Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Concrete Leaf Catastrophe

My visions of a beautiful concrete Gunnera leaf for my garden have been shattered into pieces.  Quite a number of pieces, as you can see here:
Concrete leaf casting failure
Although from this angle, it looks like there is still some potential for an artistic creation:
Concrete leaf pieces
Perhaps a sculpture of a decaying Gunnera leaf, crumbled into pieces on the soil?

The dark green parts are where I still need to peel away the Gunnera leaf to reveal the concrete cast below.  I had my husband flip the leaf for me Saturday afternoon, and I didn't have time to finish this work, since we were packing and leaving the next morning.

The imprint itself worked out quite well, with nice strong details of the veining in the leaf (again, the dark areas are where I still need to remove the leaf):
Concrete leaf casting - good detail
So what did I do wrong?

The biggest mistake was to start with too big of a leaf.  Not only did I run out of materials (I think it should have been thicker, especially on the edges), but I created my own monster.  At about 100 pounds, I am not able to handle and move it myself.  Even the fragments I have now are a struggle.  If it were smaller, I likely would have been able to support the leaf while trying to flip it, and then allow it to continue to cure.  But as soon as my husband starting lifting the beast, it was cracking under its own weight.

If I make another attempt, it will be with a smaller leaf.  Something suitable for an ornamental stepping stone in the garden.  Then if all goes well, I could work my way toward a larger bird bath or focal point in the garden.

In the meantime, I will see what I can salvage of the Gunnera, and keep working on it, to learn a bit more about the process.  If I can, I would like to finish pieces of it, and try painting them before Winter hits, so I can learn how the paints survive the Winter.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Color Mosaic Monday : Green - NOT!

Sometimes technology works for us, and sometimes it works against us.  This weekend I was all ready to join Jen at unglazed with this week's theme of GREEN.  I had created 2 GREEN mosaics on Saturday, and emailed them to myself, so I could collect them from my laptop from our vacation this week.  But apparently they didn't make it, although various other emails from the office made it.  Perhaps my mosaics are still stuck in my Outbox on my home computer, which has subsequently been turned off, for our trip.

The first was a mosaic of green foliage and flowers, mostly from my garden, some of wildflowers from hikes.

The second was a mosaic of miscellaneous greens, from Disneyland and others.

I would have also posted to this week's Monday Mosaic at Little Red House.

But I guess this time technology worked against me.  :-(

On the other hand, we are having a very enjoyable family vacation, before school starts next week.  Gasp!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Concrete Leaf Casting : First Attempt

Somewhere in the last couple of years, I encountered a post about concrete leaf casting, and haven't been able to shake the idea out of my head since then.  I was quite interested to try it last summer, and read several posts about how it's done, and the ingredients used.  I also am fortunate enough to have a Gunnera plant in my garden, which seems to be getting bigger leaves every year, and which would make an awesome concrete leaf, such as this amazing creation by Little and Lewis on Bainbridge Island, WA:
Gunnera concrete leaf casting by Little and Lewis
Even if mine were half as awesome, that would still be very amazing.  So with this dream simmering in my head for a couple years, and the recent realization that Fall is around the corner, and that the cooler temperatures would be suitable for such a project, I decided to finally take the plunge, and try it out.

I don't know how to post yet, since I won't really know for a couple of days whether it worked or not.  It felt like a disaster almost every step along the way, but I am still hopeful that it worked out, and will be as amazing as I have dreamed.  So I will post what I did and learned so far, and then once I know, I will post the results, and perhaps this post will be a useful lesson in either what to do or what not to do.

Challenge : Find the materials.  Most "recipes" for concrete leaf castings were something like : 1 part Portland cement, 3 parts sand, and some part water and/or bonding/fortifying agent.  But as I suspected, the brands and products mentioned were not available locally, so I did some investigating on the Home Depot web site, and went to the store with various product descriptions in my hand, hoping to finalize the decision. I came away with two bags I couldn't lift : 88 lb of Portland cement, and 80 lb of jointing sand.  I had investigated various mixes, but all included some gravel in the mix.  I wanted mine to be a fine mixture, so I chose to mix it myself, and also chose the finer jointing sand rather than construction sand.

The Home Depot store didn't carry the acrylic based bonding agent which I was seeking, but I persisted, and phoned the number on the web site, and asked them to track down the product, which was a Stone Mason "Acryli Bond" liquid.  Sure enough, we found a store not too far away which carried it, and I was able to pick up a 4 L (1 gallon) bottle.

