Hypertufa Party

 

Hypertufa party gear
Hypertufa party gear
Hypertufa troughs
Hypertufa troughs

Gardener’s Dictionary

Hypertufa (n.): An artificial and lightweight stone that gardeners can create from a recipe and mold into plant containers, troughs and any other shape.

If you mention hypertufa to a non-gardener, you would probably get a blank look. But in the gardening world, it is very trendy and a sign of a serious gardener is the number of hypertufas scattered in their garden.

Hypertufas lining a wall
Hypertufas lining a wall

Perfect for planting miniatures and alpine plants, hypertufa troughs fit into any size garden, large or small. A man-made imitation of light weight tufa rock, hypertufa is a mixture of 3 things: perlite, peat moss, and portland cement. Some fiberglass fibers used for strengthening is a good idea but not essential.

Old enameled bowls make good molds for gardens
Old enameled bowls make good molds for gardens

Purchasing a ready-made one is always an option but pricey. A medium 15″ trough could set you back around $75, whereas the materials for constructing several will be around $30. And the fun involved is something that pulls people together for a hypertufa party, complete with wine and lots of food.

Use an old cat litter box for a rectangular mold
Use an old cat litter box for a rectangular mold

Any Excuse for a Party!

Hypertufa partying takes some planning and preparation but is worth it once everything starts to happen. Mise en place- the cooking phrase, having everything in place, is paramount here. You don’t want to be running around gathering supplies while everyone is waiting. I tell my guests that I will provide all the materials for making if they bring a mold on a piece of plywood, a face mask, and rubber gloves. Molds are simply a tupperware bowl without a lip, an old styrofoam ice chest, cat litter container, or a sturdy box.

Prep

  • Blue Tarps– I use a couple of blue throw away tarps to lay on the ground which makes cleanup a breeze

  • Face Masks and Gloves– Face masks are essential to keep you from breathing portland cement dust which is toxic; Rubber gloves keep your hands clean

  • Mixing Tub– I use an old cement mixing tub, but any wide mouthed plastic container will do

  • Mixing Tools– Use a shovel or sturdy garden trowel

  • Old Trash Bags– Using plastic between the container and the hypertufa mix when packed into the mold makes the unmolding process easy

  • Plywood Pieces– The pieces when wet are heavy and hard to transport without a study board underneath it

Mixing peat most, cement, perlite, and fiberglass fibers together

Hypertufa Ingredients

  • Portland Cement-one 96 pound bag which costs around $15; this will make lots of troughs, at least 12 good sized ones

  • Peat moss– 3.8 cubic feet bag will cost around $16

  • Perlite-one 4 cubic bag costs around $14

  • Mesh Fibers– These cement fiberglass fibers are a strengthening agent for the hypertufa, available at cement suppliers or on line, a 1 pound bag at $7

Perlite is the ingredient that makes the mixture very light and porous
Perlite is the ingredient that makes the mixture very light and porous

You can get the perlite and the peat moss in smaller sizes if you just want to make a couple of troughs, but the Portland Cement only comes in the monster size.

I cut open the Portland cement bag with a knife and scoop out the contents-Wear a mask!
I cut open the Portland cement bag with a knife and scoop out the contents-Wear a mask!

Mixing

Using a small bucket for measuring, use 3 parts portland cement to 2 parts each of the perlite and peat moss and mix these thoroughly into a mixing tub, breaking up lumps. Add the fibers at this point, if you are using them. I find if you add the fiberglass fibers your hypertufa is more resistant to cracking in the long run.

Use a small bucket for measuring
Use a small bucket for measuring

Enlist everyone at this stage in mixing and squeezing the lumps to make a uniform mix. Next have your hose handy and start adding water in increments, mixing after each addition until the mixture will hold in a clump in your hand. It resembles wet cottage cheese at this point.

The mixture should form a ball in your hand
The mixture should form a ball in your hand

Testing the mixture

Molding – The Fun Begins!

