Planting Pots

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.  Please notice the contrasting colors and shapes of these sun loving plants.

Pots are the easiest way to garden.

If you have only one  square foot of sunlight where something might grow, you can grow your garden in a pot.

Gardening in a pot allows you to be spontaneously creative…  and outrageously unconventional in your plant choices and design.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.  It is planted with Zonal Geraniums, Caladium, Lamium, Ivy, Coleus, and Cane Begonia.

 

Pots are  the “trial and error” notebook of a gardener’s education.

 

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant.  Once I learn how to grow it, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant. Once I learn how to grow it successfully, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

 

A friend was telling me yesterday that she’d love to find a class to teach her about designing potted plantings.

This brilliant and creative friend, an artist by profession,  could definitely teach such a class !

I asked her to please let me know if she found one, because I would come with her…

These aquatic or bog arrangement is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

This aquatic,  or bog arrangement, is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

But I’ve never taken a class on making pots.  I have studied thousands of photographs of others’  pots in gardening books and magazines.  And I’ve grown plants in pots since I was a child.

Maybe a local garden center offered such a class, once upon a time, and I just missed it.  Hard to say…

An experiment:  Do you see the vase "neck" embedded in this hypertufa pot?  It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grow out of the neck.

An experiment: Do you see the vase “neck” embedded in this hypertufa pot? It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grows out of the neck.  A friend generously gave me the pieces of her broken vase to use in this pot.

 

But here is what I’ve already learned about growing potted plants, by long years of trial and error;  and  what I can share with you:

1.  Choose the largest pot your space and budget allows.  From a design perspective, big pots have impact.

A few big pots make a much better statement than two dozen tiny ones; unless they all match and are grouped artistically  together somehow.

This large hypertufa pot is home made.  It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

This large hypertufa pot is home made. It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

 

Big pots allow plants to grow lush and healthy.  There is more room for the roots to grow and it is easier to keep the planting mix hydrated in a large pot.  A larger mass of pot and soil helps moderate soil temperature  in extreme weather, too.

2.  Feed the soil with compost; organic amendments like Plant Tone and Osmocote; coffee grounds (high in nitrogen), and organic liquid feeds like Neptune’s Harvest.  Most potting mixes are nutritionally sterile, so the plants must be fed to perform well.

 

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis.  This pot hasnt' moved in the four years since we placed it here.

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis. This pot hasn’t moved in the four years since we placed it here.

3.  Site the pot, then choose the plants.  Know first of all where your new pot will go in your home or landscape; then select plants which will grow with the level of light and exposure to the weather that location offers.

You may have the same pot in the same spot for many years, but the plantings will switch in and out seasonally.

4.  Select a ” community of plants” which will grow together harmoniously for each pot.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Choose plants which share similiar needs for light and water, but  will “fill” different spaces so they weave together into a pleasing composition.

5  Select plants for contrast.  Choose plants whose differences create an interesting composition.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.  This planting was inspired by Becca Given‘s comment on the “Eggplant” post about her sister in law’s eggplant and turquoise kitchen  color scheme.

 

Contrast color of foliage and bloom to create an interesting, and maybe a dramatic, visual statement.

 

Geraniums and Fennel.  Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.

Geraniums and Fennel. Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.  Variegated, textured  foliage also creates contrast and interest.

Contrast foliage texture and shape, and choose plants which will grow to different heights and proportions so there is a balance of tall, trailing, airy, flat, round, and spiky.

6.  Study nature for inspiration.  Analyze how plants blend into communities in the wild.    Notice what you like, and what you don’t. 

June 3, 2014 Parkway 010

Do you enjoy wide expanses of a single species growing to a fairly uniform size?  Do you like  grasses mixed in among the flowers?

Do you like lush vines covering structure?  Do you want a classically symmetrical static look, or an asymmetrical spontaneously evolving look?

These differences matter, and you can achieve them all in pots.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large over the summer.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large and fill out this pot  over the summer.

7.  Develop a mental image of what you hope to create in the pot before going to the garden center to purchase the plants.

