Introduction: Concrete Rhubarb Leaf Garden Decor
Hey guys! In this instructable, I'll be teaching you how you can make
durable garden decorations using giant rhubarb leaves and concrete, this Instructable is also being submitted as my entry to the concrete and cement contest! Depending on how you decide to finish these, whether you leave them plain or you paint them like I prefer to do, they are a great way to add an element of whimsy to your yard!
Let's get to it!
- A bag of Quikrete Fast setting concrete mix
- A Large Plastic Serving Bowl preferably with a rounded bottom so it's easier to mix everything. (I purchased mine at the dollar store)
- Garbage bags or dropcloth
- Rhubarb leaves, whatever size you think will work best for you. I absolutely love using gigantic leaves because they just look so unreal and whimsical when they are done.
- A water source, I used bottled water just for photo taking purposes, you really don't need to be fancy!
- Sand or Soil to help support the leaf and retain its natural shape. I didn't have any on hand so I Macgyvered a support by stuffing some old t-shirts into a garbage bag, which in hindsight wasn't the best idea, so I recommend using sand or soil as I have used that several times in the past successfully.
*Also note one of the two leaves pictures, very obviously had a dustpan involved in its creation. I had a helper (hes 8years old) pick what he thought would work best to prop the leaf up. I think it looks pretty cool.
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
- Thick Nitrile Gloves so the rocks and stuff in the concrete won't cut through them easily. Gloves also protect you from the corrosive properties of the cement in the concrete mix. More on the safety part in the next step.
- Safety goggles because you don't want cement dust in your eyeballs.
- N95 Mask/Respirator to prevent inhalation of the dust, I will elaborate more on the dangers of working with cement in the next step.
- Paints, I couldn't find a link to the exact ones I used but these are similar DecoArt extreme sheen in the colors 24k Gold, Amethyst, and Peridot
- Acrylic sealer to add a glossy protective finish on your project
- Glow powder I love Prisma65 from Vvivid
- Modge Podge or Elmers glue to make the glow powder stick if you choose to use it.
Step 1: Safety
Before we get into the project I want to highlight steps you can take to protect yourself while working with concrete and cement mixes. Working with these mixtures kicks up quite a bit of dust into the air, this dust is not safe to inhale, get into your eyes or onto your bare hands.
Concrete mixes contain silica which after several exposures can cause Silicosis also called Grinder's asthma or Potter's rot. This condition is characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, fever and Cyanosis (blue skin). Its no joke. Read more about Silicosis here.
Another thing to avoid while working with cement mixes is getting the dust on your skin or in your mouth (this is why I'm telling you to wear gloves and a respirator.) Due to the silica content, if the dust comes in contact with the skin it will draw out moisture, this can lead to a condition called Dermatitis.
When in contact with the moisture in your mouth it will cause a corrosive and highly alkaline solution. This can also happen if dust gets trapped between clothing and mixes with your sweat, which can cause severe skin damage.
Read more about the dangers of working with concrete here.
Step 2: Preparing the Leaf
Before anything you'll want to lay down something to protect your work area, take your garbage bag or drop cloth, and lay it flat on the surface you will be working on. Make sure you have an area that can remain undisturbed for 12 or so hours.
Take a good look at your rhubarb leaf, notice how it has a bowl sort of shape to it with fanned out frilly edges. You want to make a mound of sand or soil on the dropcloth that will 'fill' that bowl area when you place the leaf facedown. This mound will support the leaf when you pack on the heavy concrete mix.
When mixed with water, cement undergoes an exothermic reaction during curing, which will wilt your leaf depending on the size, some bigger leaves won't be as affected by this heating process. In either case the sand helps to keep the shape of the leaf and its veins.
Once you have your mound, place the leaf face down on it making sure to fan out the leaf the way you like if it allows.
Now you can put on your PPE, don your respirator, goggles and gloves.
Step 3: Mixing the Concrete
Now that you have your safety gear on, you can start mixing up your concrete.
Cut into the top of the concrete mix bag, you need a large enough opening to be able to scoop some of the mix out. You'll want to scoop the mix instead dumping it out because dumping creates far most dust.
Depending on the size of your leaf the amount of concrete you need will vary. Grab your bowl and scoop enough concrete mix that you'll be able to cover the entirety of the leaf with it. The water that will be added really gets sucked up by the concrete mix so eyeballing the amount of mix you need will prove to be accurate because the mixed volume in the bowl will be almost the exact same and the dry volume. You can do one layer or two layers but the end goal is to have the concrete be roughly 1inch to 2inches thick near the center and about 1/4inch to 1inch thick near the edges.
