Cement Reflections

During these sorts of days of late summer, the ones where no new planting should be done because it’s too hot and dry, no moving of plants should be done for the same reasons and we are just tired of pulling violets, nut grass, clover and purple perilla but we still want to be outside doing something constructive, we like to do a couple of projects. There is a great place to fool around making things under the deck, it is shady, there are places to sit, there is an old plastic table set up with tools, paints, odd branches and other likely art to be. It is a place that fosters imagination and creativity.
The most recent project is a mirror with a frame made of the leaf casting mix. We have the book “A Garden Gallery The Plants, Art, and Hardscape of Little and Lewis“, a pictoral tour of the gardens of artists George Little and David Lewis. The book was purchased after seeing a segment on the old Martha Stewart Living show, which I much prefer to the newer style shows, where the two men showed Martha how to make a leaf casting. They also made the mirror frame, but I missed that segment but printed the instructions from her website that day. In those days you could download some of the projects but only on the day that show aired. Okay I am getting way off topic here, sorry. Back to our project. I have made several of the leaf castings. They are relatively simple and the internet abounds with instructions and helpful tips about how to do it. For several years I have wanted to make this mirror frame since I had an old mirror, actually the bathroom mirror from the original house that had been purchased at the big box store since there was no mirror in the bathroom when we bought the house. Unbelievable, I know, but true. I had studied the directions, studied the photos in the book and never could put the two together. Until this month. The Financier was out of town and I was free to devote the entire time to figuring out how to assemble the form for the frame. I cannot tell you how it was done. Honest. But it did involve sheets of styrofoam that came in some electronic purchases that had been saved for several years and packing tape. And modeling clay.

There were premade leaves from heuchera and cotinus to line the edges. The project was carefully removed from the frame. That is always the crucial time when working with this mix, which is mortar mix and concrete bonding agent. I also use the three parts sand to one part portland cement recipe, but the premixed mortar mix is the same thing and you don’t have to measure it and mix the dry ingredients before adding the liquid. Some recipes call for a mix of water and bonding agent since it is somewhat expensive but I use straight bonding agent, adding it until the mixture holds together but is not runny. It has to be wet enough to activate the chemical reaction that turns the sand and rock dust into a hard product. This not too wet not too dry is something that is learned with practice.

Always wear gloves when working with concrete or cement. It is very drying to the hands.

Last year we started with leaf castings. They were fun with lots of learning about the painting techniques. Hint: start with the lighter colors first.

The project has to set for a couple of weeks in order to harden and cure before we can clean it up and paint it. While we wait let’s look around a bit. Over by the hot tub is the black plastic shelving unit where the orchids spend the summer under the row of birch trees along the wooden fence. These two paphs, shown in the last bloom day post are too tall for the shelf height and are bent over. It is nearly time to bring them inside, but I like to wait as long as possible because the outside air and humidity are healthier for them than the indoor air. Also I am lazy and don’t want to fool with them just yet.

Some of the tougher heucheras that are living, not thriving but alive, with the extreme drought we are experiencing are these H. ‘Silver Scrolls’. The leaves should be much larger and the whole plant bigger, but they look okay. It is all we are asking of the plants at this point until we get some rain.

Wandering over to the stand of Joe Pye, Eupatorium purpureum ‘Gateway’ there is something unusual going on here. I tried to nudge the little skipper butterfly, wondering if it was alive, and realized it was in the clasp of a spider that is exactly the same color as the blossom. The camouflage is perfect except for the bright chartreuse green of the spider’s body. My imperfect vision could not see it at all, but could feel that something had hold of the butterfly. Only upon studying the photo did I see the spider clearer. I feel bad for the butterfly and thought about trying to free him, but knew that is not nature’s way and it was probably too late anyway. Sigh.

Let’s not dwell on the violence of the garden and look at this nice broken pot instead. It had been cracked for years, the result of many moves, being packed and unpacked once too many times. This last packing for
the refinishing of the wood floor was the final blow and it came apart. It has been decided that it would look good out in the garden with a special plant growing out of it. Are there any suggestions of what type of plant or bulb would look good? The diameter is about ten inches at the mouth so it needs to be something that would not exceed that width. I would bury it allowing maybe five inches out of the ground. What do you think?

The zinnias are just now starting to get going, I planted the seeds too early in the spring in haste and the ground was too cool for germination. More seeds were bought and planted and the lack of water slowed the growth. There has been extra water to get them to this point, but worth it since the insects love them so. Besides the skipper, do you see the tiny pink spider on the bottom petal? I wonder if he is a relative of the big one on the Joe Pye?

Thank goodness for the
orange cosmos to brighten up the garden. Annuals do have an important place to give that color jolt before the mums and leaf show begin in another month.

