Casting Everlasting Garden Memories    

by Guest Blogger Dominic Diaz

In a gardener’s world, the work is never done. And most of the “leg work” takes place at a time when non-horticulturally inclined folks would least expect it—in the dead of winter! It’s during this time—when we are cooped up in the comforts of our homes, when weather deters us from actively engaging with our plants and soil—that we begin planning what we’d like to grow and accomplish in the coming growing season.

Back in 2011, I had a seed planted in my head that I was finally going to put a project I had seen on the PBS program Cultivating Life into practice (see the how-to video here). The plan was to cast concrete leaves. It seemed doable; my only question then was, “What plant/leave(s) would I immortalize in stone?” It wasn’t immediately clear at the time.

Sunzilla sunflowers grow tall.However, as my first attempt at growing mammoth ‘Sunzilla’ sunflowers (from Renee’s Garden seed) were towering twelve feet into the air above me, I knew right then what would become my first project: sunflower leaves. They were the ideal subject, a full two feet across, blemish-free, and, best of all, heart-shaped!

Gathering materials for this project was rather easy. The video indicated that all that was needed was Portland cement, sand, fiberglass strands, water, and concrete pigment, if desired, to create a terra-cotta effect.

The "pattern" leafTo be confident that I had mastered the steps, I watched the video a few times. Then, I placed a huge mound of damp sand in my wheelbarrow, covered it with a heavy sheet of plastic, topped it with the leaf and began mixing my concrete slurry. Once mixed, I plopped handfuls of the slurry over the back surface of the leaf knowing that the intricate veins and nerves would translate over once it set. The concrete mixture did tend to run as it did in the program, so I utilized the sand to create berms to contain the concoction along the perimeter of the leaf.

The hardest part was waiting the several days necessary for the concrete to harden and cure long enough to attempt to pick it up. A week later, I gently lifted the concrete leaf and placed it on the lawn so I could begin exfoliation of the shriveled leaf. To my dismay, the concrete split in half directly along the petiole and mid vein. I was devastated!

Much like with baking, I opted not to make any adjustments to the recipe on my first go-around despite my initial intuition telling me otherwise. I realized a leaf this size was going to need reinforcements and the thickness would need to be increased.

I mixed my next batch with less water to prevent the soupy consistency, increased the terra-cotta pigment quite a bit, and sandwiched a sheet of chicken wire in the middle of two layers of concrete. Confident with my latest attempt, I etched my name and date in the back, covered it in plastic, and left it to cure for a full week.

The author with his masterpiece.What I later uncovered was nothing short of spectacular. The added thickness and chicken wire mesh provided the support necessary to hold a cast concrete leaf of this size together. So here it is three years later and I still have the replica concrete reminder of my first experience growing giant sunflowers and a heart-shaped leaf to remember it forever.

About the author:

Guest Blogger, Dominic DiazDominic Diaz studied poultry management at California Polytechnic State University. He has been the general manager of an organic egg farm in Nuevo, CA, since 2007. In addition to poultry farming he is an avid organic gardener and a true Californian.