Challenge : Dust masks.  They were advised for the mixing of the Portland cement, which is a fine powder.  Good thing I bought a 3-pack, so my son & daughter had fun trying them out.  Since I couldn't wear mine.  I felt like I was being suffocated, it was too hot, and my glasses steamed up when I breathed.  So after trying a few times to use my mask, I gave up on it, and just held my breath when scooping the cement, and tried to mix carefully.  I pre-wet all the sand, so at least it was not dusty at all.

Here's my daughter on the porch of our shed, where I was setting up the Gunnera leaf on plastic, and mixing up my sand and cement in the wheelbarrow.  The wheelbarrow was a good idea.  I wouldn't have managed with the deeper bucket I had originally planned.  And it washed up really well afterward.

Concrete Gunnera leaf casting preparation
Mistake : While the porch was a great idea since it is covered to provide protection from sun or rain, and the leaf could be left there (since I can access through the one door) for a number of days, it was not at a good height for my back.  Very quickly I found that my back was very sore bending over to work on it.  The wheelbarrow too was too low, but I managed okay by kneeling beside it.  The other problem was that it was hard to reach the back part of the leaf.  Access from all sides would have been much better, such as on a sturdy old table.

Challenge : The concept was to mound of the sand to support the upside-down leaf, so when it was done, it would be a naturally cupped shape.  But the Gunnera leaf I chose was quite cupped, and the amount of sand I would have required would have been more than half of my 80 lb bag!
Planning for Gunnera concrete leaf casting
My solution was to use instead some pots (they were nearby) to support the leaf, and use some sand sparingly in between.  There were a few places the support was a bit light, but since the Gunnera was a very stiff and strong leaf, I'm hoping it was adequate.  We'll find out when we flip it over, and find out if I had ripped or distorted the leaf too badly.

Mistake / challenge : Choose a small leaf to start.  I didn't.  I didn't feel that I had time for that.  And I suspected that if I tried a smaller leaf, I would find so many challenges that even if it turned out okay, I may not be "up" to the big project, knowing what I was truly walking into.  Perhaps that's true.  But it would have been comforting to know what I was doing, rather than feeling on the edge of disaster through the whole process.
Preparing base for gunnera leaf in concrete
I had read to apply a wetter layer first, and work it into the small wrinkles and crevices in the leaf, before applying the thicker concrete.  This seemed to be a very good idea.  Especially since the sharp slope of the leaf (a flatter one would have been better!) made the concrete slide quickly off.  So being able to work a thinner layer in would prevent some of the air bubbles I'm sure I would have had otherwise.
Concrete leaf - Gunnera
Challenge : Reinforcement.  This photo doesn't show it well (click for a larger view, perhaps it will show better), but I used 4 pieces of 1" chicken wire to reinforce the leaf, once a thin layer of concrete was applied.  The challenge was that it was difficult to bend it into a shape that matched the deep ridges and valleys of the leaf.  If I didn't make it snug enough, I couldn't cover it in concrete, which would result in chicken wire showing at the back.  If I pressed it in too far, the sharp edges broke through the leaf, possibly resulting in wires sticking out the front of the leaf.  So I struggled for a long time with this step, with my husband trying to help with cutting and bending also (I had called for his help when I started the concrete and realized I forgot the roll of chicken wire in the garage).
How to cast Gunnera leaf in concrete
Then I spread the concrete over top, using a small metal coffee can to scoop it from the wheelbarrow.

Challenge : Unhelpful help.  If you have any "helpers" nearby, best to communicate with them about what you are doing, and how they can help.  Sadly, when I didn't notice, my husband added more water to the wheelbarrow to "help" me.  But I wasn't using water at that point, I was using the Acryli Bond liquid.  And mixing the sand and cement first then adding liquid, was a better order (so the cement wouldn't clump up right away).  I should have just scooped as much water back out as possible, but I decided to try to add more cement and sand to it, to get the consistency right.  I ended up finishing up my whole bag of sand, adding more cement, and finally got it to a workable, although still too runny, state.  Then I added some more Acryli Bond also, to make sure it would be strong enough to hold the fine edges.

Here is the finished product, about 2 1/2 hours after I started out.  I finally managed to cover the chicken wire, and get a reasonable layer of concrete all around the leaf.  It kept running down into the valleys, and I needed to work it back up onto the ridges.  I think the finished thickness was somewhere between 1/2" to 1" thick, but since I used up the 80 lb bag of sand (other than the part I had laid underneath), and maybe 30 lb of cement, then I guess the whole thing will be over 100 lb to lift!!  Wow, I guess I thought about that, but the reality had not sunk in...  I will need help to lift & flip it over!
Gunnera covered in concrete
I understand the concrete cures better when kept moist, so I flipped up and laid plastic on it.  Today I visited it.  I have no idea how to tell if it's finished setting, so I may give it a couple of days.  I sprayed it with water, and left it sleeping inside its plastic blankets.
Gunnera leaf casting - curing
Who knows what monster - or artistic wonder - lies sleeping there?  I will know in a couple of days, when it is flipped over, and the leaf peeled off.