Have an idea of what you hope to create, and which plants you want to use.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

I often take a list with me.  Others take photos.  With a smart phone, you might even bookmark some photos online which are similiar to what you hope to purchase.

Now, it is a rare treat when the garden center actually has in stock everything on my list.

But, if you know your parameters for light, moisture, size, color and price; you can often make brilliant substitutions.

 

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter.  It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter. It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

 

8.  Be realistic about what you can grow.  Apologies here for the downer… but realism at the beginning saves later disappointment.

Know, in advance, what you can sustain.

This simple, neat basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.

This simple basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.   We grow Fuschia to draw the hummingbirds close to our windows.  The only safe place to grow these plants is on our deck, where the deer can’t reach them.

I know I can’t grow certain plants where deer or squirrels can reach them.  I learned that I can plant tomatoes all I want, but no net or screen will prevent squirrels from stealing them as they ripen, even on the deck.  I know that certain plants, like impatiens, left in reach of deer will be grazed.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care.  I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be "deer resistant." This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care. I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be “deer resistant.” This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Maybe you can’t water hanging baskets of Petunias every day in summer, or you don’t have enough light to keep them in bloom where you have space to hang baskets.

Once you learn and accept the parameters of your current gardening situation,  it allows you to find beautiful  alternatives.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical.  Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical. Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

 

9.  Let time be your ally.  Plant slowly and carefully, leaving sufficient room for each plant to grow.

Remember to use some combination of rooted cuttings, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and actively growing plants.

Unless you’re planting for an immediate show or competition, plan for the arrangement to evolve during the season as the plants grow, peak, and fade.

 

This basket of Petunias requires daily water.  Someone who travels during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive.  Like a pet, it requires daily care.

This basket of Petunias requires daily water. Someone who travels  a lot during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive. Like a pet, it requires daily care.

 

Different plants will take over as “stars of the pot” at different times during the season.

Plants will grow at different rates, and some will try to muscle out others.  You will have to referee with your pruners from time to time.  That is OK, and makes it more interesting.

10.  Treat your potted plants like pets.   K now their names, know their needs, and give consistent loving care.  Expect to learn continuously when you garden.    There is always more to know; and the more you know about each plant you grow, the better care you can take of it.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5' tall.  It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago.  Gradually, it will grow to  dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5′ tall. It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago. Gradually, it will grow to dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

Plants need to be appreciated to grow well.  Visit each regularly, and take care of its needs.  Whether it needs water, pinching, training on a support, turning, or simply a kind word; remember that is a responsive living being.

And, a bonus:

Our plants love for us to share with them.  You give your dog toys, don’t you?  Plants respond to our love just as animals will.

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What can you share with a plant?  I dilute leftover tea and coffee, and use it to water potted plants.  Tea and coffee are high in nitrogen and other phyto-chemicals.  (The same pot doesn’t always get the tea, and there are plenty of “plain water” waterings so the soil doesn’t get too acid.)   I use finished coffee grounds and rinsed egg shells  as mulch in large pots around fruits or vegetables.

When making a pea gravel mulch, I often include something beautiful such as a shell, agate, glass marble, or crystal resting on top of the soil.

A friend scatters trimmed hair around her plants, which also helps keep deer away.

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As you work with each of the plants in your potted garden, you will learn to know what it needs, and to provide for those needs.  You also learn which plants grow well together, and which will not.

The real difference between someone with a “brown thumb” and someone with a “green thumb” comes down to how much attention the gardener pays to providing what each plant needs to fulfill its potential for beauty and productivity.

Each pot, each season, teaches us something new.  

We continue to grow, just as our plants do.

 

A hanging basket of various Begonias.  Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

A hanging basket of various Begonias. Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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And Then It Got Complicated….

 

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An inspiration, when it first flits into one’s mind, is beautifully simple.  In its purist form, the idea is more powerful than the forces which will conspire to prevent its materialization.

At least in my experience….

