Write on Saturday – Making a Leaf Casting – March 23, 2019

On Wednesday things had dried out enough that I was able to get out in the yard for a couple of hours. I was thrilled to be able to cut back the Knock-out roses in the back and cut back some of the perennials that I leave through the winter. Then on Thursday it rained. Again. All day! And now at 5 on Friday morning I can hear it raining. Hard. Yesterday the back yard was as wet as I’d ever seen it. It’s too dark yet to see how big the lake is this morning. I’m not going out to try and take pictures, so will do a post on something a couple of you have asked for — how to make a cement leaf casting.

When going through my photos I found some which show the process. The pictures don’t quite show all the steps, but it should be enough if you want to give this a shot. I’ll explain what’s missing. I wasn’t thinking about doing a post about the process at that time. There are lots of YouTube videos, too.

  1. Don’t make the mistake I made the first time when I put my work board on the ground. Very hard on my back. The next time I put an old slab door on saw horses and covered it with plastic so I could work at waist height.

I used large leaves from my elephant ear bulbs. I’ve also done hostas.

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2. Make a mound of sand that is a little larger than the leaf you are casting. I used builders sand because it was what I had. When I needed more I got play sand. I thought it was a little fine. You have to dampen the sand to get it to retain the mound shape.

In the photo below (with the hands) the sand mound should be bigger to support the pointed part of the leaf. You aren’t trying to make a flat casting and you won’t need gloves until you get to the concrete.

3. I used Quickcrete Vinyl concrete patcher that I got at Lowe’s. I mixed the concrete in my wheelbarrow with a hoe and at the end used my hands to get into the corners. Put on rubber gloves or you may burn your hands. I think you could mix the concrete in the plastic bucket it comes in but I didn’t try that. One bucket made two medium sized castings. It needs to be the consistency of peanut butter. If it’s too dry it will crack and if it’s too wet it will slump. Don’t forget to hose out your barrow,  hoe  and any other tools you’ve used when you are finished.

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Take handsful of concrete and pat it over the leaf all the way to the edge. You can cut the stem off close to the leaf or leave it and have a hole in your casting. If you are making a bird bath you don’t want a hole. You want the thickness of the cement to be half an inch or less. Don’t make it too thin. Make the edges smooth with a putty knife. You can see that we made flat spots on the casting bottom so they would be more stable.

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4. If your work area is in the sun, cover with some plastic while the concrete dries. In a couple of hours when the concrete begins to solidify you can do some more smoothing on the edges before the cement gets too hard.  After a day or two (when the concrete seems dry enough), lift the castings off the sand and remove the leaf. You’ll be able to tell when the casting is hard enough to move. On smaller castings it might just be a day. Sometimes I just turned them over and left the leaf on for awhile before pulling it off. If it dries in the veins use a small screwdriver or a wire brush to clean the casting.

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5. I made the first ones in the fall and left them to cure in my garden shed through the winter because I wanted to use some craft paint on them to give them a little color and enhance the vein definition. You can use a file to smooth the edges if you want. As I went along I got better at smoothing the edges while the cement was still soft and since my work surface was waist height I could lift the plastic and check every couple of hours.

On the casting below you can see (left side) where I should have taken some of the overlap off before the concrete dried. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the leaf stops. You don’t want the edges to be too thin.

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6. Below my writing partner, Laura Ambler, is holding the casting I made for her after I had painted it. It filled the trunk of my honda. The other photo is my yoga buddy, Gail, who made the largest leaf casting of the bunch. It was forty inches long and took two bags of Quikcrete. It sat on the table for a week before we lifted it off the sand. On somthing this size you want the concrete (except for the edges) to be thicker. You don’t want it to break.

The past several years I’ve put my castings in the shed for the winter. This year I left a couple out to see what would happen. I made sure they were sitting off the ground and turned so water wouldn’t freeze in them.

Two years ago I taught thirteen women friends (one or two at a time) how to make leaf castings. Last year my workshop was closed! But I might get the itch again this year. If I do, I’ll take better photos of the process.

That’s my Six on Saturday, photos this week of making cement leaf castings.This meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.