[Aug 31 : See result, which was not as I hoped].

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Colour Mosaic Monday : YELLOW

I may have some mixed feelings about the colour ORANGE from last week's theme, but I think it would be hard NOT to like this week's colour: YELLOW.  Yellow is so bright and cheery and is the colour of our life sustaining Sun.  Jen at unglazed may not have kicked off this week's theme yet, but I've got my yellow mosaic ready and I'm posting already on Sunday night (click any photo for a slightly larger view):
Yellow mosaic
While we're on the yellow theme, I would like to also post my answer to this Spring's dilemna about what to plant in the front yard, against the granite-faced porch.  I decided to plant sunflowers, and I like the way they turned out:
There are about 8 plants, but since I started them in pots, and transferred each one when it looked ready, starting from the left side, they ended up like a line of school kids, arranged from tallest to shortest.  Unfortunately, the faces ended up pretty small (perhaps since it has been so dry, and I didn't keep up with watering them enough), but they got the good height (the tallest is maybe 10') which I was hoping for.

I'm also pleased to participate with this week's Monday Mosaic at Little Red House.  Stop by this week for more creative and colourful (not just yellow) mosaics.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Garden Glimpses : Mid-August 2010

Before I show off photos from the garden, I was reminded yesterday about how important friends are.  Sometimes in the busy-ness of life, I tend to forget about the imporant people in my life.  I was driving home at 3:20pm to pick up the kids from camp at 4pm, which is normally about a 35 minute drive, across the Knight Street bridge from Richmond into Burnaby.  But as soon as I turned onto Knight Street, I knew something was wrong.  It was a parking lot.  I had a sinking feeling, that there was not even any way to turn off (without doing something illegal and dangerous), so I had to just inch along and hope for the best.  But within 15 minutes, I realized I had no chance to make it back in time to pick up the kids, so tried phoning my parents.  No answer.  So I phoned my friend Andrea. 

By the time I explained to her where they were, and she looked them up on Google Maps, and headed out, needing to pick up gas along the way, she arrived about 15 minutes after the camp official end time.  But still within an acceptable period of time.  Meanwhile, back on the bridge, I was just crawling along, approaching and crossing the bridge (which usually takes 10 minutes) in 1 hr 50 min.  So if Andrea hadn't saved me with her quick action, to pick up the kids and take them out for pizza at the Mall, I can't imagine what would have happened if I had left them there for almost 2 hours!  I didn't even have a phone number to call anyone at the Camp (which is an outdoor adventure/canoeing camp this week).  Thank you Andrea!

Tonight I picked some more tomatoes from the garden.  I started some from seeds I collected from a small container of specialty tomatoes (purple, striped, etc) which I bought at the grocery store last year.  I seem to remember a few plants of a small purple variety, but they must have been hybrids and not have come true from seed, since the tomatoes I got are considerably larger and less purple than I remember.  But they were still juicy and sweet.
The yellow pear tomatoes (bottom right) are one of my favourites for their unique look and mild flavour, and I grow them almost every year.  The turnip-shaped one on the bottom left must have been one from my specialty tomato purchase, although I don't remember it.  It is very pretty also.

The Italian Plum tree is doing very well again this year.  There are lots of small plums lying under the tree, as it goes through its self-pruning process, but it looks like there will still be lots of fruit for our family to sample also.
This is the first year I bought a number of flowers and seeds through mail order, and I have to say, the results have been quite disappointing.  I may expand on that in a later post.  On the other hand, I made some purchases in the Spring plant sales which have turned out very well.  I also picked up a small pack of bulbs (corms) of the crocosmia "Emily McKenzie" at our local garden shop, Gardenworks, and I was pleased to notice it blooming tonight.  Although maybe a bit deeper orange than I expected, it is certainly as beautiful as the photo portrayed, and I am surprised by the large size of the blooms!
This was a good find, and addition to my garden!  I may seek out some yellow crocosmia next year.  I already have the common orange one, and the tall red crocosmia "Lucifer".

