|From In the Garden|
I had some leftover hardware cloth from another project so I made use of it for this project. I used tin snips to cut a metal form that was about 2" smaller than the banana leaf. This mesh will be inserted into the center of the concrete when I am piling on the concrete. This is a key step in my opinion as it gives the concrete stability (just a wee bit). You can see the hardware cloth above. This was the most painful part of the whole process because raw edges of metal can be mighty sharp. It took a bit of cutting to get it right and was not fun.
I mixed my preferred concrete mix in another wheelbarrow. I used one part of Portland cement (no sand/rock mix please-only cement) with three parts of fine sand. I added a bit of concrete reinforcer to the mixture then added some water. I mixed enough of the concrete mix that I thought would be adequate for a banana leaf about 2" thick. I estimated on the amount but came out just fine. I used a cake pan to estimate the amount of concrete mix I would need for my leaf. The cake pan I used was two inches deep and half as long as the leaf, so I planned to double the cake pan in concrete mix. I then added one complete pan full of sand to my wheelbarrow, filled the cake pan up 1/2 way with more sand then topped it off with the Portland cement. An easy way to get the one part cement to three parts sand. When mixing the concrete I added only enough water to make the mixture resemble the consistency of frosting. It must be wet enough to stick together, yet not so wet as to fall in sloppy piles or so dry as to crumble. This is an important part and if you take your time it will be simple. Remember it is always easier to add more water than to take it away.
Now the fun part begins. I began adding the concrete mixture to the leaf trying to keep the concrete in the bounds of the leaf. Initially I added about one inch of concrete covering the entire leaf then I placed the mesh on top of the wet concrete and added more concrete. I was careful to round out the sides and molded a somewhat flat area on the back so the leaf would not rock when it is set in the garden. I covered the whole casting with a plastic garbage bag and waited exactly 2.5 days (about 60 hours). I checked the leaf casting and to my surprise it came up extremely easily and was as solid as could be. I then removed the casting from the plastic wrap and leaf and rested it on the ground to let it cure for a few more days. Be very gentle moving leaves at this point because it is when castings are most fragile. This is also a good time to smooth the edges if you did not get them exactly right when molding them. It is easy to smooth the edges with an old butter knife or putty knife. Do it gently. The new leaf will continue to cure for weeks but after a few days of resting it should be solid enough that you can work with it to decorate it if you so desire.
Here are the two completed banana leaf castings. After so much success with the first single banana leaf casting I made another one using the same leaf as a mold. I also had enough concrete to make up a few castings of brugmansia leaves. Brugmansia leaves are large and have great veining so they work well. Some large leaves like cannas will not work well for leaf castings because they do not have good veining. The two brugmansia leaves joined the two banana leaf castings on my work table in the garage.The last step in the process was painting or staining the leaf castings. For this I used a concrete stain and concrete primer. I first primed the leaves well on both sides then applied a dark blue/green stain to both sides of the castings. I let the stain soak in for a bit then wiped off excess stain with a rag. This process ensured the leaf veins would stand out prominently.
And here are the completed castings. One will grace my garden and the other will be a Christmas gift to one of my daughters. Shhh, don't tell her. The brugmansia leaves will also become Christmas gifts for my family and friends. I have also made some hosta leaves and am having great fun experimenting with leaf castings lately. I must say though that this project is not so easy as some other concrete projects I've taken on. They can be done successfully the first time around but expect some failures too.
The large banana leaves can be used as birdbaths outside because they do hold water. You could also make a butterfly drinking station out of them by adding some mud and gravel. I think this is what I'll do with mine. The smaller brugmansia leaves can be strategically placed around a garden for decorations or hung on fences or even interior walls. They can also be used for bird feeders or anything else you'd like to do with them....
in the garden....
P.S. I've never been a fan of ABC's Extreme Home Edition but I can say I am most excited when they come to town. This is the second time this area has been the subject of the show. The last time was in 2004 in Clarksville, and this time they are remaking a house in my very own town of Woodlawn. What a way to shake up a small town and create excitement! Huge buses, trucks and contractors are all over the place and pass by daily. We hope to be there when they say "Move that bus!" on Friday. I think it will be an experience for Jimmy so he'll be front and center if we can make it. I might even watch the show when it airs too:)