The Latest Project-Cattails

As the leaves fall from the trees and shrubs, revealing the skeletons of bark covered sinews, a gardener’s thoughts turn to…

Projects! Or at least my thoughts do. There is less hands in the dirt gardening filling the waking hours during this time, in the midst of planning the biggest meal of the year for the Fairegarden clan, Thanksgiving weekend. That extra time is used to peruse magazines from the United Kingdom that are chock full of photos that trigger a certain type of response in the cerebral cortex.

That response being: I can make/do that! The that being mentioned is the human-made representation of what looks to be Cattails on steroids. The first thing that drew the eye in this photo taken of the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden, Wisley, besides the flaming foliage and incredible Chinese building was the somber toned sculptures. Many, many, many and more hours have been spent studying these artistic renditions, with a magnifying glass in hand.

Funny thing, this was the teaser page in the UK version of The English Garden for the next months issue. I couldn’t wait to see more photos. But when the issue finally arrived, this photo was not among those in the spread, only a small bit of the sculptures were even shown at all. There was a tiny shot to illustrate a coupon to win an RHS gift membership worth 49 quid, showing the colorful winter twigs of various Cornus ssp. across water in the background, not of much use to someone looking to copy the Cattail technique. Oh well, we got the gist of it.

From the teaser shot one could see that the pod tops were made of woven woody material, wrapped around and around to form an elongated oval. The stem looks to be a metal rod of some sort. Doable. The leaves seemed to be a bit trickier, covered in a vine that must be wrapped around metal to hold the shape and to be bent into a natural leaf curve. That will take some more thought.

Needing something more long lasting and less time consuming to manufacture than the woven leaves, the extra roll of hardware cloth was spied in the shed. It was cut into rectangles of a good size and bent into leaf shapes with pointy ends and doubled over at the base to attach to the metal rods that also happened to be in the shed after being used as plant stakes at one time. Thick gloves were worn to protect delicate finger tissues while working with the hardware cloth, as always. Copper wire was used to hold the leaves at the proper spacing and angle on the rods.

This is not a how to post with step by step instructions, for there is still fine tuning to be done on the method, but we are working on figuring out the best way to proceed and finish. The rods were set in the ground and the leaves were spray painted with flat black because that is the only paint that was in the garage. We might try a dark brown, maybe with a more shiny fnish. Or not. Importantly, placement is crucial. It is thought that the best place for these to show up would be in a sea of green, they are hardly visible by the shed. Do you even see them in the opening photo? I thought not. When the lawn/meadow is cut down for the winter rest period, the stakes will be installed there.

After writing this draft, it was determined that right now would be a good time to cut the lawn/meadow down anyway, (it is usually done in January with the big cut of the whole garden). The nine Cattails were finished and thrust into the ground. I am satisfied with them except for the need for more painting. The metal will last indefinitely, but the grapevine will rot away when exposed over time to the elements. Perhaps these will be winter decor, to be stored safely under cover during the growing season as the bulbs pop up next spring in the lawn/meadow. Yes, that sounds like the plan. In the far away future, maybe we could make some entirely out of metal. Hmmmmm.

Feel free to give this a go yourself, if you are so inclined. I wrapped wild grape vine around balled up chickenwire, stuck that onto threaded rods and shaped hardware cloth into leaves, held by wire. All was on hand here so the project cost nothing, as it should according to the tightwad mantra that we live by. Many other vines or materials could be used just as well. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Being a student of garden make-it-yourself free art can be fun and rewarding. Remember, everyone can art.

(PS, the large grapevine ball is to be ignored. It is still a work in progress.)


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21 Responses to The Latest Project-Cattails

  1. Sue says:

    What a great project.
    I’m guilty of going through the Gardener’s Supply catalog and copying projects for my home. They have neat ideas, but I’m afraid their things are well out of my budget.
    Love these cattails!!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks Sue. I am glad to hear you get inspiration from things that come in the mail, too! Not being able to afford things that I like is what prompts many crafts around here, in the garden and inside the house. To be honest, even if I could afford to buy them, and I cannot, it is much more rewarding to attempt to recreate them myself.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Great work Frances. Where do you find all that grape vine?? One cannot ignore that big ball. It looks like so much fun. You have made a marvelous sculpture garden. You are so talented. Can’t wait to see your next project. Have a great weekend.

    Thanks Lisa. There is wild grapevine all over my neighborhood. There were giant vines climbing the hemlocks at the back of the property that needed the strength of The Financier to pull them down. Some just broke, but that is what the big ball is made from. Smaller thicknesses of vine were used to make the cattail tops. There is not shortage of grapevine here. My neighbor calls it Fox Grapes. There are no edible grapes on it, but the birds love to nest in there and eat the fruit. You too have a great weekend.

  3. Carol says:

    You are a crafty one, Frances. Those look great. I’m glad you wore extra heavy gloves, too, as those little wires on chicken wire and hardware cloth are sharp.

    Thanks Carol. Tightwadedness is the impetus for all crafts here. I want something seen in a mag, etc. but can’t afford or find it even if I could afford it. Only one alternative left, make it yourself! I am nothing if not stubborn. You are right about those cut wires, you still have to be careful, they can poke through heavy gloves, too.