Back to the mirror, we have applied the many layers of paint, we use craft paint in the little plastic bottles, and it has a couple of coats of clear water based polyurethene to help protect against the elements. The paint is dry and it is time to remove the blue painter’s tape on the mirror, clean it up and figure out the best spot in the garden for it to add some mystery. In case you don’t know, it is also VERY heavy.

This is the chosen spot. Large nails driven into the wood fence can hold the weight, criteria number one met. The reflection of the peeling cinnamon bark of the river birches adds to the feeling of hidden surprises. This space is at the end of the gravel path along the wall that leads to the steps that go up to the pond, the mirror will be seen while also slightly hidden. Perfect.

But all day while inside the sound of tapping and pecking was heard. What was going on with that woodpecker? But when we went outside to see what the racket was, look who was responsible! This little tufted titmouse had a problem with the bird he saw in the mirror. Literally all day the bird was pecking at his reflection. Those little titmice live around our garden in great numbers. They are friendly and will sit close by as we are working in the beds. One time right after we finished the first renovation project there was a noise inside of the electrical meter box. I called the utility to come out to unlock the box, thinking it was a mouse. When the men cut the tag that reads DO NOT CUT, out flew a slightly charred feathered titmouse. He sat on the dogwood nearby for a minute, chattered at us, and flew away, alive to tell the tale to his chums. These are some tough birds.

I couldn’t figure out how he was holding on to the glass of the mirror, but this photo show that he is grasping the cement frame, my work of art! Shoo, shoo, go away silly ninny! You are messing up my clean mirror.

There is a happy ending to this saga. The bird has come to terms with the existence of another in his tree area although he does hang on the mirror frame occasionally and stare at himself. Has he finally figured out that it is his own handsome face staring back? Maybe not, but he has decided that the constant pecking will not make that interloper disappear. And windex has removed the feathers from the mirror for a clearer image of the pond’s reflection to show up. It’s all good. For now.


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42 Responses to Cement Reflections

  1. Titania says:

    A very nice and interesting project
    for the garden. I always found to place a mirror in the garden added some mystery, espescially when it is such a handsome handmade one. I have experienced the mirror game with a few birds. One was our silver crane who would attack the mirror. Now since many years he has got used to it, now he only visits the pond to feed his offspring! I hope you get soon some rain; or is this generally a dry time of the year?

  2. Jan says:

    I remember that Martha Stewart segment and always wanted to try the leaf castings. Your mirror turned out very well. I like the way it reflects the peeling bark. I got a chuckle from the titmouse pecking at the mirror. We have them here in our garden and the are amusing little birds.

    Always Growing

  3. Mother Nature says:

    Congratulations. Your project is a great success. It always feels so good to complete a project and have it turn out well.

  4. Frances, says:

    Hi Titania, thanks. That would be quite a sight to see a crane looking in a mirror, what a photo that would be. Thanks for the rain wishes, could you use your powers to send it our way? It is all around us yet avoids our garden for some reason. This is not our driest month, according to the records, that would be October, with September quite dry also. It doesn’t look good for our water table.

    Hi Jan, it is nice to see a fellow long time Martha watcher. You should try the leaf casting, it is very easy and gratifying. Google leaf casting and you will get plenty of helpful hints to success. Aren’t those titmice sweethearts?

    Hi Donna, thanks so much. Not all of my projects turn out this well so there is reason to celebrate this one. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Cindy says:

    At first I thought the reflection of the bark was a framed piece of artwork (which it is, in a sense) but I didn’t realize until farther in the post that it was a mirror.
    Your project looks great! I am going to give leaf castings a try since I love working in concrete.

  6. Nancy J. Bond says:

    I think mirrors in the garden are brilliant! And I particularly like this one you made. 🙂

  7. Perennial Garden Lover says:

    What a great project Frances. I love the way a mirror can reflect a nice view in your garden or give the allusion that the garden. That’s funny about the little bird pecking his reflection. 🙂 The view of your garden with the winding path was gorgeous. Everything looks great in spite of the lack of rain.

  8. Dave says:

    That’s a neat project and a good use of an old mirror also. The heuchera leaves would be perfect for accenting stepping stones. Great ideas! I like how it turned out. Be prepared for more birds. The cardinals sure don’t like to look at themselves in the mirrors. They’ve attacked my car mirrors all spring and summer.

  9. Perennial Garden Lover says:

    Sorry Frances about the typo/fragment in my comment. I still have cobwebs in my head, need more caffeine, lol. I meant to say that a mirror can give the illusion of the garden being larger. 🙂

  10. Frances, says:

    Hi Cindy, thanks and welcome. If you have visited before I may have you confused with another Cindy, you are in the sidebar now, sorry for any delay in that. You concrete mosaics are lovely. You should have no trouble doing the leaf casting since you already know your way around cement, work quickly is the mantra! LOL

    Hi Nancy J., thanks so much. How about that picking competition, just like the old days, eh? ;-> Look out Crafty!

