Monday, June 18, 2012

Make Your Own Garden Pillars

The back vegetable garden with entrance at each pillar
  I love being creative in the garden and thinking up things to's a kind of play that I really enjoy. But sometimes I wonder how I get myself into the middle of some projects, especially ones that require a lot of problem solving. This project started last year when I wrote about the garden art of a friend who is a ceramic artist. In it I mentioned that I had no idea how ceramics are done and so Donna, the artist, offered to teach me how to make some simple pieces. I was in the midst of making the Fairy House and thought a ceramic door would set it off well. I did end up with a great door but Donna encouraged me to make more than the one thing so I decided to make some flat ceramic vegetables to use as garden art.

Cutting out the clay
I mentioned to Donna that I planned to glue them to something, perhaps some sort of wood post. The good part about us having that conversation is that it stopped me from making a big mistake; Donna explained that the wood would expand and contract with heat and rain and the pieces might fall off. The bad part was that I spent the next few months thinking up and rejecting different ways to display my ceramic vegetables.

In the end I came up with an idea that fit all my requirements and was something I felt I could actually make happen. I now have two pillars, made of inexpensive 8x8x8 concrete block, coated in mortar and decorated with purchased river rock. Pillar tops were made of concrete in a plastic bowl I found at the thrift store. It had just the right dimensions and decorative shape and best of all only cost $1.00!

Cement block and mortar

 Installation was easy enough, living as I do where there is no need to worry about the ground freezing and thawing which could cause the pillars to topple. I simply dug a hole a foot deep, filled it part way with pea gravel, and set the first block on top. I followed with the other blocks, using mortar in between each one. I then pounded a piece of half inch rebar into the center of the block, several feet deeper than the gravel bed, for security sake.

I used a skim coat of thin-set mortar on the outside, finding type S mortar hard to work with for surfacing. However I tried again, on a new project I am working on, and had more success. I think if mixed correctly it works fine for a skim coat.

Carrot pillar

After letting that coat dry I started the top layer, working on one side at a time, putting on another coat of thin-set and adding river rock designs. I mortared on the ceramic vegetables at the top of the 2 front sides of each pillar. Since I had 5 vegetables I decided to make a third, shorter, pillar in a different bed. For this I used 6x8x8 inch block that I had on hand. 

Unhappy with the color of the pillar tops, yet not wanting to obscure the decorative design on the rim, I hit on the idea of mixing some concrete colorant in water and painting it on.  It worked like a charm and I am much happier with the look.

The pillars serve several purposes. They are decorative and show off the ceramic vegetables even better than I had hoped. The flat tops (a requirement when I was searching high and low for a form for them) provide a surface for a colander when gathering veggies or for hand tools when gardening. It has also been a landing spot for my coffee mug when an early morning walk turned into a bit of impromptu gardening. And they work perfectly for the thing that got me thinking about making a pillar in the first place: as a hand hold when stepping out of the garden which is a step up from the rest of the yard. Knee injuries have made the availability of something to hold when stepping down a reassuring thing.

Any decorative items could be used for a pillar and they can be made as personal as you like. Be sure to read about safety measures to take when working with concrete and mortar. Play around and see what you can create!


Fairegarden said...

Wow, Leslie, so much good and helpful information in this post! I am very interested in trying this at home, and like the idea of painting on the colors after it is finished, a much easier way to brighten things up. You are soooooo creative!


Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Leslie, I think you are one of the most creative gardeners I know. You make things I would never dream of.~~Dee

Cindy, MCOK said...

Leslie, those are just cool beyond words! Would you and Frances come here and make things for me? I can never seem to get any farther than the idea stage!

growingagardenindavis said...

Faire...I know you will take this and run with it...can't wait to see your result!
Dee, you are too kind. We all have different kinds of creativity...wish I could write like you!
Cindy...the trick is to just start then you have to keep going. I never let not knowing what I'm doing slow me down!

tomtomkity said...

Your grandmother (who worked in ceramics) and your grandfather (who worked in cement) are both smiling broadly and taking credit for your creative genes. Of course, Grandpa Marotta is saying take a minute in the garden to enjoy your beautiful accomplishments (with a glass of good wine).

Gail said...

They are splendid Leslie and so creative. I wish you lived next door to me! xo

Carol Michel said...

Those look great, and excellent DIY project. I think even I could do that.

Carol Michel said...

Those look great, and excellent DIY project. I think even I could do that.

Mahoneys garden center said...

Good to know about your blog and thank you such a wonderful post, And so true. Yet again, you got to the right words perfectly.
Thank you for sharing with us.

commonweeder said...

Leslie - what a great and inspiring - and useful post. Having made my hypertufa trough I am now ready for another concrete project. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Leslie! These are FANTASTIC!!! You did an amazing, amazing job... I absolutely adore them. YAY for your new garden pillars!

growingagardenindavis said...

Aunt if I only had some of your painting ability...maybe you should come here and paint butterflies for me!
Carol, I know you could!
Pat I think a pillar or two would look lovely with your roses.
Thank you Kim! Maybe you will find a spot to build one in your new garden...and Aunt Elaine could actually paint something for yours!