Gaber Solar Clock Garden Brings Life to Campus

Curiosity is springing up around Truman over a unique addition to campus. Upon their return to school this year many students wondered why a garden, complete with a tall, square pole in its center, now decorated the space on the south side of Magruder Hall. To the surprise of many, the addition of the Gaber Solar Clock Garden has been a labor of love for several of their fellow students and faculty members for years.

The Gaber Solar Clock Garden includes both a sundial and garden constructed by Truman students, faculty and staff and Kirksville community members. The sundial consists of a circular pattern of concrete lines on the ground with a tall wooden pole, called a gnomon, in the center. The sundial’s gnomon was cut from a red cedar tree that once stood in the sundial’s location before being cut down to make room for a gravel parking lot.

Named for the alumni couple that funded its creation, Elsie and Ron Gaber, the sundial projects the time of day with the shadow cast by the gnomon on the ground. As the sun changes position in the sky throughout the day, the square pole’s shadow moves from left to right along the length of the garden. The gnomon’s shadow also helps indicate what time of year it is. Thick horizontal lines of concrete run across the sundial, marking the farthest and closest positions of the sundial on June 21 and Dec. 21. Other straight lines correspond to where the gnomon’s shadow will fall on both the spring and fall equinoxes.

The sundial is complemented by a beautiful assortment of flowers and plants nestled between and around its concrete lines. These plants are more than mere decorations, however. The unique plants make up the clock garden. All of the plants included in the garden were carefully chosen because they flower or smell differently at specific times of day. In fact, the flowering times of each plant correspond to their positions on the sundial. For example, a tropical-looking plant indigenous to southern Missouri called the passionflower blooms quickly at approximately noon but then withers quickly in preparation to repeat the cycle the very next day. While the idea for such a garden dates back as far as the 1700s, such unique blends of science and creativity remain hard to come by.

A dedicated team of students, faculty, staff and community members made the addition of the Gaber Solar Clock Garden to Truman’s campus possible. Planning for the project began about two years ago in a JINS class taught by Matthew Beaky, associate professor of physics. He and his students designed the sundial, including its location and structure. When Steve Carroll, associate professor of biology, learned of the plans for the sundial, he suggested adding the clock garden as a more meaningful complement to the structure than simple beds of roses or plots of grass. He and his students designed the garden, selecting plants that would be both aesthetically pleasing and appropriate.

Once all of the necessary plants had been purchased, grown in the Magruder greenhouse, or a combination of the two, a multitude of volunteers and staff members pitched in to construct the solar garden. Employees of Truman’s Physical Plant took care of most of the concrete construction work. Students involved with the project, football players, and even random passersby all helped in planting the garden and completing other construction tasks.

Katrina Brink, a sophomore agricultural science major from Liberty, Mo., who served on the construction crew, says she hopes to spread awareness of the unique solar garden throughout the Kirksville community. She plans to work with some elementary schools and host some after-school programs for kids in the garden.

Upkeep of the solar clock garden will be a continual process Carroll said. However, all those who have worked, and continue to work, so diligently on the project, are excited about its success. Truman’s Gaber Solar Clock Garden is attracting interest from gardeners and sundial enthusiasts around the world.
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