  4. Well done, Frances. I love them and love your placement! H.

    Thanks Helen. It made a big difference when they were moved to the lawn/meadow. They blended into the colors too well up by the shed, although I liked them there since I could see them from inside the house.

  5. Gail says:

    They are fantastic Frances. The meadow lawn is a great spot for them; I can’t wait to see them when the bulbs open. Inspiring. xxoogail

    Thanks Gail. The lawn/meadow does show them off the better than other areas with the solid green. They will be moved when the bulbs appear. I am hoping that the stakes were not driven right into a precious bulb!

  6. Marcia says:

    Looks like you had a lot of fun creating those. For me I’ll stick to the real thing that is taking over my pond! Yikes! Don’t need any more cat tails around here.

    I did, Marcia, thanks for visiting. I love the look of the real cattails, too.

  7. wierd and wonderful but what really caught my eye were the bluebottles and plant of incredible pink whispiness. What is it?

    Thanks Catherine. The pink is pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris.

  8. Leslie says:

    So very creative and they came out great! I wish you were my neighbor…

    Thanks Leslie. All I could think of was Mr. Rogers…won’t you be my neighbor! HA I wish we lived close, we could really cook up some crafts together!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Trust you to spy those in the preview Frances! I bet nothing gets by you!! I never took note of them and I subscribe to that mag as well. Smacking myself because they are fantastic. They’re going to add some great winter interest to your property. That grapevine ball is very cool ~ impossible to ignore…

    Thanks Kathleen. I am very, extremely detail oriented. It slows down my processing sometimes, though. Good thing I am not on a deadline! HA Don’t you love the UK, monthly version of The English Garden so much better than the bi-monthly US version? Worth every extra shilling!

  10. Fun! They look like a great fit for your space 🙂

    Thanks Emily. They do seem to blend in well with the vibe here.

  11. My Kids Mom says:

    I think copper wire wrapped around to make the cat tail would be beautiful as it aged. I’ve decided that the difference between me and an artist is that THEY think of it. I copy it. I have a collection of wire bits from broken birdfeeders and whatnot that are dying to be made into… something. The parts will sit around until I have inspiration (or a magazine cover to copy)

    I am the same way, Jill, a copier not the idea person. Copper wire would be splendid, if pricey. I save all the wire here and reuse it over and over. Hope you get some inspiration soon!

  12. Linda says:

    Very cool, Frances! I’m doing this……in fact, I think I have everything, in the shed! Even have an idea for the leaves. Thanks for the inspiration. Youre a great motivator!

    Aha, Linda, a woman after my own heart! Do let me know how you handle the leaves, please.

  13. banner6 says:

    Sorry…impossible to ignore the large grapevine ball as instructed. I’ll be watching for the how-to on that one.

    Thanks Ricki. The large ball is two large circles, turned at 90 degree angles, then keep wrapping the grapevine. It takes a whole lotta vine, really needs more than what I used, actually. Just keep wrapping and wrapping. Easier to start with a small one to get the technique. Tuck in the ends as you add more pieces. There is no wrong way, just so it holds together, do whatever it takes. Good luck!

  14. Haha! I have to steer clear of those Brit gardening magazines. Because of them, I’ve contemplated growing willow for a long time just a source of bendable twigs for garden craft projects. I love the cattails, and little bit of organic whimsy they add to the garden. I’d like to be able to make my own plant trellises using similar willow/grapevine materials too. They many not last long, but in our woodland setting they just seem more appropriate than painted wood or steel.

    Oh CV, how I dream of having those willows and hazels to make all the fun constructions for the garden. I love that they will fall apart so more can be made, too. It is the making that is the fun part.

  15. Fun!!! 🙂


  16. What a great idea for a project – and I love how you’ve placed them in the meadow garden – especially with my favorite muhly plant beside it – sadly I can’t grow it here in Zone 5 – it’s not hardy enough. So I live vicariously through your photos of it.

    Thanks Heather. The green background does show the cattails off much better. Glad you like the muhly, it is having a good year.

  17. Frances, while you are looking for new project at this time of the year, I am thankful that my gardening duties are less demanding and so I have more time to spend on household chores in preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love my garden work more than anything but family needs mustn’t be neglected. Have a happy holiday.

    Hanna, I host Thanksgiving for several days for 13 family members that sleep over at my house! I know all about being busy cleaning and cooking for family and it is a lot of work. Good thing the garden doesn’t need much from me right now except getting the leaves off the pathways so nobody trips or falls.

  18. Rose says:

    Frances, you are so clever! I’m afraid if I attempted to make something like this, they would turn out looking like kindergartener’s artwork….much like the pottery I attempted after a class many, many years ago:) Actually, I like that grapevine ball, too, just as it is.

    Thanks Rose, but I believe you could make this yourself with ease. Mine is not at all professional looking, like the photo in the magazine, very primitive, if you will. But that’s okay, it was free! I was a failure at pottery, too. I needed a left handed wheel and they didn’t have one. I couldn’t center my work, and it showed! I ended up putting mini lights on the grapevine ball and moving it to a better location, where I could see it from the addition.

  19. Lola says:

    It looks fantastic. What an ingenious idea.
    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Thanks Lola. It it ingenious, I merely copied someone else’s art. May you have a very happy Thanksgiving, too.

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