Hypertufa Making Class – A Great Way to Enjoy a Chilly Fall Day

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On a very cool and rainy Saturday, 12 ladies gathered to hear a professional hypertufa making artist talk about the how to’s and secrets of making hypertufa pots.

Hypertufa is a very lightweight natural material that looks like stone,” stated Jim Kandik of Ancient Gardens Hypertufa.

And he should know. He has been handcrafting planters and garden art in hypertufa style for years and offers them for sale at various garden and art shows, such as the Boston Flower Show, Newport Flower Show, and Celebrate West Hartford show – just to name a few.

We all felt lucky to have Jim give us the low-downs on how to make hypertufa planters and containers as we wore our cozy sweatshirts and hats to ward off the slightly chilly air coming through the garage doors of Cathy T’s large classroom.

And if the fall clothing didn’t work, a cozy outdoor fire pit and hot coffee spiced up with pumpkin flavoring and whipped cream was offered to the attendees to warm up their fingers before they began their work of assembling their first hand-made hypertufa pots under the careful direction and guidance of Jim as our guest instructor.

As Jim explained in his class handouts for the attendees, “Tufa stone, a form of limestone, was used in olden times to form troughs on farms.  It is now so rare that “Hypertufa” was created to duplicate its look and function.

Jim has refined his hypertufa recipe and process to create the finest hypertufa available.  And this refinement is not an understatement as it was apparent to us all attending this class that Jim has a love for making these handcrafted pieces of art.

He makes beautiful birdbaths, planters, fairy houses, mushrooms, and sundials.  Even a gorgeous planter was showcased as part of the day’s activities.  Each is made with good lines and bones, so to speak.  The edges are clean and forms are nearly perfect, but each is unique.

Hypertufas are very lightweight, so they can be easily moved around as features in your gardens or as planters for a table top.  They are easy to care for as well.

Any plant can go in them, from houseplants to succulents, and you may even elect to add a bit of mini garden art or delicate small stones to the top after planting them.

As Jim of Ancient Gardens Hypertufa stated, “Hypertufas need no other special attention and can last for many years.” But he strongly advises you should always move them under cover by bringing them inside during the winter, as standing water will freeze and crack the pieces.

Jim explained his passion of vegetable gardening from years ago, and how a special Aunt was an avid grower of roses.  She was so involved in the process of growing roses, she was eventually a judge at one time for the American Rose Society.

His love of making hypertufa pots and art is in his genes.  It was all passed on via the love of gardening by people like his Aunt. He remembers the first time he saw a hypertufa in friend’s garden and how he was drawn to it immediately and wanted to learn how to make them.  Once he learned the process, it was, well, all hypertufa history from there!

“Cement is an ingredient in hypertufas, but it is not technically accurate to call cement a hypertufa,” stated Jim during his lecture portion of the class.

He went over the other key ingredients to use in correct proportions by volume to achieve the correct mix and showed everyone exactly how to add water appropriately so you do not have too much or too little.

Mixing water into the hypertufa mix is an art form, similar to how one must master the art of watering plants in container gardens.  There’s a bit of science and art to the process, and our special guest instructor, Jim, was sure to show and tell this aspect very well to the attendees.

Hypertufas are porous, not as dense as cement,” explained Jim further during his lecture and demo.  “Cement is very fine (like talcum powder), and it is extremely important to get it well mixed thoroughly as it absorbs water, and it must be evenly distributed during the mixing process.

Jim adds other special ingredients to stabilize the mix and make it stronger, which he shared with the attendees of this class, and also provided lots of tips and the “secrets” of success.

After Jim of Ancient Gardens Hypertufa went over all the specifics, tips and tricks, and details of the mix components, he showed us exactly how to mix up a batch, explaining his mixing process is similar to how masons do it for masonry work, using the appropriate mixing tools as well. He also showed the exact consistency and what to look out for as you prepare your batch.

As soon as things were mixed just perfectly, the attendees began assembling the mix into their molds.  This class was designed to teach the process, so the molds were on the smaller to medium size, just perfect to understand and learn the process from a master.

When making hypertufas, it is important to remember the mixing process is critical as well as the correct ratio of the components used in the mix, and then the last step, the curing process is critical.

After made, they are not ready to be used for a few weeks.  A few days of setting is involved, then removal from the molds, and followed by another period of curing and drying.

Depending on where this takes place, such as in a garage or inside a workshop in the home, the temperature and air environment will affect the amount of time required.

Also, the materials used to make the hypertufa can have an affect on the pH of the soil put into the pot, so Jim provided a tip on what to do if this is a concern for the type of plants used in the hypertufa container.

Jim of Ancient Gardens Hypertufa was very generous by offering us all his insider tips which he has learned and mastered over the years, and giving wonderful fall discounts on some of his pre-made hypertufa pieces of art.

And last but not least, he made us laugh too – what more could you ask for in a presenter?! We truly appreciate his expertise and hope to visit with him again soon at his upcoming art shows.

Here are some photos taken during the class.

