They look like stone

They look like stone

If you like the look of old, stone planters and troughs in classic English gardens, you can make delightful facsimiles using hypertufa, a simulated-stone material you can mix up at home.

Ingredients vary but are easily found and can be made into garden containers, birdbaths and landscape accents that look like stone but are much lighter and inexpensive. Often, a mixture of Portland cement, coconut fiber and perlite is used, according to Linda McMahan, staff chair and consumer horticulturist for the Yamhill County office of Oregon State University Extension Service.

"The material itself is easy to work with — sort of like cookie dough," says McMahan. "It is also amazingly inexpensive, and the possibilities for shapes, sizes and colors almost endless. It's like making mud pies for adults. It's fun, low-key, great for patio parties — messy ones in jeans, that is."

Working with hypertufa is easy for the beginner, says McMahan. "If you make a mistake, so what? Just start over. It's about as expensive as spilled milk."

Hypertufa containers work well for rock gardens, succulents, alpine plants and other "fussy" little plants, says McMahan. "I have troughs all over my garden — on the front stoop, on the back patio, next to the small pond, in the middle of a flower bed. You can stack them and raise plants to various levels."

European gardeners have used stone troughs and other obsolete cement for planters for centuries, says McMahan. The stone containers made such a splendid addition to ornamental gardens, they soon became a "must have" in the European countryside.

Over time, the stone castoffs became rare, so folks turned to tufa rock: a soft, volcanic, porous rock that is easily hollowed and carved. By the 1930s and '40s, tufa rocks became less available and expensive. Creative gardeners decided to make their own "tufa" and called it "hypertufa."

"As you have already guessed, there are many recipes, all with pluses and minuses," says McMahan. "When I mix, I add water just until it sticks together when squeezed and begins to glisten."

Hypertufa planters made with sand can easily hold up for 20 years, says McMahan. "The lightweight ones made with perlite aren't quite as durable but can last about 10 years if they are not abused. Plant roots can make their way into crevices and quicken the breakdown process."

One caution from McMahan: Hypertufa objects can break with rough use.

"Don't drop one," she warns. "Not only will it break. It might break your foot."

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