Container gardens are more than just plants. The types of receptacles you choose can set a mood or maintain continuity when visitors see your garden. Custom containers are generally expensive and it isn't unusual to spend more on the cachepot than on the plant. This edition of the Frugal Gardener helps by turning ordinary clay pots into works of art, for very little money.
This project uses pebbles, but just about any material that can be affixed to the flowerpot is acceptable. Broken pottery and mirror pieces are popular, but use your imagination. I've seen marbles and plastic dinosaurs used to define a little boy's containers and ‘princess jewels' for a little girl's. It might be a great way to introduce kids to gardening. They can help with the container and then choose the plant.
Since this is a Frugal Gardener installment, I'm using what I had on hand for this project. Old terracotta pots from friends, who are always bringing me the resulting pot when a gift plant dies, were just stacked in my shed. The foundation of my home is mulched with washed gravel and I had a half-used bag of grout left over from a bathroom project. There was a tube of kitchen and bathroom silicone adhesive in my ‘glue box', so in this case, my project was practically free. If you have to purchase anything, a box of dry, sanded grout is about $10 and a tube of silicone adhesive is usually less than $3. Make surre that both are water resistant.
Your materials are pretty basic. The glue, the grout and whatever you are going to mix it in. I used an old ice cream bucket because there is no clean up. The pebbles are from my mulch area. I gathered up at least twice as many as I thought I'd use and then sorted them by tone. I had three piles of light, medium and dark pebbles.
Start attaching your materials to the clean flowerpots. Easy lines and geometric patterns are simple for beginners. I made sure my pebbles had a side that was somewhat flat so they would make good contact with the pot. Squeeze a generous blob of glue on your material and place it on your flowerpot.
The glue I used was silicone adhesive for kitchens and baths. It is water resistant and forms a firm bond. If you wish to use mortar, make sure it is rated for use in moist areas. This can get a little messy, so if you want to keep your manicure nice, wear gloves during this step too. I used a vase turned upside down to hold my flowerpot off the table. It wasn't necessary in my case, since I didn't continue the mosaic on the rim, but if you are using the whole container, use something to lift it off the work surface.
For very small pieces, you can spread a band of glue around the flowerpot and simply place the pieces into it. In hindsight, I should have opted for a clear adhesive, but I had the white on hand and it did fine.It is important to use pebbles or material that are close to the same thickness. I didn't measure anything, but if something felt too thick or thin, I chose another stone.
After your flowerpots are covered with your material, they need to dry overnight. I kept this design simple, but if you wanted to get fancy, you can draw your design on the flowerpot in pencil as a guide. I had quite a few of my sorted pebbles left over, but it is always better to have more than you need on hand. Sometimes I had to dig through the pile to find one a specific size or shape.
Once the adhesive is dry, we're ready to grout the project. I chose to do this outdoors and spread a piece of plastic under my workspace because this looked like it could get messy. Assemble your materials and mix the grout according to directions.
Again, as with the pebbles, mix more grout than you think you'll need. I may have gone a bit overboard, but since I'd never done this before, I wasn't sure about how much it would take. Better be safe than sorry. The grout should be about the consistency of peanut butter.
This is where it gets fun! Grab a handful of grout and start spreading it on your flowerpot. It is a bit like making mud-pies. Make sure you have a thick coat on everything and pay attention to edges and the curves of the pebbles. By using your hands, you can press the grout around the pebbles and not leave any gaps or air pockets. (it is harder to do than it looks)
Completely cover your pebbles or material with a thick coat of grout. I made sure that the bottom of the flowerpot had a good layer and that I had an even thickness up to the bottom of the rim. If you wish to do the rims of your pots, go ahead. I just liked the look of the terracotta rims with the earthy pebbles.
Your pots will look something like this when you've finished spreading the grout. I've heard that plastic pots will work with this process too, but the plastic must be rigid enough so that it doesn't flex and cause the grout to pop off. As with any creamic or natural container, these should be stored during the winter. Freeze and thaw cycles are deadly to unglazed terracotta or clay containers.
After the grout sits for about 10 minutes, you can start cleaning your flowerpots. Use a damp sponge and start wiping the excess grout from the container. Rinse the sponge often and try to leave an even coat of the grout around the container. This is where you'll see how important the thickness of your materials is. I had a few pieces that were thinner than the others and I had to hunt for them to clean the grout back to where they could be seen.
The small pot has been cleaned once. This is supposed to get the bulk of your excess grout removed and expose your mosaic. While it is curing some more, I started on the larger pot. Your sponge should be damp, but not soaking wet. I kept a bucket of rinse water handy and cleaned my sponge often.
After both containers were initially cleaned, I went back with my sponge and did some finish work. I made sure that all of my pebbles were exposed and that there were no gaps in the grout. I rinsed my sponge often and used it to smooth and clean my mosaic. I made sure that the bottom of the pot was level and it would sit straight.
After the mosaic is cleaned well, the grout needs to cure for 24 hours to reach maximum strength. If it is hot outdoors, bring your flowerpots indoors. The slower your grout cures, the stronger it will be. After it is cured, buff it with a soft cloth to remove the last haze from the grout.I used materials that I had on hand to create these unique flowerpots. Even if you have to purchase the grout and glue, this is still a very frugal project. A $10 box of grout will go a long way and odd pieces of stoneware can be found at yard sales for pennies, especially if they are already chipped. Now that I'm familiar with the process, I'm anxious to try my hand at some bigger projects. I won't be tossing out any broken dishes either. They'll go in my 'mosaic box' so I'll have a ready suppy of material for my next venture!