Molding and forming the trough is the fun part.  Everyone brought their mold staged on a sturdy piece of plywood so that they can transport it home easily.  We covered the molds with a piece of old trash bag which greatly simplifies the removal of the mold from the hypertufa.  After donning their gloves, people dove into the tub and grabbed handfuls of the mixture and start covering their mold with a two-inch layer of hypertufa mixture. It is important to have good coverage so that the walls are sturdy and won’t cave in.  I had dowels ready for people to insert through the bottom of the troughs for drainage holes.

Molding the mixture around a large bowl
A hypertufa made in a styrofoam ice chest
A hypertufa made in a styrofoam ice chest

Curing 

After everyone had thoroughly coated their mold and smoothed the bottom and sides, we took a break and admired everyone’s creations. At that point, the troughs are ready for curing.  Curing simply means that the cement has to dry slowly to avoid any cracks forming. To do this, simply mist the container once a day and cover the trough with a piece of plastic to hold in the moisture. You can’t rush this step and it will take a couple of weeks to fully harden and cure.

Some hypertufa troughs curing in their molds; keep them wet for a couple of weeks before unmolding
Some hypertufa troughs curing in their molds; keep them wet for a couple of weeks before unmolding

Planting

After waiting impatiently for about a month, you can turn the hypertufa over and remove the mold.  At that time, you can fill it with soil and plant with succulents or miniature plants. Your completed trough will last for years outside and will eventually grow moss to make it look like an antique planter.

Beautiful established trough

 

Miniature Gardening in the Winter

Mini garden

Mini Gardens 

I am a garden designer by trade and normally design gardens in full size, but also love to design gardens in miniature- especially in the winter when I am housebound. There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying and fun!  I can have garden features that I have only dreamed about – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, arbors, and birdhouses just like I was creating a larger space.

A fairy garden in the landscape
A fairy garden in the landscape

I can enjoy a tiny gazing ball- but at a fraction of the cost of a full size version. It seems like more nurseries are catering to this gardening trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and miniatures, even in the dead of winter.

Fairy garden accessories
Fairy garden accessories

 

Containers

I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A shallow wide open container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa. Use my recipe to make your own container at http://http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hypertufa-making-mud-pies/.

Try making your hypertufa in a basket mold. After the mixture sets, cut off the basket and peel it off the hypertufa. The basket weave leaves great indentations in the cement.

If that is too much trouble, then use shallow ceramic or wooden containers with drainage holes. But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.

Bonsai containers make perfect miniature garden containers
Bonsai containers make perfect miniature garden containers

Planting

A shallow boat shaped container found at a fabric store!

Planting DIY

After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting soil.  Notice that I recommend good potting soil.  An organic one with lots of peat is the best mix even though you might pay a few more bucks a bag. Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in an interesting design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses and different colors to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.

Fill shallow container with soil
Arrange your small plants with different textures and colors in the bowl.

Suggested Plants

Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternethera, small grasses, creeping thymes, sedums, sempervivums, mosses, silver falls, trailing rosemary, wire vine, mini liriope, and miniature alpines, like armeria. The plants will eventually outgrow your garden, so you need to refresh and edit the garden periodically. If my thyme or ajuga gets out of hand, I dig it up, separate and use the extras to make a new garden.

Use a variety of plants, including some blooming ones
Use a variety of plants, including some blooming ones

After planting your selections, I take moistened sheet moss and press it in between the plants to cover the soil. This covering gives you a base to place your stepping stones and other accessories. It also prevents the soil from coming loose and overflowing the container when you water.

Choose some round polished stones for a pathway
Create a pathway with stones

After creating a pathway, I like to scatter coarse aquarium gravel around the stones to give them definition. As a last flourish, scatter small bits of beach glass or ‘mermaid tears’ to make the path stand out.

Scattered coarse gravel
Crushed colored beach glass

Accessories

Here is the fun part! I am always on the lookout on my travels for small pieces to use in my gardens and you can find them in the most unexpected places.  Christmas decorations are a surprising rich source. I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans at Christmas as ornaments.

