8. The Oxford Sundial

Photo: Isobel Holling

At the time of the purchase of the Merton pinnacle in 1978 (see 7), the garden was largely a formless space. Shortly after the appointment of Walter Sawyer as the College’s Head Gardener (1982-1991) he was inspired to create a winter garden. He writes:

“Why a winter garden? It seemed to me that much of the academic year is concentrated over the winter months, when there is little of interest in many gardens. Yet there are days when it is mild and dry enough to be able to spend some time in a garden and many plants to be admired. With the area bleeding out into the car park, there would be at least six months of colour and interest to be seen by the visitor as they parked their car.”

Photo: Isobel Holling

Towards the end of the car park Walter also planned and planted a formal garden, beginning in 1986. 1986 was a hard winter, and the gardeners have memories of constructing the pergola on frozen ground with a wind chill factor of -12⁰. Sir Henry Fisher, then coming to the end of his time as President, offered to give a sundial to the College on his retirement, and this became the perfect centrepiece of the new garden. It was designed for us by Oliver Gero of Brookbrae Sundials and is very accurate; it is set to Oxford time, 5 minutes later than Greenwich Mean Time. The gnomon of the dial is an oriental dragon, which reflects the planting theme. The plants used are all Chinese, Japanese or Himalayan in origin.

Tim Hitchens, with thanks to Walter Sawyer