I was recently asked what’s up with the phrase "bored with perfect magazine gardens" in our Manifesto, and it got me thinking. Honestly, my biggest gripe with gardening magazines isn’t the perfection of the gardens they show us or even the sometimes tedious writing. No, for me it’s their insistence on cheerleading for every new plant, product and technique. Plants seem to always perform well, suspiciously well. And everything’s "quick and easy."
The latest case in point is the step-by-step spread in the new Fine Gardening about concrete leaf castings. Here’s what I agree with: that they’re a "lovely and inexpensive way to enhance your garden with an imprint from the foliage found in it." What they decidedly are NOT, at least for me, is "quick and easy" or "virtually foolproof".
Now, I’m no art teacher like the author, just your average dabbler in the garden and toolshed. But I’ve made at least 150 of these things, testing a variety of ingredients and methods, and I’ve produced more than a fool’s share of castings that break, and an even larger number that just look like crap. Not to mention the ones that can’t be hung on a wall because the hook I inserted didn’t work, or I just forgot to use it at the right time.
But here’s why so many of them look like crap, including the finished casting shown in the article. It’s because when the concrete goes beyond the outside edge of the leaf the result doesn’t look NEARLY as nice as when it’s piled carefully along the edge of the leaf – with just the right consistency, mind you, so it doesn’t ooze over the edge. Still, the extra bits need to be filed off – at the exact right time in the curing process. It’s all pretty challenging and time-consuming, but worth it, I think, for the look you see here. See, I also encourage people to try leaf castings, but not because they’re "quick and easy."
MORE CONCRETE PROJECTS
Something else that isn’t "quick and easy" is making hypertufa pots. No way. Attend a workshop, sure, but
doing it at home is a serious undertaking.
But a project that really IS quick and easy and fun for practically any age is the making of concrete pavers using cake pans. It still requires supervision by adults, and the fun little doodads inserted into the wet cement may or may not stay in the pavers, and who knows how long the thing will last, but who cares? Everyone loves them.