    Hi PG, thanks so much. I know what you mean about waiting for the caffeine to kick in, we all do that and we all understand, why don't we proofread our comments? LOL Mirrors are great in the garden and I might make more if I can figure out how I did it. The garden is deceiving from afar, it is pretty droopy all over. No rain from Fay for us yet.

    Hi Dave, thanks. We have had those cardinals before too, I was surprised it was a titmouse and not a cardinal this time. At least he has stopped pecking and just stares as he hangs on the frame.

  11. Gail says:

    Frances, I do love your mirror! You are a natural for mosaic projects and the glass on glass is calling your name! If your pot were more cracked, I would suggest a mosaic project with his pieces…it could very nicely adorn a clay pot and hold larger plants. What ever you decide it will look lovely!

    You are so right, it is well past the time to save the little guy from the spider. The spider photo in my last post is similar and you can clearly get why the spider moved her web to Butterfly Alley! So many life lessons for us in the garden, aren’t there? A good place for our children and grandchildren to see the circle of life.

    Has the rain gotten to your garden this morning? I hope so.


  12. DP Nguyen says:

    Hi Frances- What a fun project! that mirror is really something. It’s so pretty, and I love the detail of the leaves around it. It is pretty funny that the birds are attacking themselves in the mirror. Silly things!

  13. tina says:

    That first picture is a work of art. You are so talented and it sure shows in this beautiful mirror. Silly birdy.

  14. Frances, says:

    Hi Gail, excuse me, did you say something to me, I was to busy picking! HA. I meant to comment on your spider photo, did you notice how the spiders were the same color as the flowers? Are they able to change color? What if you have a mixed packet of zinnia seeds? It boggles the mind. I do want to do stained glass sometime, maybe the glass on glass would be a good way to start. We just had a brief shower and even thunder, the cats went scurrying under the furniture, I think they had forgotten there was such a noise. It has stopped now but we are hoping for more. You?

    Hi DP, thanks. Those silly birds is right, I am afraid they will hurt themselves but he seems okay. I’m just glad he stopped.

    Hi Tina, you are too kind, as always.

  15. kd says:

    The mirror looks like it was a lot of fun to make. You are fortunate that you have the perfect outdoor workspace!

    I love how the bird made immediate use of your efforts!


  16. Roses and Lilacs says:

    Frances, your are very talented. Like Cindy, I thought it was a painting at first.

    How neat that will be. Sometimes reflecting sunlight, sometimes giving garden glimpses depending on where the viewer is standing.

  17. Anna says:

    This could be a chapter in any good gardening novel. I enjoyed the making of the mirror and all the rabbit trials your mind and story took on as it progressed. I like that your garden is alive and right away–you got a reaction from the critters. It’s their garden and they noticed what was new. It is a grand project–thanks for sharing.

  18. Skeeter says:

    Another great project by your own two hands!

    The titmouse is a fun little visitor to my yard as well. They have the cutest eyes of any bird! They eat meal worms that we put out for the bluebirds. When they gather at the feeders, they just fuss up a storm with each other…
    How on earth did one get into your electric box? Curious birds…

  19. Frances, says:

    Hi Krys, thanks and welcome. That spot under the deck is an eyesore and a place for the creative juices to flow. There are bits and pieces of stuff I have stashed away there for future use, waiting for just the right project, the old mirror was among them.

    Hi Marnie, thank. Think of all the possibilities of mirrors in the garden, so fun.

    Hi Anna, thanks so much. I had never heard the term rabbit trails before, only goat trails, LOL.

  20. Siria says:

    Hi Frances! Even with the lack of rain your garden looks lovely! Your mirror project is fabulous and I love the spot where you have chosen to hang it . I love the reflection of the peeling cinnamon bark of the river birches. Also that solitary leaf is beautiful. Is it in your garden or in your house?

  21. Frances, says:

    Hi Skeeter, thanks for dropping by. The titmouse mystery has never been solved how he got into the electrical box. My best guess is that he got in when the wiring was finally hooked up and inspected by the utility. Meaning that he was in that box for several days at the least. Or he was able to squeeze in through a very small opening at the bottom, but why couldn’t he get out that way then? We’ll never know but feel good about freeing him in time for him to live and tell his story to his friends. He was a little blackened, poor thing.

    Hi Siria, thanks. We are having some rain right now! Oh happy day. The leaf casting is in the house, but could go outside with the poly coat over the paint, several coats actually, but I like it inside for now. I do have some bowls outside that still look good, although a little dirty. The birches made a good spot for the mirror and happened to be near the fence where it could be up at eye level rather than on the ground, what I was looking for.

  22. marmee says:

    what a great art project. i liked the big bowl looking leaf. and now your garden friends are enjoying it too

  23. Blackswamp_Girl says:

    I think you should just paint the inside a bright color and put it out as is… it’s very pretty! 🙂 But if you really want a plant, how about some kind of sedum? (Of course, that’s just me–I swear you can never have enough sedums. lol.)

