Thursday, February 4, 2016

Concrete Containers for Plants or Fruit

Making plant containers and garden art has been a passion of mine for years. I have crafted a variety of hypertufa and concrete containers for use indoors and in the landscape. Some examples  of those   containers are posted here in my blog.  I must admit creating your own container can be as much fun as planting them.

The main ingredient when making these containers is Portland cement. Working with portland cement can be challenging at times. When making  hypertufa pots (photo below) , you must carefully add perlite, peat moss and just the right about of water. Then apply the mix to the mold .  

You can see the 3 ingredients, portland cement, perlite, peat moss,  in the hypertufa pot above.
The goal with hypertufa is to make a rough, stone like container.

 I have recently used a new product called ShapeCrete to create this irregular shaped container or bowl. ShapeCrete  has properties that allows the ingredients, when mixed with water, to be formed over or inside molds much easier that I have experienced when making other hypertufa or portland and sand containers. 

Once mixed with water, ShapeCrete can be molded with your hands and then formed into a thin layer and applied over the rubber ball to create a unique container.  If mixed properly, the ShapeCrete does not run down the side of the mold.
Remove from the mold the next day and then keep moist in garbage bag for about 1-2 weeks to allow it to properly cure. I mixed a little black cement dye with this batch, to make the color a little darker. Not sure I added enough to make a big change in the color.
Although not a necessary step, I will eventually apply a cement our grout sealer for mainly aesthetic reasons to see if it brings out more color in this container.

I eventually removed the fruit and created a planter with a variety of succulents. 

If you like succulent container gardens, check out this article in Penn Live

If you have questions  you can post to the blog and I will reply. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Visiting Beautiful Gardens

I  enjoy visiting gardens. Going to a public or private garden,  is a great excuse to spend the day outside.  I like to look for new  ideas for my own garden design  but  often it is just a great way to relax and enjoy someones elses' hard work.  Recently I attended a plant conference, with the American Conifer Society (ACS),  held in eastern Pennsylvania.  Like others in the group,  I  have a certain passion for plants that have needles and cones.  I also enjoy seeing those conifers integrated creatively throughout a landscape.  One of the benefits of being a member of the ACS is the opportunity to visit gardens.   This recent ACS event included visits to a few fabulous gardens.

Chanticleer Gardens, located in Wayne PA., was the first stop for the two buses of ACS members .  Conifers are carefully planted throughout this garden, however this garden is also full of textures and color, where foliage is just as prevalent as flowers.  It is often refered to as a  "pleasure garden".  There are no plant labels to distract your view and there are plenty of comfortable chairs to relax and enjoy the beauty.

It in not hard to understand why Chanticleer, was such a big hit with the members.

The Ruin Garden, sits high on the hill over looking the  Gravel Garden and a nicely planted Pond Garden. It is one of the more interesting and creative gardens at Chanticleer. A  roofless mansion, the Ruin Garden was rebuilt to resemble the house where the son of the previous owner lived.  Entering  each room, you will see a enchanting variety of plants carefully planted. It appears that are taking over the old block walls of the foundation.   


A 24-foot-long sarcophagus-like table of polished black granite holds a pool of water beneath the fireplace "chimney." Succulents are creatively planted in the  mantel.   

The main entrance pavilion is located in front of one of the two mansions on the property.  The Teacup Garden is located behind the mansion, planted with many tropicals and many very beautiful containers.    

Texture and foliage are key elements in many of the containers and planting beds. 
A wonderful radio interview about Chanticleer  Gardens
Tyler Arboretum

The second stop on the tour, was lunch at Tyler Arboretum. One of the oldest and largest arboreta in the northeastern United States, Tyler Arboretum‘s heritage dates to 1681.  The land that makes up Tyler was acquired from William Penn by Thomas Minshall


One of the original trees planted at the Tyler Arboretum. Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) planted between 1830 and 1875.

