Geneva’s Flower Clock

Tell time with flowers

Claude Hervé-Bazin
Lucien Fortunati | Gauvin Lapetoule | Genève Tourisme
July 2024

As iconic as the Jet d’Eau, Geneva’s Flower Clock truly embodies the spirit of the city: elegant, always on time, and a perfect representation of the Swiss watchmaking spirit, which is forever tied to celebrating and marking the passage of time.

It awaits, poised on a small knoll facing the Quai du Général-Guisan with its back to the lake, just at the entrance of Geneva’s Jardin Anglais. A majestic carpet of flowers across the immaculate lawn, open faced like a book of time for all to read.  

Believe it or not, Switzerland was the first country in the world to build a flower clock: in 1900, at the Grand Hotel des Avants, above Montreux. Geneva’s clock came about in 1955, thanks to an initiative by a watchmaker’s association. Created by Landscape Architect Armand Auberson (father of the rose garden in Parc La Grange), the clock has had several iterations over time: a single dial, the addition of other dials (some superimposed, like in 2002), until a return to origins in 2017 with some new (and of course, beautiful!) upgrades. 

Watchmaking reimagined
In 2017, the clock’s mechanism was renovated and the new watch hands, which are made of fibreglass, were installed to replace the black tube-shaped hands of yesteryear. Their dauphine-style shape harks back to their benefactor Patek Philippe, who pulled out all the stops with three (precise) hands for the clock and an integrated watering system. Not to mention that anyone who approaches too close will set off an alarm system of lights and sirens, along with a signal that notifies the local police of the intrusion. 

This newer design concept, while beautiful, requires more flowers than ever. A clock that used to require around 6,500 flowers now needs closer to 12,000 — which are (of course) sustainably grown at the Vessy Horticultural Production Centre. The most important flowers shape the friezes of spirals that encompass the clock, often Alternanthera. The centre of the clock, which is 15.7 m in circumference, is usually composed of hundreds of plants, along with a host of Santolina that are used to create the outline of the clock’s numbers.

Closely watched ecological management
The clock’s five gardeners from SEVE (Service des Espaces Verts de la Ville, i.e. Green Spaces Dept.) work by mosaiculture. Every season has its design, often using primrose in March, pansies in April-May, begonias and/or succulents (which are drought-resistant) starting in June, and a return to pansies for the fall and winter. It’s a monumental task… which is not made easier by the host of celebrations that require special letters made of flowers in specific colours — like the red and white (in summer 2022) to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Red Cross. Since the city of Geneva stopped using crop protection products years ago, the utmost care is required for every step: pests must be chased away; measures must be taken to avoid sickness or fungi; plants in poor shape must be trimmed or replaced. The clock’s dedicated team works on it at least twice a week.

 This summer, the clock will be dressed in ophiopogons, echeverias, begonias, and Dark Star Coleus. We can already picture gorgeous shades of violet and green with pops of contrasting numbers in yellow… and at least a week of work for the gardeners.