • The clock itself spans 3.6 meters (11.81 feet) in width and has a circumference of 11 meters (36 feet).
  • The design of the clock incorporates an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 plants, showcasing the evolution and growth of the display over time.

By Austin Clark 14 July 2023