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Sandstone Casting

A Fun Way to Add Garden Décor

By David Calhoon

Naturalists ad spiritualists tell us to live in the moment.  Gardeners have practiced this by spending hours in their gardens absorbed in activity.  Here’s another way to enjoy the bounty of your garden.  What a better place to get inspiration for garden art than in your garden.

Plants like rhubarb, hosta, burdock, skunk cabbage, sunflower and pumpkin make great sand-cast concrete leaves.  A rich mixture of concrete allows you to capture a leaf’s natural veins and texture into a usable sculpture. Sand-cast leaves are a one-of-a-kind original cast from a real leaf which is destroyed when removed from the concrete.  Concrete coloring allows you to create your own castings in a variety of colors.

Burdock, a common weed in most of our gardens, makes a great downspout and looks wonderful in the garden, much more natural than the standard grooved concrete spout.  Rhubarb makes great birdbaths and bird feeder when made in a cupped mold.  Lots of leaves make interesting castings to use in fountains, bubblets, ponds and waterfalls.  Water looks great cascading over your concrete leaves.  Big leaf casts like elephant ears, gunnera or large rhubarb have a presence in the garden and make great backdrops for other sculptures.  Small leaf casts can be used as plant markers tucked into window boxes, as table decorations, or to complement a candle or potpourri.  Leaf casts look charming tucked into that special place in your garden.

Well, if your curiosity is piqued and you think you would like to make some leaves, here’s what you need: portland cement, silica sand, play sand, cement bonding agent, cement coloring, water, plastic wrap, disposable gloves and, of course, your fresh leaves to cast.  The tools you will need are a container to mix with, a trowel, a level working surface, a file or Dremel and a measuring container.

Here goes…on a table or any level surface place dampened play sand and shape a sand mold to fit the leaf; cupped will make a bowl shape, flat will make a plate shape.  Cover your mold with plastic wrap and place your leaf vein side up on the wrap.  Now, you are ready to mix your cement…measure equal parts of portland cement and silica sand into a mixing container.  Add cement bonding agent, approximately one-fourth cup per quart of cement and sand mix.  Mix together, then add your cement coloring and water – a little at a time – until your consistency will hold its shape and looks like bread dough.

Now, using your gloved hands, place a ball of concrete in the center of the leaf and gently massage the concrete to the edges of the leaf, being careful not to go past the edge of your leaf.  Try to keep the center vein the thickest, about ¾” above the center vein. 

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 24 hours or so, depending on humidity levels.  When cured, carefully remove from sand mold and remove the leaf.  Sometimes a nut pick or dental pick will be needed for this step.  Gently file the edges, if rough, or if you had any ‘runover’ areas.

You now have a one-of-a-kind garden art sculpture for a unique gift or for that special place in your garden.

Leaves are a true inspiration for my friend and business partner, Jean Gille, and me.  We enjoy sharing our knowledge of leaf castings and other fun projects at our Swanstone Gardens classroom.  Jean and I recently shared leaf castings with Shelly Ryan and her audience on Wisconsin Public Television.


If you think you would like to try castings, but don’t want to drag home a 94-pound sack of portland cement, come and visit us in our Green Bay area classroom.  For a spring/summer class schedule, contact us at www.swanstonegardens.com or (920)866-9367.  Trust us, you will never look at a leaf the same again.