Roadside-attraction showdown: Niagara Falls’ Floral Clock

The first entry in the showdown is 12 metres wide and boasts 20,000 plants
By Justin Chandler - Published on Jul 07, 2021
The Floral Clock was built in the 1950s by Ontario Hydro. (Courtesy of Niagara Parks)



Maybe you’ve already been to Niagara Falls or up to the top of the CN Tower. But have you made a pit stop near a giant goose? Or snapped a selfie next to a giant wheel of cheese?

Those are just a couple of the roadside attractions on offer in towns and cities across Ontario, which have devised unusual and eye-catching ways of setting their communities apart.

If you’re looking for summertime fun close to home, you can hit the road and check out these local legends. If you’re looking for summertime fun even closer to home, you can check in with over the next two months — each week, we’ll be bringing you profiles of the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.

At the end of August, you’ll get the chance to pick your favourites when we open up the voting brackets. So travel Ontario with us, and get ready for a showdown.

Check out the other contestants here.

As a child, Charles Hunter visited Niagara Falls’ famous Floral Clock, located roughly 10 kilometres from the heart of downtown. He never imagined then that, about 40 years later, he’d be in charge of the 12-metre-wide timepiece, whose face is a garden containing 20,000 plants. For Hunter, now the director of horticulture at Niagara Parks, the clock  represents many things: a partnership between nature and humanity, a message from Niagara to the world, and a gateway to inspiration, which Hunter calls “the fourth dimension.” 

“People want to feel clever. They want to be inspired, and they want to be amazed. That's getting harder and harder in a society that can click and move and find anything on the planet,” Hunter says. “But the clock is easy, because people still can't do it [by themselves]. They can’t order it online. I think that's what's inspiring about it.”

Floral Clock, 1950
Floral Clock design in 1950. (Courtesy of Niagara Parks)
Floral Clock, 1989
Floral Clock design in 1989. (Courtesy of Niagara Parks)

Built in the 1950s by Ontario Hydro, it has been managed by Crown agency Niagara Parks since the 1960s. Of the thousands of plants making up the clockface, Hunter says, about 95 per cent are grown by the Parks team; this year’s offerings include Alternanthera 'Rosea Nana,’ Duranta repens 'Dwarf Yellow,' and Santolina chamaecyparissus.

Hunter’s favourite part is literally bringing a design to life. “You can be just as much a sculptor with [plants] as you can be with stone, plasticine, and clay,” he says. Right now, he notes, the clock may look flat, but as the plants grow, it will take on a more three-dimensional look. If Hunter has his way, the design will tap into the fourth dimension. “The fourth is the wow — the inspiration,” he says. “If we get to the fourth dimension, I'm always happy.”

man in orange shirt standing in front of flower clock
Charles Hunter is the director of horticulture at Niagara Parks. (Courtesy of Niagara Parks)

The clock’s design changes annually. Usually, a design is planned three years in advance by a 20-person team. Then it’s brought to fruition over the course of three days by 10 growers and two to five planters. 

This year’s design features gold rings representing local COVID-19 campaign Crush the Curve, hearts to signify hope and resilience, and the colour red to suggest a sense of national community, Hunter says. It also draws inspiration from previous designs, he adds, as the pandemic has been marked by nostalgia. 

floral clock with hearts
Floral Clock design in 2021. (Courtesy of Niagara Parks)
smiling man gesturing at a floral clock
The author in front of the Floral Clock. (Nevoh Masliah)

His own nostalgia for the clock runs deeper than his childhood visit. “I'm a bit of a plant nerd,” Hunter says. “I've always had a penchant for pruning and trimming and shaping.” Just like his great-grandfather. “I remember walking and holding my great-grandfather's hand through his monstrous garden.” Recently, Hunter’s mother inherited photos showing his great-grandparents, who died 40 years ago, standing in front of the floral clock. “That's what [the clock] builds: a sense of connection that's very unique to Canada, very unique to Niagara,” Hunter says.

black and white photo of people standing in front of the floral clock
Charles Hunter’s great-grandparents, John and
Corinne Kingdon, at the Floral Clock, c. 1955.
(Courtesy of Charles Hunter)

“We inspire a lot of guests — millions. I think that has impact. That has integrity. That has a wow factor.”

Next up: the Wawa Goose.

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