Why Are Clay Spheres So Unbelievably Awesome?


Clay ballIt's just a round ball of clay. Why do we love them so?

I try, every year, to come up with the obligatory list of gift ideas for gardeners.  The list ends up being some combination of marital advice and marching orders for non-gardeners who must shop for the gardener they love.  I realized several years ago that nobody ever buys me garden-related gifts; they either assume that I already have it or that I don't want it or that I'm so highly selective that they would surely give me the wrong thing. This, of course, is ridiculous.  I want all kinds of stuff, and preferably more than one of everything.

Thus the list.

This year, I issued the following set of instructions to the non-gardener who needs one sure-fire, completely perfect gift that will fit any gardener.  All gardeners. To compile my instructions, I wandered around the garden center looking for such a thing, and there it was.  The clay sphere.  Cheap (but scalable–you can buy a dozen if you've got the money), elegant, and weirdly appropriate for any kind of garden. Who thought of the clay sphere and what, exactly, makes it so appealing?

I don't know.  But here are my instructions, in case you need to print them out and leave them sitting around for a certain someone:

Here's how this will work. You'll walk into the garden center and walk around for a little while, lost and confused, until some helpful employee walks up and asked you what you're looking for. You won’t want to ask, because it sounds so weird, but eventually you'll have no choice but to say, "Uh—do you have—uh—any clay spheres?”

The employee will light up and say, "Of course. They're over here.” He or she will lead you to the section in the garden center where they keep flowerpots. There, among the pots, will be these things. Clay spheres. There's really no other way to describe them.

You'll pick one up, feeling like an idiot, wondering if I'm playing a practical joke on you by making you pay twenty-five dollars for a ball of clay. Then you'll have to figure out how to wrap it. Then you'll spend the next few weeks worrying that you've made the wrong decision, and you'll go out and buy a scarf or a picture frame as a backup, just in case you have to pretend that the sphere was only a joke and not actually the real gift.

But then the big day will arrive, and the gardener you love will open whatever oddly-shaped package you've managed to put together, and the sphere will sort of roll out into her hands, and then she will say, in a deep and sensual voice usually reserved for much nicer gifts than this one, “Ooooooh.”

She’ll roll it over a few times, and then she'll wander outside with it, and maybe move it around once or twice before finding the perfect spot for it. If it's on the north side of the house, it will eventually get covered with a lovely green moss. If you pour buttermilk over it (or maybe eggnog — I'm pretty sure leftover eggnog would work), it will soon sport a patina of mottled white mold.

You may never understand why this is all so wonderful. That’s okay. The important thing is that you did good. Just bask in the glory.


  1. YES!! Have been looking for these, but sadly no garden center in my area seems to think they’re worth carrying…

  2. I don’t think I have ever seen these in our garden stores either. Yes, I can see how they would be delightful anywhere really. I’m thinking that I may need to try and make hypertufa spheres in the spring. But if I should receive a clay sphere I would be delighted (as opposed to receiving clothes that don’t fit, or fit but not my style).

  3. I would LOVE one of these. Great post. What I would love even more is a big stone sphere, which are more commonly seen in Austin than clay spheres (stone spheres are carved in nearby Mexico). Stone spheres, however, are not cheap, nor easy to get home (heavy!), but they are gorgeous.

  4. I once ordered 3 in graduated sizes by phone from a catalog. The person on the phone had a one-word question: “Why?” Obviously she wasn’t a gardener. They’re now nestled into a perfect spot and aging nicely.

  5. Go to the dollar store and buy play balls in different sizes. Cut a round hole about 3″ in them and fill them with hypertufa. While you are working you can support the ball in an empty flower pot. Leave it there until the hypertufa has hardened enough for you to carefully cut off the ball. Sometimes there is a mold line from the inside of the ball that needs to be smoothed so don’t leave the ball on too long or the cement will be too hard to smooth. Have fun!

  6. I’m always grateful when people give me gifts, especially if they’ve tried to consider my interests but I have to say that a clay sphere would be all the way at the bottom of the list. They just don’t do anything for me.

  7. I would say this is 95% fool-proof. It is like the weird attraction to gazing balls (though, not any stuck on an old concrete pedestal). There’s just something comforting about a sphere.

    Good one!

  8. Don’t like gazing balls, love the terracotta version though. Adding those to my list. Now if only my brain didn’t leave the premises whenever someone asks what I’d like for Christmas !!!

  9. Love the Bowling Ball.(And it’s not likely to break)

    Ali M. that’s exactly what I am doing this coming spring.Maybe I should ask for a variety of Playballs for Christmas.

Comments are closed.