On a summer trek to the woods of Northern Ontario, motoring up Highway 11, over the precambrian granite shield, we can sense how long the winters drag on. Just look at the flood of crafts and doodads for sale in the front yards of those determined households which are buried in the snow and dark for 6 months.
But having an entertaining hobby is the first defense against going crazy and running out on the ice naked in February. Maybe January. Ask the locals.
From the first snowflake in October, to the last icicle dropping from the roof in May, hands and minds are busy sawing, cutting, weaving, hammering, gluing through the night, and day, building up an inventory of items for passers-by to snap up in July. And there they are: windmills, concrete statuary, chain-saw-sculpted grizzly bears, log benches, gnomes, rockers, adirondack chairs, silhouettes, trellises, all for sale.
We passed a front yard covered in aviary merchandise under a sign that read: “Bird Bath and Beyond”. Envision an over-crowded trailer park for birds, and you get the picture. Further imagine that this yard has a border collie just to steer off the spring flocks looking for a place to nest.
Of course, there is great satisfaction in building clever objects out of native materials. And you don’t have to live in the sub-arctic to take on an insanity-diverting hobby.
With that in mind, I am sharing with you my afternoon’s delight in making garden stepping stones.
If you want an inviting pathway through your garden, these concrete leaves are a sure thing. What’s more, they are uniquely shaped, easy to make, and cost about a dollar each.
The primary design is the leaf off of a burdock weed. You see these bushy plants everywhere, and they are best known, and disliked, for their insidious burrs which sprout in the fall, usually ending up embedded in your kid’s sweater. But catch them in early June, and you have a design source for your stepping stones.
Get a 50# bag of ready-mixed concrete. It costs about $8.00. Find a flat surface, about as big as the kitchen table. Avoid doing this inside your home, unless you lay down a shower curtain or drop sheet first. Don’t choose the kitchen table. You need a garden trowel. And a bucket to mix the concrete. Maybe a wheelbarrow. Do not consider a child’s swimming pool.
Obtain about 7-8 burdock leaves. Big ones. Lay them on the flat surface, vein side up, topside down. Spray a little PAM on them. Mix up the concrete, and when it is a heavy mush, ladle it onto the leaves, about 1-1/2″ thick. Smear the concrete towards the edges with the trowel, maintaining the thickness. Follow the shape of the leaf. Use the trowel to clean up the edges so that they are smooth, with no gravel blobbing out. Let the concrete set over night. Sprinkle water on it the next day to help it harden.
96 hours will deliver indestructible concrete that would support your neighbor’s pet holstein grazing on your petunias.
When the concrete is cured, lift up the stone, and peel off the leaf. Voila! Stepping stone!
And by the way, you now have a new trade, and are ready to live in the snowy dark for 6 months of the year.
Thanks to Mary Shelley who started me on this, long ago. Feel free to share!