Gnome home, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/happy-gnoming-home-for-a-gnome/
Gnome home, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/happy-gnoming-home-for-a-gnome/

Don’t worry that the piece will not be the exact scale for your garden  –  no one is measuring! Just make sure that you don’t clutter the garden up too much, so use only two or three minis. I love using miniature wheel barrows with a tiny terra cotta pot or a bird house on a stake. Small resin animals, twig arbors, fences, miniature benches or chairs add to the charm. These make a perfect gift for someone who is housebound and cannot garden outdoors.

Mini with accessories

Care

Use a mister to water your garden every 4 to 5 days, and more if the container is in the sun.  Use small trimmers to keep everything pruned to scale. As the plants grow, you will need to pot them out to another container and replace with a new miniature plant.  The gravel or crushed shells will need to be refreshed periodically.  I have been successful with keeping my gardens both indoors and outdoors.  Usually, I place my gardens in partial sun outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors for the winter, keeping it on a windowsill with bright light.

Planted garden with accessories
Planted garden
Planted garden

Miniature Gardens – Whimsical Creations

Mini garden

Trough Gardens 

I am a garden designer by trade and normally design gardens in full size, but also love to design gardens in miniature! There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying and fun!  I can have garden features that I have only dreamed about – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, arbors, and birdhouses just like I was creating a larger space. Even a tiny gazing ball. But at a fraction of the cost! It seems like more nurseries are catering to this gardening  trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and tchotchkes to add to the theme.

Containers

I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A shallow wide open container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa. Use my recipe to make your own container at http://http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hypertufa-making-mud-pies/.

Try making your hypertufa in a basket mold. After the mixture sets, cut off the basket and peel it off the hypertufa. The basket weave leaves great indentations in the cement.

If that is too much trouble, then use shallow tin containers or you can hammer one together out of strips of wood.  But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.

Planting

A shallow boat shaped container found at a fabric store!

Planting

After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting soil.  Notice that I recommend good potting soil.  An organic one with lots of peat is the best mix even though you might pay a few more bucks a bag.   Do not use garden soil which is way too heavy and which I bought by mistake.  Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in a pleasing design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.

Fill shallow container with soil
Arrange your small plants with different textures and colors in the bowl.

Suggested Plants

Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternethera, small grasses, creeping thymes, sedums, sempervivums, mosses, silver falls, trailing rosemary, wire vine, mini liriope, and miniature alpines, like armeria. The plants will eventually outgrow your garden, so you need to refresh and edit the garden periodically. If my thyme or ajuga gets out of hand, I dig it up, separate and use the extras to make a new garden.

After planting your selections, I take moistened sheet moss and press it in between the plants to cover the soil. This covering gives you a base to place your stepping stones and other accessories. It also prevents the soil from coming loose and overflowing the container when you water.

Choose some round polished stones for a pathway
Create a pathway with stones

After creating a pathway, I like to scatter coarse aquarium gravel around the stones to give them definition. As a last flourish, scatter small bits of beach glass or ‘mermaid tears’ to make the path stand out.

Scattered coarse gravel
Crushed colored beach glass

Accessories

Here is the fun part! I am always on the lookout on my travels for small pieces to use in my gardens and you can find them in the most unexpected places.  Christmas decorations are a surprising source. I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans at Christmas as ornaments. Don’t worry that the piece will not be the exact scale for your garden  –  no one is measuring! Just make sure that you don’t clutter the garden up too much, so use only two or three minis. I love using miniature wheel barrows with a tiny terra cotta pot or a bird house on a stake. Small resin animals, twig arbors, fences, miniature benches or chairs add to the charm. These make a perfect gift for someone who is housebound and cannot go out to work or enjoy a garden.

Mini with accessories
Fake rock container
Planted rock container

Care

Use a mister to water your garden every 4 to 5 days, and more if the container is in the sun.  Use small trimmers  to keep everything pruned to scale. As the plants grow, you will need to pot them out to another container and replace with a new miniature plant.  The gravel or crushed shells will need to be refreshed periodically.  I have been successful with keeping my gardens both indoors and outdoors.  Usually, I place my gardens in partial sun outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors for the winter, keeping it on a windowsill with bright light.

Planted garden with accessories
Planted garden
Planted garden