A vivid imagination is both gift and curse; tool and trap.

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A gardener’s winter dreams of pots and beds and borders sometimes get translated into actuality; sometimes not.  Rarely do they grow as first imagined.

There is the small matter of reality standing between the vision and its accomplishment.

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My original idea was quite simple:  I saw a raised bed growing at the base of a young Dogwood tree.

The tree, badly damaged when our trees fell last summer, would become the center point of a cool and shady four season garden in the edge of our forest near the street.

Populated with Cinnamon Fern and Helebores, this perennial bed would be impervious to deer, low maintenance, and provide winter blooms.

Simple, right?

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When imagining what to use  to build the raised bed, I decided to use Hypertufa troughs.  A gorgeous cardboard box shipped from Plant Delights became the mold for long window box shaped planters.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 049

The first two un-molded perfectly and went to the drying shelves.  Then the third cracked as I turned it out of the box.

Heavy, and not quite dry enough, I realized I had rushed it; and made a patch.  After another week in the mold, I gingerly turned it out, and the patch held.

A second very large trough also cracked.  I must not have had the mix quite right that day.

 

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch.  Can you spot the patch on the pot's rim?

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch. Can you spot the patch on the pot’s rim?  A chunk of another broken trough, which couldn’t be repaired, rests nearby.

I wasn’t as lucky with that attempt to “fix it,” and it ended up in a dozen jagged pieces tucked into a shadowy corner of the basement.  It gets complicated…

That temporarily halted work on the new raised bed.  With only two of the four planned troughs ready to use, I wasn’t ready to move forward.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.  The apparently empty pot is filled with perennial hardy Begonia, which will emerge by early June.

And I didn’t have time by then to start the fourth trough.

But, I already had three potted Helebores and three Lady Ferns languishing in holding areas, ready to sink their roots into a permanent spot in the garden.

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Lady Ferns, you ask?  Wasn’t the original idea to grow large, stately Cinnamon Ferns in this bed?  Well, it got complicated…

On one shopping expedition after another this spring, my search for Cinnamon Ferns was in vain.

Yes, Plant Delights had them, but I wanted to purchase them locally.  I’ve learned my lesson waiting for bare root ferns from the big box stores to sprout, and I was hoping to score them in the tiny pots Homestead Garden Center offered all last season.  But, no tiny pots appeared…

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the peremiter of this new raised bed.  Broken pot pieces help form a low "wall" to hold soil behind them.

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the perimeter of this new raised bed. Broken pot pieces help form a low “wall” to hold soil behind them.

It gets complicated. 

Our long, cold spring made things very difficult for the growers this year, and many items came late, in short supply, or not at all.

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So during my tour of Forest Lane Botanicals, I purchased three beautiful Lady Ferns to use in the garden… just before that third trough broke.  And they’ve been sitting ever since….

With the art festival completed over the weekend, it was decided that today I would work with the universe to bring this new raised bed into reality.

One way or another, something would be built today.

An experimental "stepping stone" holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

An experimental “stepping stone” holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

Armed with three potted Helebores, three Lady Ferns, two Autumn Brilliance Ferns, four bags of compost, more Caladiums than I care to admit to having, an almost murdered Begonia which got too dry last week and lost its leaves, a tray full of broken Hypertufa trough pieces, some old plastic pots, and some 6″ clay pots left from the weekend- I set to work.

Some might call this a scrounger’s garden.  I see it as a fortuitous opportunity for some serious recycling.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 030

With three now completed troughs, already planted in Caladiums,   the outline of the new raised bed was already sketched in.

A larger free-form  hypertufa trough, again broken in unmolding but patched, joined the group two weeks ago when I decided not to offer the  patched pot for sale.  It also holds Caladiums.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 005

With the fourth trough a minimum of two weeks away, if I cast it today; I decided to border the bed with other materials- if only temporarily.

So a pile of new 6″ terra cotta pots, scored at the Re-store for a children’s art project, got filled with soil, planted with Begonia semperflorens, and pressed into service as a border.

