What Are Moondials – Tips On Using Moondials In Gardens


By: Liz Baessler

Most everyone knows and loves sundials– those outdoor clocks that use the sun to tell time. In the middle stands a wedge-like thing called a style. As the sun moves across the sky, the style casts a shadow that moves too, falling across the ring of numbers around the outside of the sundial’s face. It works very well, but has one big drawback. It doesn’t work at night. That’s where moondials come in. Keep reading to learn more moondial information, like using moondials in gardens and how to make a moondial of your own.

What are Moondials?

Before you get too excited about moondials, there’s one thing you have to understand: they don’t work very well. For one thing, the time the moon is in a particular spot in the sky changes by 48 minutes every night! For another, the moon isn’t always up at night, and sometimes even when it is, it’s not bright enough to cast a readable shadow.

Basically, using moondials in gardens for reliable timekeeping is wishful thinking. As long as you don’t use it to get to appointments on time though, it can be a very cool piece of art and figuring out the time can be a fun exercise.

Using Moondials in Gardens

In essence, a moondial is just a sundial with a lot of amendments. Basically, it works perfectly one night per month– the night of the full moon.

When you’re positioning your moondial, do it when the moon is full and check it against a clock. For instance, at 10 pm turn it so the style’s shadow falls across the 10 mark. Check it again a few times to make sure it’s right.

Next, make a chart that tells you how many minutes to add or subtract from that time for each night. For each night past the full moon, add 48 minutes to your reading. Since 48 minutes is a pretty exact time for something as rough as a shadow cast by a not very bright object, your readings are not going to be phenomenal.

You will, however, be able to tell people you have a moondial in your garden, which is exciting enough in its own right.

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Moondial / Little Lord Fauntleroy [DVD]

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From United Kingdom

Really enjoyed watching these again
Moondial. Interestingly different story based on a young girl Minty, who has gone to stay with an aunt in a very old mansion. The Moondial in the garden transports her back in time where she meets Tom and Sarah from the past. Upon her return to the present she is questioned about seeing the children by a village elder, who tells her he's seen them too and informs her their souls cannot rest, they need Minty to save them. Can Minty find a way to help them and who or what is she saving them from. Minty must travel between the past and present to find a way.
This is the full TV version The only let down with this is the quality, it has not received any digital enhancement, thus it's not only the fashion that give the game away as to its age. The picture is noticeably grainy and of course not wide screen so you have to watch with black tripes either side. again back to the good old days!

Little lord fauntelroy. This has transferred to DVD well and the quality was much improved to Moondial. The story is of a young boy Ceddie who moves from USA to UK to live with his grandfather, a rather grumpy arrogant Earl. Ceddie is to inherit the estate from his grandfather so must learn to become a suitable aristocrat, however it appears he too can teach a thing or two to his grandfather, that is until his inheritance is threatened. Written by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Who also wrote the secret garden which was adapted into fantastic TV drama
Certainly worth a watch as a nostalgic grown up or with the kids

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Moondial is a British television serial made for children by the BBC and transmitted in 1988, with a repeat in 1990. It was written by Helen Cresswell, who also wrote the novel on which the series was based.

The story deals with a young girl staying with her aunt after her mother is injured in a car accident. Minty (Siri Neal) spends much of her time wandering around the grounds of a nearby mansion, and is drawn to a moondial that enables her to travel back in time, where she becomes involved with two children, Tom (Tony Sands), who lives in the Victorian era, and Sarah (Helena Avellano), who seems to live in "the previous century" to that, and must save them from their own unhappy lives.

The west entrance to Belton House near Grantham in Lincolnshire, the setting for MoondialRegarded as a nostalgic favourite by followers of 1980s BBC children's drama, Moondial employs extensive location filming (in the grounds of Belton House in Lincolnshire) and fantastical, dreamlike imagery.

The series was produced by Paul Stone and directed by Colin Cant. Other cast members include Valerie Lush as Minty's aunt Mary, Arthur Hewlett as the elderly, mysterious Mr. World and Jacqueline Pearce in the dual role of the vicious Miss Vole (who seems to have lived in the 18th Century) and the present-day ghost hunter Miss Raven.

Broadcast back in 1988, Moondial got a VHS release sometime in the early Nineties, but ever since then it's almost entirely vanished from view - it's ridiculously difficult to get hold of, and the one `proper' DVD release it got vanished from the shops almost as soon as it was released (the most recent DVD release was - weirdly - via the Reader's Digest, and is also now unavailable - it's this full episodic version that is, at least at the moment, up in full episodic format on Youtube. And just to be clear, I'd buy a commercial DVD release of it in an instant, as would plenty of other similarly aged TV SF/fantasy geeks, I'm sure). Of course, there's an awful lot of stuff from that era that doesn't get a release as well, but it's frustrating in Moondial's case because it stuck in my memory so strongly from when I first watched it, back when I was fourteen, and the world of Children's TV was a much weirder, spookier place.

There's a whole variety of shows that are burnt into my mind from that era - one of them, the ITV anthology series `Dramarama: Spooky', scared the living crap out of me so much that I've actually avoided the recent DVD release, simply because I'm not sure I want to find out that my memory cheated and that it wasn't quite as scary as I've remembered. Some haven't aged brilliantly - The Box of Delights, for example, a much-praised 1984 adaptation that kicked off a whole run of prestigious fantasy adaptations, still has charm but doesn't quite hold together (mainly because of the completely insane free-form nature of John Masefield's original story), but while Moondial is absolutely a product of its time and often spectacularly Eighties, it's also aged better than I expected and pulls off some impressive levels of atmosphere.