Monday, August 16, 2010

Colour Mosaic Monday : ORANGE

I recently stumbled across Jen's 8 week Crayola Colour meme on her unglazed blog, and decided to participate.  I missed last week's theme of RED, but I am happy to join in for some Orange photos today.

The following is a mosaic of flowers from my garden, including daylilies, asiatic lilies, and martagon lilies (given to me by my Taiwanese friend Lily, whose mom grows them in her garden and eats the bulbs - myself, I find them far too pretty to think about eating them!):
Orange flower mosaic
The other orange mosaic is a miscellany of non-garden photos, including the kids wearing their bright orange vests on a canoe adventure last year across the Barnet Inlet to Indian Arm, a little pumpkin I prepared at Hallowe'en, some golden raspberries (okay, those are from my garden!), and a house sparrow (see the bottom of the "W") who found a great nest location in the safety of a Mark's Work WearHouse sign:
Orange photo mosaic
Today is also Mosaic Monday hosted by Mary at the Little Red House.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Peach Harvest and other Edibles

This is my peach harvest this year:

One delicious "Frost" peach is pretty good, considering we only bought the peach tree last year.  I am glad I picked the peach before the squirrel got to it.  When I cut it open, I found that the stone was split, and some sort of bug had gotten to the seed before I did, but that was fine, I just cut the stone away, and the peach was very nice.

After fighting the blackberry vines for some 6 years now, which invade from two sides of my yard, this year I finally had quite a few bunches of berries hanging over the fence into my yard.  I was looking forward to picking them when the neighbour at the back suddenly cut out all the vines.   On one hand, I was happy to see him finally cleaning up the yard (it is a rental house, and I never see anyone in the back yard except the owner a couple times per year).  But on the other hand, I was sad that his timing was off - if he had left them for another month, I would have picked quite a few berries.

But I am picking a few blackberries from the ravine side, behind my espalier trees.  I enjoyed some more berries tonight:

Blackberries over the fence

On the other side, where my upper neighbours have a 4' retaining wall with a 5' fence on top, I see that they also have a zucchini growing into my yard:
Zucchini vine over the fence
If they don't pull up the vine any time soon, I may end up with a small harvest of zucchinis:
Small zucchini
That would be a nice bonus.

On a sobering note, the virginia creeper on that wall tells me that Fall is just around the corner:
Virginia creeper in late summer
I'm not ready for Summer to end yet.  But I believe there is just over 3 weeks left before school starts again.  Yikes!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life's Peachy - I Have Much to Give Thanks For

I've been a bit discouraged lately.  Too much pressure at work.  Too much to do at home.  Not enough hours in the day.  A husband who is travelling every week now, and even leaving in the middle of our weekends.  More problems recently with my neck.

But when I stop to reflect, I have much to give thanks for.  In many ways, my life is even "peachy".  Despite some long hours, I have kept very healthy, as have my family.  My kids are wonderful, smart, happy, bring me much joy, and shower me with love.  My husband still shows that he loves me also.  Our business, although too hectic, is very successful.  My garden is full of wonderful surprises, and gives back much more than I give it.  We finally got the rain we had been waiting for, so as I dug around in the ground tonight, the soil was moist - a very refreshing change to the recent dryness.  Recently, I even received a miracle related my neck.

Speaking of peaches, though, I was showing my neighbours John and Sandy my garden this evening, and they convinced me to pick my single peach before the squirrel picks it, as he does with many of my apples and cherries and such.  Ha, maybe for a change he will be out there cursing tomorrow that I picked it before it he got to it!  Anyhow, the peach already had wonderful colour, so I took a chance that it is ripe enough to come inside and finish the process on the kitchen counter.

I like this photo of the peach from tonight, the onions are courtesy of the book "Play with Your Food" by Joost Elffers.  It is a wonderful book we bought long ago, which has provided amusement to us and the kids over the years.
Pretty peach
Here is the peach in hand, to give a sense of its size.  The lighting was not good, since it was already dark outside when I took the photo.
Pretty peach in hand
As for my neck, it was about a year ago that I first put it out of alignment, and after weeks of pain in my arm, found a chiro who was able to ease it back into alignment for me - see original post here Sadly, I have put it out again three more times over the past year.  The second time was in February, and I was reaching up and pruning my gigantic butterfly bush, trying not too look up more than necessary (since I had been warned that this could put it out again), and reaching up and pulling down those big branches.  I knew it right away.  Sadly, it required three visits to my chiro before the adjustment "held".  Each time, I went through the stiffness and soreness for a couple of days after the adjustment, only to be disappointed that the discomfort in my neck (it feels like burning at the base of my neck on the right side) and the pain in my arm was still there.