A few old plastic pots, filled and planted up, helped plug the gaps.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Large pieces of the broken hypertufa and a few experimental stepping stones work to camouflage this motley mix of bordering materials.

Borders in place, compost poured in and smoothed, it was finally time to plant.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 032

The bed is far from completed.  That fourth trough will materialize over the next few weeks to complete the outline.

I don’t have much faith in small terra cotta pots on our hottest summer days.  They dry too quickly.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

So I’ll replace as many of the small pots as I can with hypertufa planters, which keep roots cool, moist, and happy even in the heat of summer.

I found a 4″ Cinnamon Fern this afternoon, finally, and planted it among the Lady Ferns.

Over the next few days I’ll transplant some Hellebores seedlings from other beds, add a few more Caladiums, and possibly even plant some Spikemoss, a new favorite, as a frilly ground cover.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 002

Time, the essential ingredient in gardening, will transform this motley conglomeration of bits and pieces into a beautiful garden within a few weeks.

Once the plants settle in and begin weaving themselves together, it will take on a life and vision of its own.

Gardens, like people, evolve in their own time from one form to the next.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

We might plant a seed, push a cutting into the soil, or tuck a transplant into a new bed.  But that is only a gesture.  It is the concrete expression of a wish.

Magic happens after we water in our intention and wander away. 

As the roots take hold, and the plant unfolds itself in new growth, something entirely new evolves.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

A community comes together as roots intertwine in the soil.

Vines stretch, branches form.  Flowers open.  Our wish takes on a life of its own.

It gets very complicated, but also very beautiful.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 019

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Clematis

Clematis

 

Hypertufa Pots Planted For Summer

This hypertufa potted herb garden will be sold this Saturday.

This hypertufa potted herb garden will be sold this Saturday.

Our hypertufa pots have dried, cured, and been planted for summer

The pots are inlaid with bits of glass, and potted with mostly shade loving plants

The pots are inlaid with bits of glass. They are planted with mostly shade loving tender perennials.

The first great effort at pot-making completed, every minute this week is devoted to preparation for an upcoming art festival this weekend.

Caladiums and a cane Begonia, which will have white blooms fill this pot.

Caladiums. Peacock Spikemoss, and a cane Begonia, which will have white blooms,  fill this pot.

Working on it with some very creative and patient friends for the last five months, we are in the final preparations for Saturday.

Although my post will be in the kitchen on Saturday, a friend’s daughter is running our booth for us.

Polkadot plant grows here with Caladiums.

Polkadot plant grows here with Caladiums.

We will offer note cards, miniatures, jewelry, glass sun catchers, gnome gardens, and these interesting hypertufa pots.

It will be bright, colorful, and alive.

Peacock Spikemoss will soon be joined by the Caladiums, which are just emerging from the soil.

Peacock Spikemoss will soon be joined by the Caladiums, which are just emerging from the soil.

A photo made it into our local Virginia Gazette today, we are on the Williamsburg Community calender, and emails are flying around our community.

If you live in the area I hope you will come and join us for the fun.

These pots are planted with mostly shade loving plants.  The Caladiums came so late from the grower, that they are barely showing their colors yet.  They will be fully open by next week, and will grow beautiful all summer.

The Caladiums got a late start this year, and are just beginning to grow.  With the warmth we're now enjoying, they'll come out quickly.

The Caladiums got a late start this year, and are just beginning to grow. With the warmth we’re now enjoying, they’ll come out quickly.

We also have pots with Peacock Spikemoss, an interesting plant which is technically a fern, although it looks more like moss.  Many of the pots also have cane Begonias, from my collection, planted with the Caladiums.

Peppermint spilling over the side, Tricolor sage, Thyme, and Basil fill this pot of culinary herbs.  All of these may be snipped for cooking.

Peppermint spilling over the side, Tricolor sage, Thyme, and Basil fill this pot of culinary herbs. All of these may be snipped for cooking.