To find out more about Jim and his products and exhibits, visit www.formedforyou.com. Also, his products will be available at online stores via Amazon.com soon.

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Cathy Testa
http://www.cathytesta.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473 (cell)
containercathy@gmail.com (email)

Upcoming Workshop:

5th AnnualHoliday Kissing Ball and Evergreens Creation Class” is scheduled.

Date:  December 6, 2014 (first Saturday in December)
Start time:  11:00 am 

To Request Your Seat:  

Fill out the Contact Form by clicking on the top menu bar of this blog, or here:
Cathy T Classes-2014 Kissing Ball and Holiday Creations Class.

My Monster Cement Planter

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Jimmy, my brother, installs stamped concrete walkways, so I finally asked him to do one outside my basement door. Then I told him how I’d like to have him build me a huge planter box below the deck. I gabbed about how cement is so popular these days, even running inside to show him photos from a Martha Stewart magazine issue showing cement outdoor tables and more.  Anyhow, he knows I get nutty about these dreams of mine, but he said we could do it.  He agreed on my dimensions, and the cement planter resulted in a 5 x 10 size.

After it was completed, which was last fall, I filled it with the soil from my disassembled container gardens from that season. It was perfect because the cement planter is below my deck, so it was easy to dump the soil into it from above. Plus, I was recycling my soil.  Then I put a big plywood board over it for the winter. It ended up serving as a useful table during my winter Kissing Ball and Evergreen Creations class.

My Monster Cement Planter

My Monster Cement Planter

Alas, it came time to plant it this year. First, of course, was my red banana plant, as the thriller. I imagined the leaves would pop up to the deck railing levels by summer.  As of today, the leaves are 52″ long.  Yup, I measured it.  In warmer zones, the Ensete red banana can reach 12′ tall.  In prior years, this tropical plant, Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ has grown tall in my patio pots and containers, reaching probably 5-6 feet tall, but never has it grown as wide and large as it has in my cement planter.

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The red banana plants features are thrilling to me because its large reddish leaves grow fast from a thick trunk base. The leaves come up like rolled cigars which is appealing. Then they quickly unroll to show a big tropical look. This tropical plant is hardy to zones 9-10 so I had stored the base carefully last fall to reuse as an annual here in CT.

Watering the red banana and its companion plants was no problem either. I just showered them from above when I walked around with my light weight garden hose to do the pots on my deck.  The only trouble experienced was the bothersome Japanese beetles earlier in the summer munching on the leaves. Cutting off the unsightly leaves was the solution for more would arise.

Astilbe perennial blooms

Astilbe perennial blooms

In the beginning of the season, Astilbe perennials bloomed red and pinks. They put on a bloom show for a while. And they will return every year. I also added several types of elephant ears from my stored specimens, which included the Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ and Colocasia esculenta ‘Tea Cup.’

Tucked around were elephant ears

Tucked around were elephant ears

‘Maui Magic’ elephant ears are a fav. Its purplish stems and large leaves in a clump are spectacular. ‘Tea Cup’ elephant ears have cupped leaves. Water droplets sit in the center and bobble around as a breeze comes by, or my cat. My cats like to lick the droplets sometimes, and once I found one cat sleeping under the plants in this planter. They were reaping the benefits of cool shade from the large red banana plant’s leaves and the elephant ears, plus the monster cement planter is in a quiet location where they can rest or sleep.

A biennial plant starts with pods

A biennial plant starts with pods

Another plant added was Angelica, selected because it has unusual looking flowers. It is a biennial, and also has large foliage resembling giant parsley. The blooms, shaped like pods, first arrived mid summer and are open now. Bees are really enjoying them. I was excited about this plant too because it grows very tall, up to 5-8 feet.  The deep plum flowers are a nice color combo next to the reddish banana leaves.

Planter filled lushly

Planter filled lushly

Next to bloom will be the pink Turtlehead perennial. Latin name is Chelone lyonii. This will bloom any day now, and more bees will follow. I had this perennial in a pot last year, and loved it. Its a late summer bloomer, and will continue until early fall, plus it also gets large.  Its on the left corner with dark green leaves, dense, and packed in nicely. It likes consistently moist soils, and so does the Angelica and tropicals in this monster cement planter.

There are other beauties in the planter, such as Rodgersia pinnata and Thalictrum aquilegifolium (Columbine Meadow Rue).  The Meadow Rue is the only perennial relocated from a former garden mowed down. It gets very tall, 2-3 feet, and has wispy pale tiny flowers in late spring to early summer. It has more of a woodland feel but the height factor made it a companion. And of course, no container garden would be complete without a spiller, sweet potatoe vine on the corner.

Red banana leaves arise rolled up

Red banana leaves arise rolled up

Planting this monster cement planter has been easy and a joy. No bending to the ground, or weeding. They can not get in practically, not just because the plantings are full, but the height of the planter helps to prevent them from creeping in. I’d rather plant hundreds of these types of large cement planters over gardens in the ground any day. Now if I could just convince my brother to build me more!

written by Cathy Testa

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears