The dramatic sizes, shapes and interesting textures of leaves add to a garden's beauty. Leaves can also be the inspiration for outdoor wall hangings and garden sculptures.
Jonathan Wright shares his techniques for building simple concrete leaves using actual leaves as his form. When selecting leaves be sure to choose ones that are large and have smooth edges and the results will make stunning sculptural pieces for the home and garden.
1 bag white or grey Portland cement
1 bag white or yellow bar Sand
Fiberglass fibers, available at most craft stores
Chicken wire, (for larger leaves) cut into strips for reinforcement and hold
Leaves, preferably with a waxy or glossy cuticle, ideally large in scale such as hosta or banana leaf
Pile of moist sand for base mold for leaf
Wire for hanging
Mixing trough or electric cement mixer
Shovel or trowel, for mixing cement
Large board, such as plywood or any other large flat scrap wood
Long rubber gloves
1. Mound sand on large board to form a mold or base for leaf casting. A depression in the sand will create an arched spot in the finished piece, as the leaf will be set upside down. Alternately, a high point in the sand will create a bowl or cup effect.
2. Cover sand form with a solid layer of plastic wrap that extends out well beyond size of chosen leaf. Lay leaf face down on plastic wrap.
3. Wearing gloves and a dust mask, mix desired amount of concrete in a ratio of 1 part Portland cement to 3 parts bar sand and a handful of fiberglass fibers. Mix concrete and sand evenly, adding water until mixture is thick and wet but not drippy. A consistency like brownie batter is perfect.
4. Hand-pack concrete on back of leaf at a thickness appropriate for the size of the leaf, a minimum of ¼" thick for 6-10" leaves, ½" thick for 10"-14" leaves, and 1" thick for larger leaves. Start by packing concrete on middle of leaf and work towards edges, making edges slightly thinner. If leaf is large, lay strips of chicken wire into wet cement for reinforcement and add a layer of cement over it to conceal chicken wire.
5. As cement reaches outer edge of leaf, pull back plastic wrap to stop any movement of cement beyond leaf edge. With plastic wrap pulled back in this way the cement can be packed against it to make a clean cement edge along margin of leaf.
6. When leaf is fully covered with cement at the proper thickness, add a wire loop or hook if planning to hang when dry. Allow concrete to dry for two to three days. Concrete will set overnight but will be quite fragile. Extra time will make the leaf easier to handle.
7. After two to three days, remove sculpture from mold and peel off leaf. If leaf does not peel off easily, let decay and in a few days gently scrub it off with a soft brush. Once concrete has hardened begin wetting it every day, covering with wet burlap to ensure constant moisture. Constant moisture and a slow long, moist curing time (2-4 weeks) means a more solid and frost-proof end product.
8. Leaves may be painted, if desired.
Horticultural Design & Consultation
800 Church Road
Wayne, PA 19087