My favorite pot is the herb garden, which will thrive in full sun.  Tricolor Sage, Basil, Thyme, and Peppermint will weave themselves into a fragrant and delicious planting for summer.

All but the Basil are perennial, and will grow happily in this pot for years to come if kept watered and trimmed.  I hope this one goes to a good cook’s home… to someone who will enjoy it and use the herbs to created delicious summer meals.

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So all of these pots, and several more which I didn’t photograph, will be offered for sale on Saturday at our art festival.

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If you would like more information on our art festival, please contact me in the comments section and I’ll send you specifics.

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I’m so pleased with how they all turned out. 

A raised bed, bordered with hypertufa pots, is actually “under construction” around a Dogwood tree in our garden.

Once we get past Saturday, there will be time to finish the pots for this garden, bring in the soil, and plant  it.

Photos to follow….

May 5 2014 garden 027

 

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Hypertufa Pots, Ready For Action

Hypertufa in the Stump Garden

Hyper-What?

One Word Photo Challenge: Glitter

April 21, 2014 hypertufa pot and pedastal 006

Shiny, glittery, glass  adorns this new installation in our garden.

The stump at the center of our  “stump garden” has been transformed into a pedestal to hold this hypertufa trough, adorned with the same glass beads and scallop shells.

April 21, 2014 hypertufa pot and pedastal 007

There is a little glitz in the forest to catch the light as the sun passes overhead each day, and to reflect the moonlight at night.

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We welcome the elves, fairies, and elementals who live in the garden, and appreciate their participation in its growth.  We create this little spot of glittering beauty, in hopes it pleases and attracts them.

The Flower Fairies for M Lady Tara

In spring the fairies cultivate
their favourite flowers carefully.
The beauty we appreciate
can’t happen accidentally.
The fairies know each flowers needs
and cater for them properly.
Though sprung from bulbs and corms and seeds
They tend them individually.
Though most adults can only see,
the blossoms which the fairies tend.
A poet might just possibly
observe some tiny fairy friend.
Children have no difficulty
they see the fairies easily.

ivor .e hog

With Appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells  for hosting the Weekly One Word Photo Challenge

 

Salmon

Purple

Blue

Red

Black

Hypertufa In The Stump Garden

April 20 2014 hypertufa 017

The stump in the stump garden has been bugging me.

When the tree guys cut this  broken oak tree last summer, leaving me a stump as instructed, they didn’t make an even cut.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 001

It seemed trivial at the time, given the enormous task of cleaning up the mess three downed oak trees left in our front garden, and restoring what we could of what little was left behind.  I planted up a large glazed ceramic pot and we balanced it on the uneven stump last summer, just to try to make things look a little better.  I knew we needed to do better this summer.

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The stump garden in October of 2013

We’ve worked on this area ever since, building up the Hugelkultur  bed around the stump, planting  the bed, pruning away dead wood from the shrubs, repairing the deer fences and spreading mulch.

The entire area looks worlds better, but there was still the issue of the uneven stump.

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I decided back in the winter to make a new, much larger pot for this stump from Hypertufa; and I ordered a Brugmansia, “Cherub,” which will grow very tall, to grow in the large pot.  I expect a 5′-7′ tall shrub covered in huge, pendulous fragrant flowers growing from the new pot on the stump by late August.

The large hypertufa pot I've made for our stump garden.

The large hypertufa pot I’ve made for our stump garden.

But there was still the small matter of the uneven cut on top of the stump.  And the even uglier matter of the missing bark.  Left as it was, I knew rot would set in, and soon this pedestal would begin disintegrating.

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I decided to transform the stump into a work of art; a fitting pedestal for the beautiful hypertufa pot and blossom covered Brugmansia.

Using a fairly wet hypertufa blend, I first covered the entire top of the stump, leveling it out as much as possible.  The top is decorated with bits of glass.  I expect the glass to help hold and stabilize the pot, holding it up a little to allow for drainage.

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After the top had a chance to set up, I came back with a second batch of hypertufa to address the torn and peeling bark.  I was careful to seal the top edge of the bark all the way around the stump under a coating of the concrete hypertufa mixture.

The top was already dry to the touch when I finished the patch on the side.  We’ve had a bright and windy day, which has helped the concrete to set up quickly.

I’ll give the stump a good 36 to 48 hours to dry before placing the pot on its new pedestal, where it can remain indefinitely.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, and Sedum.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, Creeping Jenny, and two varieties of Sedum.

The tiny Brugmansia start  grows now from the center of the pot.  It is flanked with Dusty Miller on the ends, and sun tolerant Coleus on the sides.

All of these plants, except the Sedums and Creeping Jenny, will grow at least 18″ tall, helping to hide the “knees” of the Brugmansia as it grows.

These plants will do well in full sun to partial shade.  These plants are a mix of annuals and perennials.  The Brugmansia  is rated to Zone 8, so I’ll most likely cut the plants back in late autumn, and bring the pot inside for winter.

two large drainage holes are important so the plants' roots don't get too wet when it rains.

Two large drainage holes are important so the plants’ roots don’t get too wet when it rains.  Wine corks held the drainage holes open as the pot dried.

Creeping Jenny  and cuttings of two different Sedums will fill in around the base of the Brugmansia to cover the soil, helping to hold in moisture.  The Creeping Jenny will trail down the sides of the pot, tying it visually to the stump and garden below.

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A piece of netting covers the drainage holes, and a layer of pea gravel holds the netting in place.

Brugmansia is a heavy feeder and needs daily water.  I mixed a good handful of Plant Tone fertilizer into the soil before planting.  I’ll top the soil with some Osmocote, and a pea gravel mulch once the pot is lifted into place on its stump pedestal on Tuesday.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

It will be interesting to see how the hypertufa and the wood come together over time, as the concrete cures.  I expect this will prolong the useful life of the stump indefinitely, keeping moisture and bacteria out of the wood.

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I expect this to be a beautiful focal point, visible from both the street and the house.

All of my plantings in this front area this season are chosen with their size in mind.  I’ve chosen large plants, with the expectation that they will create a lovely display, and re-create some of the  the privacy we lost when our trees fell last summer.

Even though these plants are tiny now, they will grow quickly to fill the pot.  This should be a beautiful summer display of interesting foliage, with flowers developing by late summer.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

April 21, 2014 hypertufa pot and pedastal 001

Hypertufa Pot Ready For Action

Hyper-What?

Hypertufa Pot: Ready For Action

April 13 hypertufa pot 011

I began working with hypertufa to cast pots and stepping stones about a month ago.

Hypertufa is a mix of Portland Cement with other ingredients more commonly used in potting soil, to create a light but durable material with which one can cast pots, birdbaths, stepping stones, troughs and other items for the garden.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow.  It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow. It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

Over these past few weeks I’ve experimented with different ways to cast  and embellish garden accoutrement.  The same much loved friend who went with me to purchase the bulk of the materials has returned to help mix and shape some of the batches.

Each piece sets up for 36 to 48 hours before it is turned out of its mold.  Then the pieces continue to dry and cure for several more weeks before coming into service in the garden.

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells.  The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells. The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

This beautiful trough is from the very first batch I mixed up in March.  It is hard, lightweight, and many shades lighter in color than the dark graphite grey of the wet hypertufa mix from which it is formed.  Cast on March 24, this piece has had a little more than three weeks of time to cure.

April 13 hypertufa pot 002

The drainage holes were made with wine corks.   The glass shells were pressed into the wet  hypertufa when it was cast.  There are bits of blue and green glass pressed into the sides which don’t show as much as I had hoped.  I’ve since learned to cast pieces like this in sand so that the glass is visible.

April 13 hypertufa pot 001

I made this very shallow trough to hold succulents.  I took cuttings from my succulents in October to decorate pumpkins, and had several cuttings left over which have overwintered in the garage.  I made this to hold them, along with freshly taken cuttings from other  overwintered succulents, which need cutting back.

