“Quick and easy” concrete leaf castings?
You’re kidding, right?


by Susan
I was recently asked what’s up with the phrase "bored with perfect magazine gardens" in our Manifesto, and Hosta4_2 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."

So if you read the four pages of instructions in Fine Gardening and wonder why it looks so damn complicated, you’re not alone.  It’s not just you; the project IS complicated.Paversmall3

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.


  1. This cracked me up. It was just what I needed to here after spending much of the day in my garden and wishing that it showed more ‘picture-perfect’ results…

  2. I feel the same way about really any how-to article in any publication. Nine times out of ten things touted as “quick and easy” are neither- unless you already know how to do it, have infinite income, and all the time in the world plus five hours.

  3. I thought any project in the garden involving cement and no professionals was intended mostly to make a Huge Mess and enjoy doing it. I have no expectations of “easy”, but I have huge expectations of “messy”.

    I thought to make effective leaf castings that lasted you had to use special fiber stuff in the cement and some kind of sealant. I’m none too clear on the whole process, but I figure it would be like building a ferrocement boat in your back yard. My mom managed to talk my dad out of THAT plan…

    Nothing in gardening is really easy, and most of it involves getting grubby and/or making a mess. I don’t mind, because I love grubby and messy.

  4. I’ve played with a lot of concrete and to get professional results takes quite a bit of internalized finesse.

    My approach was to cast paver after paver and learn by doing what techniques are effective. To expect a concrete novice to make a perfect leaf casting the first time out of the gate relies a lot on wishful thinking.

  5. I found the most difficult part was getting the right consistency when working with the concrete.That I figured out by the 3rd leaf. Now I’ve started painting them and am having a great time, very easy. I use a sand mix cement, I buy an 80lb bag for $7.00 and whip out several at once depending on their size. I have yet to reinforce the larger ones, I didn’t realize it was needed. I have had a few break but that was careless handeling on my part…never pick them up on the weakest part…

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