Try adding art to the garden

One advantage of a sculpture or art piece is it doesn’t need watering during droughts.

JSSP Art Voices

We’re soon to be warm enough to safely start planting outside. Shoppers at the nurseries are almost panicky when the blooms they seek are bought up before it’s warm enough to safely plant outside. Annuals need warm nights as well as sunny days plus plenty of tender care to get started. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you realize you missed out on that special annual you’ve been dreaming about. Some nurseries ship in from distant growers, so be sure you check the plants’ growing needs. If you can’t find your first choice, try doing the next best thing: Replace it with art.

One advantage of a sculpture or art piece is it doesn’t need watering during droughts. A piece of garden art can fill that gap if you think through the effect you’re after and locate or make something to fill in the color or size you need. Concrete mix and a mold are all you need to make art that withstands weather outdoors. If left outside concrete casts usually do fine. Kiln-fired terra cotta (such as pots) generally don’t fare well, so anything made of clay usually has to be brought inside after winter sets in. A birdbath or simple lantern is easily made using concrete and some household “molds.”

One or two 60-pound bags of concrete mix will do a step, a plaque or a sculpture. If the yard has room for a path, you can try casting a lantern to light the way. Separate components, such as a large plastic shallow bowl, a gallon ice-cream bucket and some oatmeal boxes, have worked well for some gardeners when making lanterns. If you’re careful you can get a 2- to 3-foot-tall lantern using those forms for casting. Stacking the tub on top of two cylindrical casts topped with the upside-down mixing bowl cast will give a nifty little yard lantern that can be painted. Most stores have outdoor putty or glue that can be used to hold the forms together. Just be sure to use rubber gloves when mixing and follow directions on the bags.

A useful birdbath can be cast out of large rhubarb leaf for the birds this summer. If you’re really adventurous, you can try your hand at using color in the concrete mix. Acrylic paint can be part of the liquid for the surface of the birdbath. The process is pretty simple. Get the concrete or mortar mix, dig a shallow hole a bit wider than your leaf. Place the leaf into the shallow cavity and gently form the shallow bowl shape. Add a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of mortar or concrete mix and lay another rhubarb leaf into the cavity on top of the concrete layer. Gently push it into the form so the ribs press into the shallow bowl replicating the rhubarb leaf shape. Once dry, the leaves are removed and a weak vinegar solution left inside for a day or so, then rinse and fill with fresh water for the birds


If making concrete art is not your thing, benches are useful additions to garden spaces. Sure, the stores carry fine outdoor furniture, but a couple of 8x8x16-inch concrete blocks and a section of wood makes a wonderful secret spot that can blend in with growing plants.

Some stores stock water feature decorations. The sound and movement of water can add to the ambiance of a hot afternoon and becomes a garden feature with or without plants. Running water attracts birds, so if you want to be the most popular spot for our feathered friends keep the water running and fresh during warm spells. You may get a flutter of color as brilliant as any flower if you place a fountain or small waterfall where birds can utilize it for baths and drinking. Portability makes it easier to move about on a deck or patio. There are solar-powered fountains, too, that fill the gap where no electricity is available.

We are not expecting heavy rains anytime soon, so something other than plants may be an easier feature in the yard this summer. Check YouTube for demonstrations on making garden art or check the library for ideas. Who knows, maybe your creations could land you in AAUW’s garden tour this July.

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If anyone has an item for this column, please send it to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.

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