Woodland Tableau

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Cathy, at  Rambling in the Garden, urges us to bring cut flowers indoors for a vase each Monday.  But instead of filling a vase, I’ve made my foliage arrangement today in small pots.

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My inspiration came from an intriguing photo in the fall 2016 Country Gardens magazine.  In the article, ‘The Splendor of Seedpods;” there is a log centerpiece, covered in moss, small ferns, Rex Begonias and various seedpods.  It is simply stunning. 

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But, copying this arrangement meant finding a partially hollowed out log of the right size for one’s table.  The more I thought about putting a real decaying log in my dining room, and the little bugs which might come with it, the more I searched for another way to accomplish a similar effect.

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Center pot from Mossy Creek pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

Begonia Rex in a hand thrown pot  from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

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My version uses a handmade pottery tray as the base.  The  ferns, ivy, and Rex Begonias are all potted, then their pots arranged with small animals, bits of glass and stones.  Moss pulled from the garden finishes each little pot.

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The three main pots are cast clay, shaped to look like stones.  I’ve grown succulents in them most years, but they’ve been empty for the past several months.  They recycled nicely into this arrangement.

The two glazed pots came from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.   The tray was found at a tag sale a few years ago.  But it is a signed original, and I enjoy it very much.

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The classic terra cotta pot has languished in my potting area for several years, awaiting inspiration to find it a new use.  It, and the other pots with drainage holes were lined with a sheet of burlap before I filled them with good potting soil.  Lay a layer of aggregate, like pebbles, in any pots without drainage holes, before adding the plant and its soil.

I’ve chosen two tender ‘Tabletop’ ferns (Pteris species) and a division of a tender Lady fern from one of my hanging baskets.  These little ‘tropicals’ are easy to find at big box stores which sell little houseplants, and the needlepoint ivy and Begonia came from our local Lowes.

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This is a nice, relaxed, woodsy arrangement to carry us through the autumn months.  I can add a few little pumpkins or gourds in the weeks ahead.  All of these plants should grow fine in the low light of our dining room.

If you want to copy this design, be creative with re-purposing things you already have lying around.  I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week,  collecting the materials and plants before assembling it all this afternoon.  It can be great fun to find new ways to use containers already in ‘the collection.’

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I hope that Cathy will accept this humble aberration from her floral meme.  Eventually, those Begonias will sport blossoms, after all.

But I find great beauty in foliage, too, and appreciate its longevity.  This little arrangement should be alive and growing for many weeks on our dining table.

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Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a 'houseplant..'  These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a ‘houseplant.’ These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Hypertufa Pot: Ready For Action

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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