 Fox Hollow - Inta Krombolz

Frequently private gardens are included on ACS Conference tour. Fox Hollow is a very creative garden  crafted and maintained at the home of Inta Krombolz.  Our large  group  enjoyed walking through her 3 1/2-acre garden  which features a wonderful array of plants, unique welded garden art, and beautifully planted containers.



Two bus loads of conifer lovers converge on  the garden called Fox Hollow. This  gorgeous garden is located outside of West Chester. The property, has many  mature trees, scores of unusual plants, and abundance of texture and color. It is not a surprise that this garden was featured in an issue Fine Gardening magazine

When I see other gardeners that have hypertufa containers, I am always interested in how they are planted and displayed in their garden. This garden had many unique rusted metal stands that were created by Inta.   In fact welded garden art  and bold foliage is very prevalent throughout this garden.




A shed that any gardener would be envious of, is accented by a  bottle tree created by this gardener and artist. .

Visiting beautiful  gardens is very beneficial, especially with a group of people with similar passions. Belonging to a garden club has afforded me many opportunities that I would have otherwise missed.   We live in a very fast passed world, with little time to appreciate the beauty that is all around us. Take time to stop and smell the roses.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gardening in Containers

Lack of space in the garden should not stop your passion for purchase.  Your patio, deck or porch are perfect homes for beautiful container gardens.  Pots can be purchased in many sizes, shapes and materials and can be wonderful places for growing anything from vegetables to conifers or perennials.  Best of all you can grow plants that aren't hardy in your zone, because you can move pots to a sheltered location during cold weather

Below are just a few container Garden Design Ideas that have caught my eye.

Longwood Gardens Kennet Square PA

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square PA

Longwood Gardens Kennett Square PA

In the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens


Denver Botanical Gardens

Container success starts with good soil.

Soil (Soilless mix) I use in every container 
Good container soil is critical to successful root growth in containers. I  always use a good quality soilless mix in my containers. Don't use a cheap brand or regular garden soil because they will compress and make root growth difficult over time.  
I typically make my own mix. It works extremely well and the same soil can be used for a few years in the same pot.  Most important this mix allows for the best drainage and root growth.   Al’s Gritty Mix  is in my opinion the best soilless mix you can use.  Information on how to make it and why it works so well can be found on the from the Garden Web Forum (Houze).  You will need to assemble this fantastic mix.  (and yes it is worth the extra time and effort) .
Al's Gritty Mix - Equal parts by volume: Pine or fir bark in 1/8 - 3/8" size (no fines), Turface MVP, Crushed granite (Gran-I-Grit, in grower size) or #2 cherrystone  and gypsum.

My favorite Hypertufa container. Planted with a mini Hynoki Cypress, sempervirums  and Elfin Thyme.


Something new - Succulents in Concrete and Hypertufa containers  hanging in my sunroom.


Container of dwarf conifers and a sedum on my deck.


Dwarf Hynoki , Weigela Fine Wine and Coleus on my deck

 One last container tip -

"Its a myth that a layer of gravel or foam peanuts (inside the bottom of an individual pot) beneath the soil improves container drainage. Instead of extra water draining immediately into the gravel, the water "perches" or gathers in the soil just above the gravel. The water gathers until no air space is left. Once all the available soil air space fills up, then excess water drains into the gravel below. So gravel in the bottom does little to keep soil above is being saturated by overwatering."   

the University Of Illinois Extension

One of my Hypertufa container which featured in garden article by George Weigel, for the Patriot News, Harrisburg.

