Nan Ondra

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Materials Needed

  • 4" terra-cotta flowerpots (6-10)
  • 10" terra-cotta flowerpots (3-4)
  • 10" terra-cotta flowerpots (3-4)
  • 8" terra-cotta flowerpot
  • 3' bamboo, wood or metal stake
  • craft paints and brushes, paint pens or chalk
  • potting soil, moistened
  • sun-loving annuals
  • 1'-square cement pavers (16) (optional)
  • cement paint (optional)
  • gravel
  • watch or clock

Step 1: Paint the Hours

Sundials are classic garden ornaments, but they're more than just decorative items — they're useful and educational, too. Building your own garden sundial is a fun family project for a summer weekend, and it's a great way for kids to learn firsthand how the position of the sun changes from hour to hour and season to season. The instructions here are for an hour-by-hour clock, but you could instead use it to mark daily activities, such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, naptime, playtime, etc. The accuracy of your sundial will change as the sun's path changes through the seasons, so you'll need to shift the hour or event markers a bit every few weeks to keep it on track. If you live in the North where summer daylight is very long, you'll want to add more "hours" around your clock.

First: Decorate the pots with paint or chalk, if desired, and write an hour on each of the 4- and 10-inch pots. (The project shown uses a 10-inch pot right side up for 9, 12, 3 and 6 o'clock and an upside-down, 4-inch pot for the other hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) Paint the stake too, if you wish.

Step 2: Plant the Pots

Fill the 10-inch pots with moistened potting soil and plant different flowers or flower colors in each one.

Easy and fun alternative: Paint the numbers on rocks and use those for some of the hours.

Step 3: Prepare the Site

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Create a 4-foot-square base for your sundial. You can simply set aside part of a sunny patio. We placed cement pavers in a sunny part of the lawn (image 1). Paint the pavers with cement paint, if desired.

To create the "gnomon" (pronounced NO-mon) — the part that casts the shadow — set the stake in the 8-inch pot and fill around it with gravel to hold it upright. Place the pot and stake in the center of the square of pavers.

Easy and fun alternative: Be your own "gnomon." Mark a spot in the middle of the "clock" where you or your child can stand. Your shadow will tell the time!

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