Concrete Leaf Castings
Learn how to use real leaves to create garden art
This leaf casting project has been featured in Gardening & Deck Design and Birds & Blooms magazine.
- Elephant Ear
- Castor Bean
Leaf castings are a wonderful way to add a natural and organic element to your yard or gardens. They are also great for attracting birds and other wildlife when filled with water, as well as a way to highlight the beautiful veining and textures of leaves. My leaf castings have been featured in the April 2009 Woman's Day Special Publication called Gardening & Deck Design and Birds and Blooms magazine.
Good candidates for leaf castings are Elephant Ear, Hosta, Rhubarb, Castor Bean, Gunnera, Caladium, Colocasia, Fig, Squash, Gourd, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Coleus, and Perilla, to name a few. There is no right or wrong leaf to use, that I am aware of. The only advice I can offer is to look around in your yard for a large leaf that resembles a round, oval or triangular shape that has a lot of veining on the underside and some substance too it. You don't want a flimsy delicate leaf that won't hold up to the concrete mixture. These make good birdbaths because of their larger shape, but don't discount smaller leaves with good veining. They can be taped together to form a larger leaf or used as decorations for other projects.
Below are basic leaf casting directions designed for birdbaths, but, like Hypertufa, there are many variations that will produce finer details or changes that must be made to incorporate leaf castings into other projects. I will describe whatever variations I make with each project.
- Flat work surface
- Concrete Mix
- Sand or Fine Gravel
- Plastic Drop Cloth or Trash Bags
- Rubber Gloves
- Stiff Bristled Brush
- Concrete Sealer
- Disposable Foam Brush
- Dust Mask
- Shallow container for mixing concrete
- Shallow Box to contain sand (Optional)
- Concrete Dye (Optional)
- Acrylic Paint (Optional)
- Polyurethane (Optional)
Alternate Recipe for Finer Looking Castings:
- 3 Parts Sand
- 1 Part Portland Cement
- equal mixture of water and fortifier (bonding agent)
Choose a work area where the casting can sit and cure undisturbed for a week. Garages or covered patio areas work well. This can be a messy job, so wear old clothes or an apron to protect your clothing and always wear rubber gloves when working with concrete because the Portland cement in the concrete is caustic and can burn your skin. If you plan on doing this project outside, choose a shady location and a time when it won't rain for at least two days. If the outside location is covered and partially protected from the elements, that is good too and rain is not much of a factor.
Step 1 - Choose your leaf
Look for nice veining with no rips or insect marks. Cut the stem off completely so it does not get stuck in your concrete. Using fresh leaves is preferable, but some leaves can be kept hydrated for a few hours when their stems are kept in a glass of water.
Step 2 - Prepare Your Work Surface
Prepare your work surface by laying a piece of plastic on the table and pile up some sand to make a nice mound. You can also do this inside a box if it will be easier for you to contain the sand. Wet the mound slightly with water from a spray bottle or a fine mist from the hose. You only want the sand damp enough to stick together, kind of like when you were making sand castles as a kid. You can pre-moisten the sand if that will be easier for you. The shape of the mound will determine the inside slope of your bird bath, so keep that in mind when forming its shape. The size of the mound should be slightly larger than the leaf you are using. Lay a piece of plastic on top of the mound to keep the sand from mixing with your concrete mixture.
Step 3 - Mix the Concrete
Mix the concrete and water a little at a time until you get a brownie batter-like consistency. You do not want the mixture to be too soupy as the slurry can get under the leaf and make for an unattractive leaf casting. If the mixture is too dry,you won't see the vein details of the leaf. You want the mixture to sit on the mound of sand and not slide off.
Step 4 - Place the Leaf
Place your leaf on top of the plastic sheeting that is covering the mound of sand. Make sure the veiny side is turned up and that it is centered on the mound of sand. Again, make sure that you cut the stem off the leaf. Start pressing concrete to the center of the leaf making it about 1"-1.5" thick, tapering to about 1/2"-3/4" thick at the edges. Keep adding concrete to the leaf until you just reach the edge.
Step 5 - Set the Concrete
Now that the leaf is completely covered you want to gently pat the concrete to pack it down and to make it smooth so that there are no air bubbles on the veiny side. Be careful that the concrete doesn't slide down your leaf. If it's not too wet, this shouldn't be a problem. You can always hold your hand against the edge to help keep it from sliding, if this is a problem. This step is very important if you are using regular concrete mix to create your leaf.