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Counting sunshine hours in Scotland’s gardens this summer

June 1st 2023

The Solstice on 21 June is the astronomical start of summer, the day when the sun literally ‘stands still’, giving us more daylight hours than at any other time of year.

For centuries sunshine has been used to calculate time and Scotland is home to a world-renowned  collection of sundials, many of them set within some of the country’s most beautiful gardens.

Most spectacular are the 17th century Polyhedral Sundials that are unique to Scotland. Carved by master masons as a symbol of the new knowledge of science and astronomy that was emerging at that time, these stone and metal monuments have been counting sunshine hours for more than 400 hundred years.

Over the centuries they have been added to with more modern designs, but all of them relying still on the ancient art of using sunlight and shadows to calculate time.

This summer, Discover Scottish Gardens is urging visitors to celebrate the solstice by taking a sundial trail, exploring some of the many gardens across the country where these uplifting monuments to sunshine can be found. Here are just a few of them:

Drummond Castle

The obelisk sundial that stands at the centre of Drummond Castle’s great parterre, was carved in 1630 by John Mylne III. It has 61 dials and 131 ways to tell the time and it is the earliest of Scotlands’ multi-faceted designs. It has recently been restored.

Hugh Miller’s Cottage

Hugh Miller was a 19th century fossil hunter and geologist, as well as a writer and campaigner for social justice. He was a man of science and a craftsman and in the garden of the white-washed cottage in Cromarty where he lived is a sundial plinth carved by the man himself.

Little Sparta

Amongst the 270 artworks spread across seven acres at Little Sparta, the garden created by poet and artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay at Stonypath in the Pentland Hills, is a Sundial Bench bearing the motto ‘Dividing The Light I Disclose The Hours’. Unwary visitors should take care not to sit on the sharp gnomon - the sharp spice of metal that casts a shadow on the dial. 

Attadale Gardens

On the west side of Attadale House, overlooking Loch Carron in Wester Ross, is a giant sundial that measures almost 11 metres across. Created by sculptor Graciela Ainsworth, it features a gnomon supported by a wildcat rampant, the heraldic sign of the Clan Macpherson. Attadale Gardens is one of the finest gardens in the Highlands, with beautiful rhododendrons and luxuriant water gardens.

Greenbank Garden

A striking contemporary sundial, made by modern sundial maker, Alistair Hunter,  sits within the grounds of Greenbank Garden on the outskirts of Glasgow. It shares the space with a multi-faceted stone dial that was erected when the Georgian mansion was first built.

Mount Stuart

The 17th century obelisk sundial that stands at the centre of Mount Stuart’s two-acre ‘Wee Garden’, predates the magnificent Gothic mansion by 200 years. The entire gardens cover 300 acres and include woodland, a  huge rock garden, a restored Calvary garden and a productive kitchen garden.

Drummond Castle sundial
Attadale sundial