The measuring of the water is just as lax as the dry part. Add enough water to match about half of the dry volume then give it a mix, I prefer to use my hands for the mixing so I can feel the consistency. If its too dry add more water, if it seems too runny just wait a minute or two and it should tighten back up.
You are striving for a consistency that resembles oatmeal..
Step 4: The Fun Part
Now you can begin adding your concrete onto the leaf. I find its best to start in the areas that are really deep, what I mean by that is the areas surrounding the bigger veins as well as in between and under anywhere the frilly edges fold over themselves. Make sure to get these spots filled as just dumping the mix onto the leaf will not allow the concrete to make its way into these places.
I find it to be super effective to lay my hand flat on the blob and jiggle my hand back and forth, this allows trapped air in the concrete to escape and liquifies the mixture allowing it to settle deeper into nooks and crannies. When concrete is being poured in an industrial setting they use machines that deliver deep vibrations to drive out entrapped air. These machines are obviously used in much larger scale applications than what were working on with this project.
Once I feel all the 'deep' areas have been adequately filled, I begin covering the entirety of the leaf, leaving about a half inch of the leaf exposed around the entire outer edge. Leaving the half inch of wiggle room allows you to again jiggle your hand on the surface to promote the concrete flowing out to the edge, this adds a tapering effect. The edge of the leaf does a surprisingly good job of not allowing the concrete to flow past it if you are careful.
As you can see, I didn't really put much effort into smoothing over the one leaf as this part won't be seen really with the finished product, however I did smooth over the other leaf. My reasoning for this is that I wanted that leaf to lay more flat when finished. Depending on what you're planning to do with your creation you may choose to do either.
**If you chose to use the fast setting concrete mix like I did, you might find during this process your concrete starts to thicken past the oatmeal consistency. This is okay and can be reversed by adding another splash of water.
Step 5: Finishing the Casting
Now you need to let the concrete do its thing and set up.
**The time required for the concrete to set will vary depending on the concrete you chose to use. With the Quickrete quick set concrete, I found it was good to flip over after about 8 hours. Refer to the directions on the bag for set times if you chose another brand or mix.
Flip your leaf so the vegetation is facing upward and begin peeling the leaf off the concrete. I have had the most success grabbing the stalk and wiggling it free as best as possible, this should help to free up the larger off-shooting veins. Don't be discouraged if your leaf starts to break apart during this process as some pieces are harder to remove than others but overall it isn't a difficult process. If you find some of the vein material gets stuck in the channels they have casted in the concrete, simply use anything that will fit into the space and gently pry the stuck material out.
Once you've removed all the vegetative material, you can either leave the leaf bare for a rustic look or you can move on to the next step with me!
Step 6: Adding Some Color!
I chose to take it a step further by adding some color.
For the first leaf I painted on a base layer of white acrylic because I knew the paint I was using was fairly sheer and it would be easier to get an even finish painting over white rather than grey. This is the one I painted using the color Peridot. Once that had dried I went in and added a very light, messy bit of the Gold buffing itaround the edges and on the highpoints. Then using a fine, angled paint brush I added in the Amethyst into the veins, I feel like this added a lot of depth.
For the dustpan leaf (haha) I chose not to add the base layer of white as I wanted to paint the entirety with the much more pigmented Amethyst color. Once I was happy with the coverage I had, I began the exhausting task of painting the modge podge into the veins, going over literally 1inch areas at a time, making sure the glue didn't dry before I had the chance to dust my Prisma65 glow powder over it. Overall this part took me the better part of 3 hours. I know how great this glow powder is so I knew this was going to look insanely cool, so I pressed on! After I had the glow powder everywhere that I wanted it, I brushed the excess away and added additional powder to the deeper channels.
Now we can finish these bad boys.
Step 7: Sealing Your Project
Since you're most likely going to use these outside and you don't want all your work to go to waste, you need to seal your beautiful concrete leaf. The best thing to use is an acrylic sealer. I use a rattle can acrylic sealer and after shaking for the recommended time, I spray 2 light coats using overlapping passes, then a third heavier coat, waiting 5 minutes between each. I make sure to move around and spray from all directions to make sure I have covered the whole top and edges with the sealant.
**Each brand will vary in terms of directions and cure times so please refer to the directions on whatever you choose to use.
Step 8: Voila!
You're done! You have successfully made a stunning piece of décor! These will look great as a centerpiece in your garden, maybe with a few succulents nestled on top. Next summer, I would love to use a few of these to make a waterfall. If I do I'll be sure to post another Instructable detailing my project.
Thank you for reading my Instructable, if you try this out for yourself I would love to see your concrete rhubarb leaves! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments and I will gladly answer!
Runner Up in the
Stone, Concrete, Cement Challenge