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August 2010


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For The Love of Gardens


Weathervanes Add Height And Interest To Your Roof!


Weathervanes are the oldest weather instrument dating back to 48 BC in Greece. The Tower of the Winds built by the astronomer Andronicus in Athens honored the Greek sea god Triton. The figure depicted Triton with the head and torso of a man and the tail of a fish. The Gods Boreas, Aeolus, Hermes, and Mercury decorated the villas of the wealthy in Greece and pre-Christian Rome.  Scandinavian churches and Viking ships in the 9th century had bronze quadrant shapes surmounted by animals. These weather vanes can be seen even today in Sweden and Norway. In Europe in 9th Century AD the pope had decreed that every church show a cock on its dome or steeple, as a reminder of Jesus’ prophecy. The rooster was to serve to recall peter's betrayal of Christ. Weather cocks have topped church steeples for centuries, both in Europe and in America. In medieval times Lords and noblemen flew flags on top of their castles. The flags helped archers calculate the direction of the wind when defending the castle. The flags were replaced by metal structures. The Victorians in 19th century Europe added interesting motifs of mythical creatures and animals. As an aid to the European settlers in the New World weathervanes helped the farmers with their crops. President, George Washington, commissioned a weathervane for his home at Mount Vernon. The Peace Dove was to commemorate the end of the Revolutionary War. The first weathervane that could tell the direction from inside the house was in the home of Thomas Jefferson. A codfish weathervane was atop Paul Revere’s blacksmith shop.
 There is a rich history behind weathervanes. Today with the renewed interest in home and garden décor weathervanes have started to appear on top of homes, barns and church steeples. Today’s use of the weathervane is merely for architectural accents. There are three different types of weathervances, the silhouetter, swell bodies and full bodied.  The silhouette is a single sheet of sheet metal cut to represent an animal, a sailboat, a fish, almost anything. A swell bodied is similiar to the silhouette but molded to give a three dimensional effect. The full bodied weathervane is a realisitc sculpture.  The styles are endless, horses, tractors, nautical, roosters, celestial designs and trains to name a few. The compass points with N. S. E. W directional markers should be present. Copper and brass are the most commonly used material due to their excellent ability to be shaped and to withstand the weather.  Although tin, stainless steel, cast bronze and aluminum are also used.A good quality weathervane must be free swinging and accurately balanced. One half must be smaller in area than the other. The wind will push the vane around until the weathervane is parallel to the wind with the larger end downwind. This will allow the weathervane to show the direction the wind is blowing from. 
If you plan to install a weathervane on your roof it is important to install the correct size. Rooftoop weathervanes range in size from 24 to 48 inches in height. When being installed on a single family home a 32-46 inch will do best. The largest weathervanes of 48 inches look best on a large barn or multiple story home.  The 24-30 inch look best on gazebos or utility sheds. Weathervanes must be mounted far enough away from trees or neighboring buildings so there is no interference with the wind's direction. They should be installed at the highest point on a building's roof.
With a proper knowledge of the wind's direction, people throughout the centuries were able to predict the weather based on experience and knowledge of surrounding climates. For example, if they were located in a place where the north was cold, the south was warm, the west was wet, and the east dry, then they'd know to expect the related weather conditions when the wind came from those areas. In the case of farmers, they knew how to orient their fields and crops so the wind was more helpful at pollinating than it was destructive by blowing against rows perpendicularly. If winds were too strong from one way, then they knew to plant trees as wind blocks.
So while the workings of a weather vane helps provide nothing more than guess work on the weather and the directions the wind blows, at least it serves as a way of knowing.


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