This most recent incident, I was doing some sort of reaching up and lifting something.  I can't even remember if it was in the garden, or pulling pots down from my pantry, or what.  There was no pain in the arm as such, just a funny aching feeling, but the familiar burning on the side of my neck.  I have been to two adjustments this time, and as the stiffness is wearing off, I'm trying to decide if I'm good now, but sadly I'm still feeling some funny sensation in the neck, so I may need to go back for another check and possible adjustment.  Which makes me appreciate even more the miraculous healing I received the last time my neck went "out".

It was the end of June, and I was packing and preparing for the trip to Mt. Hood.  My husband was arriving late that night, and we'd all be leaving the next morning.  So I was packing for the 3 of us, and trying to get as much laundry and such done so he'd be able to pack easily the next morning.  It was early evening when I realized that I had put my neck out.  It was unmistakable.  But even if I could phone for an appointment, I wouldn't have been able to get in at such a late hour, and we couldn't wait the next morning, since we had some 7 hours of driving ahead of us, and were determined to arrive in time for dinner.

So I laid myself down on my side, trying to remember the position my chiro had laid me in, a number of times already.  Then I prayed that the Lord would have mercy on me and heal me, so that I would be able to enjoy my family and going hiking, and all those good things which we had planned on our trip together.  Praise God, He did heal me.  Although not for any reasons or anything I did, but just because He chose to do so.  When I sat up, I was stiff, just like I am after an adjustment by the chiro.  But later that evening, all the pain and discomfort was completely gone, and I wasn't even sore for the next couple of days, as I usually am.  The adjustment worked, and wonderfully.

So a couple of weeks ago, when my neck went "out" again, I tried a number of times, lying down and praying for healing.  But each time, the answer I seemed to be getting was that I should get off my butt and phone my chiro for an appointment.  Which I did.  Funny enough, it is the repeated failed attempts to adjust it now which have made me more grateful for the healing which I did receive.  Just in case I believed it was so easy just to lie on my side, and the neck would go back "in" on its own.  Yeah, just in case.  God is good.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Late July Garden Photos - Overgrown Green Jungle?

Is it August already?  This summer is flying by so quickly.  Although we can't complain in Vancouver, we have had an amazing stretch of hot and dry weather.  So at least we have really had a summer!  Here are a few very recent photos of my garden.

Looking at this side, I wonder why the peach is referred to as a "fuzzy navel", since it sure looks more like a "fuzzy rear end" (click any image for a slightly larger view):
I can't help but visit my one little peach every time I go into the yard.  I keep taking photos, since I'm sure that the squirrel will pick it before it is fully ripe.  But even so I still hope that I will get a taste of it myself.

The grapes are looking very promising.  I'm hoping that I will have a small taste of all 3 varieties this year.  We'll see:
grapes on vine
We hosted a BBQ last weekend for some 60 - 80 people, and I got many inquiries and comments on my garden.  But my husband, who tries but can't seem to appreciate what I am creating back there, recently told me that I have too much green and not enough "flowers", and it has all grown too large.   Hmmm, what do you think?  This is a view from the 2nd floor balcony, looking into the back yard:
view of garden
It is true that I am crazy about foliage, and very strictly "don't do annuals", which tend to be the brightly coloured bloomers.  But I think there are lots of neat flowers and foliage when examined a bit closer.  Such as these pretty coneflowers from the "Cone Crazy" collection:
Cone Crazy coneflower
These Kwanzo daylilies form a pretty good patch of orange:
Kwanso daylily
As do these other unnamed daylilies from my friend, whose name is also Lily:
I have oriental lilies also, most of which are fragrant, too:
oriental lily
And yes, I like foliage, like the large rough hands of the gunnera reaching up to the sky in the corner of my yard:
This lacey japanese maple cascading softly over the hard concrete wall (with the spiky balls of globe thistle standing tall behind it):
japanese maple and echinops
And I have some garden decorations.  Not lots, but some well placed decorations such as this dragonfly, perched high above the bold leaves of the Rodgersia:
lush garden
I really like this corner of the garden.  It has a few colours too.  I see pink and white and yellow.  And lots of textures and shades of green.
garden with gunnera
And how about this view up the steps?  Even without counting the orange, blue, pink, white and purple flowers, there are reds and purples and silver-blues in the foliage too.
flower garden
 And then there are our newly-placed birdhouses, which are very colourful:
garden with birdhouse
 What do you think?  Do I have enough flowers and colours in my garden?  Or is it just a big overgrown jungle of too much green?
Blog Widget by LinkWithin