Bonsai at Longwood Gardens


Unique planting on a slate at the Kral Garden in Rochester NY

Container full of succulents

Hosta at Carolyn's Shade Garden  


Swathmore College, Swathmore PA


David Culp's Garden Brandywine


Enjoy your patio, deck or porch this summer by planting a few containers, and don't let lack of space dampen you  passion for purchase.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gardening is like Therapy and You Get Hypertufa

Gardening has a way of calming the mind, reducing the stress of the day, and exercising those muscles that were idle because you sat in front of the computer all day.  The collection of busy thoughts running around inside my head somehow settles when I am in my garden.  Whether it is pulling  weeds, deadheading flowers or just cutting grass,  an afternoon working in my yard  can leave me feeling physically exhausted, but pleasantly  relaxed.

There is some discussion that  It’s in the dirt ! More specific, a strain of bacterium in  the soil - "Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety".   

 As much as I like  working  in my garden (in the dirt) , I enjoy making accouterments  for my garden.  I have constructed  wooden planters,  trellis's and  pergolas and a crazy garden gate but  making  hypertufa  is much more fun and does not require a circular saw.  Mixing  up the ingredients is like making a cake.  Making hypertufa containers does not require artistic talent, however  it will help you  find your creative side.   And the end result is a unique container and one more  reason  (like you need one) to buy plants.

So why do people enjoy making these stone like pots?  You buy a few basic ingredients, get a mold at the Dollar Store  and with a little instruction and some water you can create a you own really cool container. The design, size  and shape is up to you.   Although you are not digging in the dirt and  there is no release  of serotonin,  the good feeling comes because the entire  process was done by you. You made it!   

Hypertufa is fun because it does not require you to be a concrete artist.    Google hypertufa  and you will find hundreds of experts and just as  many recipes


After making a few of your own  pots you will get the hang of mixing the ingredients.  I tell  my classes  the consistency of the mix after you add water should feel like a  moist meatball (in the bowl!).   As you slowly work the mix into the mold, getting the bubbles out of the mix, also seems to release some of the frustrations from the day!   Removing  the firm but uncured  pot  from the mold,  then carefully working out the rough edges with the flat trowel and wire brush  transforms the concrete pot to an aged stone trough.

I used a childs kick ball as the mold for this pot.
Even if you make a  mistake you have the ability to create something beautiful.   Once when giving a demo at a Garden Expo,  I broke the side of the container (made the day before)  when putting it back into the mold to take it home.  After a few unrepeatable word.  I  took my square trowel  and careful carved the damp Hypertufa, smoothing over the  obvious break.  The pot below,  now has  lowered front ( broken part)  planted with some nice plants  and  I believe it  turned out to be one of my nicest containers.
Fine Gardening Web Site


In all my hypertufa classes I  show participants how to use a wire brush and a flat trowel  to  texture the sides of the uncured pot after it is  unmolded  and also what to do to fix broken sides.  
Once  the pot has cured for about 2 weeks it is ready to plant.   There are so many choices, however because the  size of the container, plants that remain small grow best. Succulents are the easiest to grow, but conifers and herbs also do well in these containers.  The key to successful containers plants is well drained soil. I use Al's Gritty Mix.

Pots can be made in many sizes and shapes .  Just find a mold and you can create what ever size container you desire. The smaller pots were made using quart nursery pots.

You dont need a large yard,  or big deck, only a small patio  with  a little sun.  You can plant with one or two plants or a  combination of many plants.  If it does not look good one year, you can change it the next.  The containers are easy to weed,  add a little fertilizer and  require regular watering

Even a stay in the hospital can result in a usable mold. Its the small pink rectangular wash container  provide to every patient. 


Gardening has a way of calming the mind, reducing the stress of the day, exercising those muscles that were idle because you sat in front of the computer all day.  Making these pots is one more way you can  enjoy the beauty of your garden.
If you have never tried Hypertufa or if you have made a few pots and it did not turn out the way you expected  -  Use my "Hypertufa Instructions" on the blog and try it again.  I made a many  mistakes before I got it right.

Making hypertufa is  just like anything you do in the garden, it takes a little time,  some practice, and patience and the results can be pretty nice. The bonus is that you  will get to plant the container when you are done.  

And it is a great way to spend some time with your friends.