In Fine Gardening #200, Lisa Roper demonstrated how hand-cast leaves can create artful niches for drought-loving plants like succulents (8 Ways to Create Crowd-Pleasing Containers). If you would like to create a planter of your own, follow these excellent step-by-step instructions from Lisa.
Cast leaves are made from a mix of portland cement, builders sand, and a bonding agent. The trick is to mold the planter with a three-dimensional quality and to add drainage holes at the lowest point. Choose a durable leaf with strong veins, and pick it fresh before casting. A good starting size is no larger than 12 to 14 inches long or wide.
- Builders sand
- Portland cement
- Concrete bonding adhesive, such as Quikrete Concrete Acrylic Fortifier
- Rubber gloves
- Dust mask
- Plastic wrap
- Fresh-picked leaf
Preparing the work area
- Line a table with a plastic tarp or plastic wrap.
- To give the casting three-dimensionality, make a dome of moist sand at least 2 inches larger than your leaf. Mold the dome to fit the contours of your leaf, keeping in mind that you are working upside down. A taller, more rounded dome will result in a deeper casting.
- When you are happy with the shape of the sand dome, remove the leaf and cover the dome with a layer of plastic wrap to keep sand out of your work.
- Dust any remaining sand off the leaf, trim its stalk, and put it back on the plastic wrap.
Casting the leaf planter
- Wearing a dust mask, mix one part portland cement to three parts coarse sand.
- Mix four parts water with one part bonding agent. Gradually add this liquid to the sand and cement, stirring after each pour. Add just enough liquid to give the mixture the consistency of thick brownie batter.
- Wearing rubber gloves, scoop small amounts of the concrete onto the leaf, starting in the center and working your way out. Aim to make the center of the leaf 1 inch thick and the edges no thinner than ¼ inch. Gently pat the concrete as you go to remove air bubbles.
- Make at least one drainage hole at the lowest point of your planter (which will be the top of your casting).
- When you are done placing the concrete, fold up the edges of the plastic wrap, using it to neaten the edges of the leaf.
- Cover the concrete with plastic so that it can cure and dry slowly. Let it cure for a week to increase its strength. It is a good idea to spritz the concrete with water every day.
- After the concrete is cured, remove the plastic, peel the leaf off, and you are ready to plant!
- Use a well-drained potting soil, and fill the planter with drought-resistant plants that are well suited to growing in a small amount of soil.
Instructions provided by Lisa Roper, horticulturist at Chanticleer garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania