How to Make a Living Clock

Bringing plants into your indoor living space brings a sense of calm and tranquility, joy and brightness that is hard to find alternatives for. The concept of bringing the outside in can take many forms. Humans have done this for millennia with indoor gardens or, on a simpler scale, with potted plants. 
How does it sound to take this one step further by combining plants with other objects in your living space, like furniture or decor, or even a more functional item like a wall clock? A living wall clock - a clock using potted plants instead of numerals - could just be one of your home’s most unique and ultimate conversation starters ever.
 But know that this is a rather involved process. It will take some time to come up with your particular vision and get all the pieces together, so don’t rush. Let the idea grow on you - pun intended. The clock that inspired this blog post (see pic below) took around two months from raw concept to final product. Let’s have a look at how to plan and complete a project like this.
Planning and the bigger picture
The most important thing when undertaking this type of project, is to consider where you will be putting up your living clock. This will influence the type of plants you will be using as well as the size of your clock, which in turn will influence most of your other design choices. 
Make sure the location where you will be hanging your clock will provide ample light for the type of plants you want to use. Will the clock hang in a room of the house, or on the wall of a covered patio? Work backwards from there to inform your possible plant choices. 
The type of plants will in turn dictate the size of the pots you will use on your clock. Succulents were used for the clock that inspired this blog, which gave some leeway on the size of the pots - succulents can be used quite small. If you choose to go with succulents you should keep an eye on them though, and plant them out if you see any signs that they are struggling. 
The size of the terracotta pots used for this project measures around 5,5 cm in height. Keep in mind that you don’t have to place plants at every one of the 12 hour points. You could perhaps choose to highlight only 12, 3, 6 and 9, which would enable you to add slightly larger containers.
Now that the functional part around planning has been sorted, you can start focusing on the fun side - aesthetics!  
The area or room where you want to hang your wall clock will influence your design choices. Will you go for a natural, organic look, where you stick with more typically natural colours and textures like wood or stone, or for an industrial look incorporating metals? Perhaps an eclectic look using both vintage and modern touches sounds more like you and/or your space.  
What you need
The elements that you generally need to construct a living clock from scratch include:
  • Containers for your plants. This could be anything that suits your style, is big enough for your choice of plants to grow happily and is waterproof to avoid damage to the rest of your clock. Ideas include old tin mugs, used tin cans, glass planters, rope planters, small baskets or cups, etc. Paint or decorate them any way you want. For the current project, two layers of chalk paint were applied to the small terracotta pots followed by a topcoat sealer.
  • Plants, gravel for drainage, suitable soil. Prepare the pots for your plants as you normally would. The ideal is that you would be able to remove your plants from the clock when you water them and wait until all the excess water has drained before placing them back in their designated holders. You could opt for water retainer gel mixed in with the soil to reduce watering frequency.
  • Organic mulch like moss or inorganic mulch like pebbles. For this blog’s clock, Scandinavian reindeer moss was used for soil cover as another means of reducing the need for watering.
  •  Clock face. Recycle an old side table’s top or have something cut from metal or wood. Treat the material with whatever is needed to preserve it or make it more aesthetically pleasing. For this blog’s clock, wood from an old tobacco press sourced from an antique store in Free State town Parys was cut in a circle and treated with a wood preserver, which also darkened its colour. It was also strengthened at the back with supports to avoid warping.
  • Brackets for hanging the clock. Make sure they are strong enough to handle the end weight of your clock.
  • A clock mechanism and clock hands. This is what makes the clock tick, literally. The clock mechanics are quite easy to get working once you have fitted the mechanism in the back of the clock correctly - see further below. Order this hardware online and ask the store for advice on the size you need. The mechanism usually comes with a nut and washer to secure it, as well as a set of clock hands, so make sure the clock hands fit your style. If not, you can order alternative clock hands.
  • A suitable way/mechanism to attach the plants to the clock face. This can be a bit tricky to source. The rings for this blog’s clock were specially made to fit the diameter of the terracotta pots (thanks, Dad!). The custom ring holders you see in the below photo makes it very easy to remove and replace the pots for watering or replanting. Depending on your plant containers, you might opt for a simple attachment of the container to the clock face with screws, and placing the plants in a small plastic pot inside the container. Whatever option you go for, just make sure you will be able to easily maintain the plants while not causing water damage to your clock.
 Think before you buy
As you might have gathered from the above list, there is most probably going to be somewhat of a timelapse involved in this project. For instance, the mechanism for attaching the containers might only be figure-outable once you source your plant containers, because the choice of container will influence how it will be adhered to the clock face.  
Also, wait to order the clock mechanism before you work out the size of your clock, because you might need a specific size/strength clock mechanism depending on the length of the clock arms. The clock arms should fill the available space nicely while avoiding contact with the plants.  
A good tip is to lay out the size of your clock with a piece of string or to draw it out in soil. Then place your containers onto this “surface” to check for an aesthetically pleasing size for your clock face. Don’t skip this step! Initially the idea for this blog’s clock was a clock face of around 60-70 cm in diameter, but after completing this planning exercise the diameter ended up being 80 cm, resulting in a much less crowded look for the clock face. Totally worth the effort.
 Fitting the clock mechanism
The clock mechanism usually consists of a little black box that contains a quartz movement and gets fitted at the back of your clock. Attached to this box is a shaft that must go through the clock face from the back to the front, and protrude enough so that a nut and washer can be fitted to the shaft at the front to secure it, plus the arms of the clock.  
You might need to outsource fitting the clock mechanism if you have a wooden clock face that is too thick for the shaft to go through. On the other hand, if you use something thin like a sheet of metal for your clock, you will not have to worry about fitting the mechanism other than creating a correct-sized hole for the shaft.  
If the shaft is not sticking out the front of the clock far enough to fit the washer, nut and clock arms, you will have to sink the movement in at the back (or have this done by a woodworker) so that the shaft can reach out far enough. Place the washer first, followed by the nut, then the hour hand and then the minute hand. If you are using a seconds hand, that would be added last.
 It’s ‘time’ to start
Creating a wall clock from square one might seem a bit daunting, but it is totally doable. Going through the time to plan, source and create the elements for this special timepiece is very much worth the effort. A labour of green love.
Combining nature and time can remind us that although the hours keep ticking by, everything has its time, and there is no need to rush or push ourselves beyond our limits. Take your cue from nature - she does not hurry, yet everything happens in its right time and season.
 I've never found time spent in nature to be a waste of time
- Unknown
About the Author
Chanél Boshoff holds a master's degree in journalism and is an avid amateur gardener with a passion for the environment. She writes about sustainable and creative living.