  24. Blackswamp_Girl says:

    Oh, I also meant to tell you that the mirror thing reminded me of a story I heard on NPR last week. About mockingbirds (I think) who researchers discovered WERE self-aware… they put stickers on them in places where the birds could only see the stickers in the mirror, and once the birds noticed the stickers in the mirror they craned their necks around to pick the stickers off. So he may very well have realized that it is him in the mirror!

  25. Mr. McGregor's Daughter says:

    You are such an inspiration! I think I'll start with the basic leaf casting & then try to paint it. I'm not ready to start cleaning mirrors in the garden. (I have a hard enough time keeping the mirrors in house fingerprint-free.)

  26. Marie says:

    Very interesting post!
    Beautiful photos 🙂

  27. Frances, says:

    Hi Marmee, thanks. Making the leaves is fun and quick and the painting is the best, lots of experimenting can be done. You should try it!

    Hi Kim, thanks for that. It does now seem that he is looking at himself and not pecking, maybe he likes how he looks! The pot is painted inside too. It is is antique spongeware pot with green and blue blotches with gold accents, very pretty by itself. The sedum is a good idea if it gets put on its side, but I was thinking of having it stand up to show the pretty rim. Maybe it will have no plant, of something that goes dormant for a lot of the time, still thinking.

    Hi MMD, thanks. Yes, do try the leaf, the painting is the most fun about it too. Just that cheapo craft paint works fine. I usually water down the first few coats because the cement absorbs the paint like a sponge. Then full strength, wiping it with a rag to get that rich effect. I only cleaned that mirror because it had bird goo on it, but I am a much better housekeeper outside than inside my house. ;->

    Hi Marie, nice to see you and thanks so much.

  28. Rose says:

    Frances, You have such an eye for adding art in the garden! I really like where you’ve placed the mirror. I’m not sure I would have the patience for such a big project, but the leaf castings do look interesting. I think I’ve seen that segment on Martha, too.
    I love that broken pot–can’t wait to see what you plant in it.

  29. Frances, says:

    Hi Rose, thanks. Projects like the mirror need a good deal of uninterrupted time for me, something not available on a daily basis. Being home alone for several days is when those get tackled. You could do the leaf casting, they are easy and fun, all you need is a leaf! And the mortar and bonding agent, and some sand in a box to make the curve. Do it!

  30. Gisele Schoene says:

    You are really an artist. The mirror looks great and you found a nice place to hang it.
    You have funny birds in your garden!

  31. Frances, says:

    Hi Gisele, thanks so much. That is a beautiful name, BTW. We do love our silly birds here.

  32. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You are so talented with that concrete. I have always wanted to do something of that nature but haven’t jumped in to do it. I don’t have any instructions other than what I have read from time to time. What you have created is really a work of art.

    I would like a mirror in the garden too. I don’t know what I could reflect. The bark on those birches are just perfect.

  33. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I’m back. Every time I think about that little titmouse pecking at hisself I crack up. Poor little creature. I hope he leaves it alone now. I bet next spring when nesting season revs up he will be back at it.

  34. Frances, says:

    Hi Lisa, I wondered about the titmouse being more aggressive next spring if he doesn’t peck his head loose before then, silly guy. Thanks so much. I bet you could do the leaf castings, the mirror is more of a challenge. Not seeing a photo or the show made it hard to visualize what I was trying to do. I understand the process better now, you have to think backwards of how it will turn out, luckily I am left handed.

  35. Karen says:

    Nice zinnia shot! I miss having cosmos, didn’t get it in this year. Maybe next year!

    – Karen

  36. Frances, says:

    Hi Karen, thanks and welcome. I used to get the self sown cosmos and zinnias but now have to sow the seeds myself and get fewer. Still worth the effort for the critters they bring.

  37. Flower says:

    Just found you via Terra Hangen. I really like the mirror you made..and it gives me an idea for a mirror I have! You have beautiful things to look at..and amazing flowers! Your broken pot would be good in the garden. I use all kinds of things that were never meant to be outdoors. It’s a good test of it’s strength and if it doesn’t work…it’s will be okay! I did look for my Fairy name..how could anyone resist. I’ll share it at a later time..it isn’t the prettiest name and I live under the brambles and vines! 🙂

  38. Frances, says:

    Hi Flower, thanks and welcome. The fairy name is a fun one, although mine isn’t very descriptive of me at all either. You have wonderful crafts on your blog, I will be visiting.

  39. Shady Gardener says:

    Very creative project! I’ll have to check into that book and/or M Stewart’s hints. 🙂

  40. Frances, says:

    Hi Shady, thanks. Hope you have fun creating some concrete garden art!

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