Adapted by children's writer Helen Cresswell from her own novel, it's the story of Araminta Caine (teen actress Siri Neal), usually known as Minty, who's packed off to stay in the country with her slightly stand-offish aunt, but barely gets a chance to settle in before her mother is involved in a near-fatal car-crash that puts her into a coma. Traumatised and lonely (especially since her father already died a few years previously), Minty ends up exploring the grounds of the sprawling country house nearby (actually Belton House in Lincolnshire), but soon finds herself involved in the kinds of spooky goings-on that tend to happen around mysterious country houses in children's stories. In this case, an ancient sundial holds the key to something that's halfway between a time travel tale and a ghost story, as Minty crosses paths with an ailing kitchen boy called Tom, and a terrified girl who always hides her face - both of them trapped in their respective worlds, and both needing Minty to eventually find their freedom.

Safe to say, this isn't exactly action-packed. We do get two definite villains - an evil governess, and a hilariously nasty goth ghost-hunter, both played by Jacqueline Pearce in full-on style that'll bring back happy memories of her days as ferociously camp villainess Servalan in BBC cult space opera Blake's 7 - but this is in no way an adventure story. Mood is the key word here, and there's a certain level of weird abstractness to the story that you certainly couldn't get away with today, but while Moondial is mainly a gently-paced, slow-burning mood piece that's all about character, it's often an astonishingly good one.

The late Eighties is a time when the whole look of television started to change and evolve at a pretty dizzying rate, and there are a certain aspects of Moondial that feel very entrenched in the way things used to be - for example, the number of beautifully plummy English accents on display, especially in the adult members of the cast. However, visually there's a very definite effort to make this look good - fantasy TV is always very director dependant, and it's pretty clear that the director here (Colin Cant, who only worked on a handful of projects after this according to IMDB) understood that the visuals and the location was going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of generating a sense of enigma and mystery.

The end result of this is that the whole show has a wonderfully spooky edge, one that's helped by the emotional undercurrent at the heart of the story - that it's essentially about a girl finding a way of dealing with the possibility that her mother might die. We get a whole selection of sweeping tracking shots and kooky wide-angle lenses, which gives the show a very definite sense of style, and it's also one of the few examples I can think of where filming day-for-night - throwing special filters onto the camera to acheive the illusion of night, back when cameras weren't as powerful and night shooting was pricey - actually works. This is thanks to some carefully used filters and video effects, as well as the decision to drain most of the colour out of the image - what you get is something that doesn't exactly look like night, but it does look dusky, weird and definitively spooky.

What makes it even more surprising is that Moondial is shot on video, and it's incredibly difficult to make something shot on video look stylish (for an object lesson, go look at the late Nineties Neil Gaiman-written BBC drama Neverwhere, which only occasionally manages to lose the shot-on-video curse). Even the contemporary episodes of Doctor Who shot at the time (Season 25) don't pull off quite so many moments of pure cinematic style as Moondial does when it's really working. Matching this is a music soundtrack by David Ferguson that uses a mix of synths and traditional instruments in a way that's weirdly timeless, adding a major level of darkness and edge to something that really could have come across as whimsical and feather-light.

There's also the deliberately sinister edge given to the transport through time - I've always been fond of shows and movies that try to depict the impossible as real, and Moondial presents its fantasy elements very carefully, in a stylised but very controlled way. The travel through time via the sundial/moondial is acheived really simply - a circling tracking shot that spins around the sundial in question, combined with a funky piece of spinning late 1980s video effects - but combined with some fantastically eerie sound design, it gives a real sense of process. Rather than trying to be magical and charming, time travel in Moondial is weird, unsettling and disorienting, and the whole story feels much more weird (and ever-so-slightly science-fictional) as a result.

Admittedly, while much of Moondial still works astonishingly well, not everything here has aged as effectively. For a start, there's an earnestness to the story that's often touching, but occasionally trips over into slightly clumsy storytelling - it's a very internal story, and unfortunately ends up relying on the `central character talks to herself' device a few too many times. Siri Neal is often very impressive in a demanding role (she's in virtually every scene), especially the sequences between her and Tom (Tony Sands), but there's a few awkward moments in the opening episodes - especially a bit of full-on hysteria in episode 1 when she finds out about her mother's accident - that don't quite come off. The adult actors are generally divided into those who are really effective, and those who are giving slightly mannered `childrens TV' performances (although Pearce isn't among these, and gives a wonderful villainess turn that's cool, chilling and distinctly camp).

The pacing is a bit too slow at times, even by Eighties childrens series standards - it's a show that works better in 25 minute chunks than taken all in one go, and there does come a point in episode 6 where it's hard not to think "Oh dear god, not another slow walk along the terrace to the Moondial?" Plus, the style is often very Eighties, even though there are plenty of TV dramas from that era that have aged much, much worse (like a 1986 version of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which now bears an unfortunate resemblence to the music video to `Total Eclipse of the Heart').

Ultimately, the thing that's most effective about Moondial is its sheer weirdness, which is what makes it even sadder that there's hardly anything like it on television anymore. It taps into a very English form of spookiness (from the menace of country houses, to the devilish children dressed in Wicker Man-style animal masks), it's as gothic (and Goth) as a childrens TV series can probably get away with, and it's a show that dares to take its time and be deliberately dreamy and surreal. While it's rough around the edges, and the ending will almost certainly leave you scratching your head and going "Okay, that wasn't entirely satisfying. ", this is still a trip down memory lane that's worth taking. Here's hoping that a proper DVD re-release turns up sooner rather than later.


Psychedelic Moon and Star

Brilliantly painted faux patchwork moon and a single star surrounded by equally brilliant rays – an arrangement from Wind and Weather, the company that focuses on the world around us. The sculpture piece can be used inside or out, creating a splash of color where ever it might be placed. The bright paint has been treated with a protective glaze.


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