Last Saturday I spent the day playing with cement and plants in Kingston, Ontario. I was a student in a day long workshop at Leaf Relief, a studio run by artist Deb Stagg, out of her home.
I’ve seen many tutorials on making cement stepping stones, using leaves as molds, and even took a shot at making one myself. But Deb does more than just stepping stones–she makes birdbaths, fountains, and all manner of cement vessels. Looking at the Leaf Relief website, I saw that her cement creations captured quite fine veining in the leaves, and her finished pieces were smoother than most of the other cement casts I’d seen.
I signed up to take the cement planter workshop, mostly to learn Deb’s technique. I have ideas about birdbaths and some other things I’d like to make, but a planter workshop was what was on offer so I figured it would be a good place to start.
There were three other people in the workshop and we had a fun day together. Deb started us off with the basics, mixing concrete.
Turns out she doesn’t use straight concrete but also adds in a few things to provide the material with strength. She provided her recipe to all of us so that we could replicate it at home.
Then we did our first project, a stepping stone, to learn the basic technique. Rhubarb leaves were used because of their smooth finish, deep veining, and substantial size. To strengthen the stones we inserted small pieces of steel mesh in between the layers of concrete.
Confident in these skills, we moved on to the main piece–the planters. To enable us to complete one in a day, Deb had already done a first coat of cement earlier, using a mesh waste paper basket as the base.
You can’t see it in this shot, but there’s a piece of rhubarb stalk stuck in a hole in the side of each basket, near the bottom, which will become the planter’s drain hole.
We then spent the rest of the day applying concrete and leaves to these containers, in various ways. It’s a very messy process (participants are advised to wear old clothes, rubber shoes/boots, and bring rubber gloves), but very interesting. One of the steps is laying out your leaf collar (an empty waste basket was used for positioning):
Joining the basket and the leaf collar requires a bit of expert technique:
Finally, we added globs of cement to the outside, and then stuck leaves to them, shaping as we went:
Not exactly a beautiful site at this stage. But we were all excited to take these masterpieces home, so that we could peel off the leaves in 24 hours (or more). We covered them in black plastic to keep them hydrated.
We did stop for a very tasty lunch mid-day, provided by Deb, but other than that it was a full day of messing about with cement. I think we were all tuckered out by the end of it.
A few days later (we were traveling so I waited longer than 24 hours), I unwrapped my creations and took a look:
Very exciting (I know, not beautiful at first, but you have to have some vision).
After a bit of scrubbing and picking away the decaying leaf bits (yes, that’s my green thumb. I was painting a wall that day), things started to look better…
… I ended up with two lovely stepping stones,
and a pretty neat cement planter:
I like that it has some undulation, and that the character of the leaves shows up well.
The sides aren’t quite everything I had hoped for, but since I don’t plan on putting this planter up high, they won’t be seen by many people.
I haven’t yet figured out what I’ll be planting in this vessel, but I am anxious to gather my supplies and take a crack at some other cement creations.
Thanks Deb for a fun and informative workshop!
This article was originally published July 19, 2015 on jenniferarnott.com, my old blog. Because it was a favourite post, it’s been migrated to TheFabulousGarden.com