These are such large drainage holes that I covered them with mesh fabric, and then with handfuls of pea gravel.  Then I filled the container with a good quality potting mix.  Since this container is very shallow, I didn’t mix sand into the soil.  I want it to to be a little moisture retentive while  this trough gets baked in our summer heat.

April 13 hypertufa pot 007

Next the cuttings were set into the soil , keeping in mind they all will grow much larger.  It always amazes me how bits of succulent will survive for months out of soil, often drawing moisture directly out of the air.  Many of these pieces simply sat in a plastic bowl for more than 5 months, before I re-planted them today.

April 13 hypertufa pot 008

So here is our first hypertufa trough, planted up with cuttings, and ready for action in the garden this season.  

A light mulch of pea gravel keeps the plants clean, reflects light to help them dry faster after a rain, and protects their roots.

April 13 hypertufa pot 009

I’m still making a few batches each week.  In fact, I mixed up two batches of the hypertufa mix this morning and cast three large planters from them.

Some pieces will find homes in our garden, but others are made for sale at an event next month.  I’ll be planting most with a mixture of Caladiums and hardy ferns to live in partial shade.  Some will be planted with edible herbs to live in the sun.

I will be offering about a dozen of these hypertufa planters for sale in mid-May.

April 13 hypertufa pot 012

As these beautiful pieces come out of the basement and into use I’ll show them to you from time to time.  My partner has been infinitely patient with the huge mess I’ve made, the hours spent “playing in the mud,” and my very achy back, sore from all of the lifting; but it has been a very rewarding experiment.  We’re both pleased with the resulting containers and stepping stones.

And yes, my friend already has a stepping stone we made together in her beautiful garden.

April 13 hypertufa pot 005

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

April 13 hypertufa pot 010

Hyper-What?

Hypertufa

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells.  The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells. The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

Have you heard of it?  This is one of those projects that stuck in my brain some years ago as something I wanted to try.

Hypertufa is a light weight cement like material one can use to cast pots, stepping stones, troughs, bird baths, stones, and other garden ornaments.

Peat, sand, vermiculite, and perlite measured, and ready to be mixed.

Peat, sand, vermiculite, and perlite measured, and ready to be mixed.

You mix the hypertufa from Portland cement and a mixture of other materials more commonly found in potting soil, and then mold or cast it to your liking.

After 36 to 48 hours you unmold it, perfect the finish, and then allow the piece to fully dry and season for the next several weeks.

It  finishes to look like stone.  Tufa is a type of limestone frequently carved into pots and garden ornaments in Europe.  Expensive, it isn’t easy to come by in the United States.  Hypertufa can be cast to make lightweight containers and ornaments with a similiar appearance.

As interesting as the hypertufa pieces featured in hard core gardening magazines look to me, there was always a reason not to do it:  too busy, too many materials, too complicated….  Do you have a project you have always wanted to do, but never quite got organized to try?

Here the dry cement on top is ready to mix into the other dry ingredients.

Here the dry cement has been mixed in.  The next step is to add water, and mix it all into a slurry.

Well, I finally made the decision to try it.  Blame it on the excruciatingly late spring we’re having.

I haven’t been out to do my usual spring garden clean up yet because of the cold weather, so I decided to at least give hypertufa a try… inside.

Last week a good friend and I went to the Home Depot in search of the materials.  We brought a flat bed cart inside with us, and were so fortunate to find a young, strong, friendly and extremely helpful clerk who became our personal shopping assistant.

We had to traipse from one end of the Home Depot to the other to gather all of the materials.  And thank goodness Kelley stayed with us, and enlisted his colleagues to help us.

They got their work out for the day!  The Portland cement only comes in 96 lb. bags.  The sand and pea gravel are packaged in 50 lb. bags.  We finally located small 8 qt. bags of peat moss and perlite; but never were able to find the final ingredient, vermiculite.

Two cubic feet of vermiculite.

Two cubic feet of vermiculite.

Home Depot had some large plastic tubs at a good price, and so we loaded five onto the cart.  These have hinged lids which open down the center and fold back to allow access.

Kelley loaded the cement into a large, heavy duty trash bag for us, and everything else into the tubs.  Sadly, I couldn’t take him home to help with the unloading.  We ended up with about 400 lbs. of materials, including the sand I purchased for making molds.

Getting it all inside was a slow job, but the tubs helped enormously.  At least they had handles.

March 24, 2014 hypertufa 002

It is important to wear gloves, goggles, and a dust mask while measuring and mixing the cement. A job ends up being easier when you first assemble all of the needed tools and materials.

The next morning, my partner and I headed to another Home Depot, some thirty miles away, which stocked the vermiculite and larger bags of peat.

I wanted the 2 cubic foot bag of vermiculite, and a large bale of peat.   Thank goodness the vermiculite is light and easy to handle!

Now vermiculite is heated mica chips.  It looks golden, a little more coarse than sand, and is feather light.  Most potting mixes include some vermiculite.

This container is cast in a very large nursery pot, lined with a plastic bag.  I hope that oatmeal box comes out OK....

This container is cast in a very large nursery pot, lined with a plastic bag. I hope that oatmeal box comes out OK….

Chemically inert, it promotes drainage in potting soil, but helps make hypertufa strong and light.  Perlite, the little white pellets you see in most potting soil, is also used to make the finished hypertufa pieces light.    Most recipes call for one or the other.

Because I found the perlite first, I bought it, and am using it in combination with the vermiculite.  Once I’ve used up what we found on Wednesday I’ll probably switch to all vermiculite in future batches.

This is a stepping stone, cast in sand.  I laid a mosaic design of glass marbles into the sand before adding the cement mixture.

This is a stepping stone, cast in sand. I laid a mosaic design of glass marbles into the sand before adding the cement mixture.

Today I decided to mix my first batch of hypertufa. 

I’ve read about several different methods for casting pieces, and wanted to try out several different techniques.  I prepared a few sand cast molds, which are more free form and allow you to work and shape the hypertufa by hand.

After dampening the sand and hollowing out the basic shape I wanted to cast, I laid stained glass pieces into the sand.  Next came the hypertufa mixture.

I’ve cast one solid stepping stone, and several hollow pieces which I’ll plant up in a few weeks when they have cured.

This is the mold for the container shown at the top of the post.  See the glass shells set into the sides?  The corks set in the sand at the bottom of the mold are for drainage holes.

This is the mold for the container shown at the top of the post. See the glass shells set into the sides? The corks set in the sand at the bottom of the mold are for drainage holes.

I also prepared a plastic pot and several boxes with plastic bag linings.  The hypertufa goes into the plastic lined mold, and then you either form the cavity by hand, or place another plastic bag and another, smaller mold inside to form the cavity.

Seeing how these first pieces come out, in a few days, will teach me which methods seem to work best.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow.  It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow. It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

But for now, at least I know this is a process I can enjoy and can manage in my work room.  Casting one’s own pots and troughs is far more affordable than purchasing glazed or terra cotta pots at the garden center.

And as a bonus, the size and design can be tailored to the available space in the garden and the needs of the plants you want to grow in them.

When I ran out of corks, I experimented with keeping the drainage holes open with sand...

When I ran out of corks, I experimented with keeping the drainage holes open with sand…

Once I refine my casting technique, there are all sorts of interesting things I’d like to make.  We’ll see how these first few items turn out, when they are solid enough to lift out of their molds on Wednesday.

I’m already making plans for the next batch…

 

These miniature daffodils bloomed today.  So tiny!

These miniature daffodils bloomed today. So tiny!

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

March 24, 2014 projects 004

Another project finished!  These stepping stones are made by gluing the glass to a purchased cement block, and then grouting them into place with mortar.  They can go outside when the weather finally settles.

Another project finished! These stepping stones are made by gluing the glass to a purchased cement block, and then grouting them into place with mortar.   They can go outside when the weather finally settles.

 

 

 

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