Mother Earth Living

Pebbled Pots and Planters

Add form and function to your garden by transforming ordinary containers into art.
By Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell
June/July 2002
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Photography by Gloria Nicol
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The art of pebble mosaics has a long history and some of its ancient methods and traditions are still used today. For example, contemporary pavements and terraces in Greece echo and imitate those of the ancient world; in fact the same kinds of smooth, uncut colored pebbles can still be found. Certain kinds of vernacular architecture are characterized by the type of stone or pebble used—the nearer the sea, the more likely you are to find sea-washed cobbles, while further inland local stones dug out of the earth, such as flints, may be used for their decorative qualities.

You can collect stones, pebbles, or shells from the countryside, but don’t take too many and be aware of the environmental effect. With the growing interest in garden design it is now possible to buy inexpensive bags of pebbles in many colors, sizes, textures, and forms. Contrast these properties to enhance your design—rough against smooth, dark against light, large against small. Shells also work beautifully with pebbles, as do broken china and flowerpots. Few tools are required and there are no specialized techniques. Simply follow the cement mix recipes exactly for the best results. For all outdoor projects, make sure you use exterior waterproof and frostproof cement or grout. This is generally of professional standard and the type used for tiling swimming pool interiors.

Striped planter

A simple, slightly tapered terra cotta pot has been transformed into a striking planter that could be the focal point of a hot and dry planting scheme. The clean lines of the black and white pebble stripes work particularly well with the strong shapes of sun-loving plants such as Agave, Echiveria, or Sedum, lending a Mediterranean feel to your garden. Try decorating other planters and pots in a similar way, perhaps using a slightly different pattern to make an interesting collection to liven up your sunny terrace or patio.

Waterproof and frostproof gray cement has been used for the black pebbles and white cement used for the white ones. Although a little more time-consuming, it is well worth using the two colors as it enhances the black and white contrast. The rim of the pot has been finished with a row of black pebbles that cleverly hide the terra cotta beneath.

Materials


• Tall terra cotta pot 14 inches high with a top diameter of 11 inches
• Piece of white chalk
• 250 to 300 black pebbles no more than 3/4 inch in diameter (quantity used depends on the size of the pebbles)
• 250 to 300 white pebbles of a similar size (quantity used depends on the size of the pebbles)
• Gray waterproof and frostproof cement-based adhesive
• White waterproof and frostproof cement-based adhesive
• Old pointed kitchen knife
• Containers for cement

1. Draw vertical chalk lines onto the pot, dividing it into 12 stripes each roughly 31/4 inches wide at the top. On a tapered pot the stripes will be slightly narrower at the base.

2. Mix the gray cement according to the manufacturer’s instructions, making sure it is not too runny. Apply a layer 1/2-inch thick within the chalk lines of one stripe and set in the black pebbles closely together. This will push the cement up between the pebbles and help to secure them. Leave room for a row of pebbles around the top rim. Cut off any excess cement with the knife. Leaving the next stripe clear, make two more black stripes.

Tip:Don’t allow the pebbles to extend beyond the base of the pots. Stop just short, or the bottom row of pebbles will be vulnerable to breaking off and the pot may not be very stable.

3. Mix and apply the white cement in the same way between the black stripes and set in the white pebbles. Clean up the joint between each contrasting stripe and continue until one side of the pot is covered. Allow the cement to harden overnight and repeat the same process on the remaining six stripes. It is best to work on the pot in two separate halves so as not to dislodge any pebbles (the pot needs to rest on its side for ease of working).

4. Stand the pot up on its base and stick a row of black pebbles around the upper rim, spreading the back of each pebble with the cement. When the cement starts to harden slightly, trim off any excess with the knife. Allow to harden thoroughly before planting.
 

Lattice planter

The simulated stone planter used in this project is readily available from garden centers and is perfectly suited as a planter for alpines. A terra cotta planter would work equally well. The simple lattice-work decoration is created by carefully cementing on buff-colored stone chips; these are inexpensive and are usually used for covering paths and driveways. Small round pebbles have been placed in the center of the lattice diamonds.

When filling the planter, remember not to plant anything that would smother the sides and cover up the decoration. Aromatic, low-growing thymes have been selected here. Place the finished planter in an accessible place in the garden, perhaps on a sunny wall at just the right height so that when you brush past the aromatic fragrance of thyme will be released into the summer air.

Materials


• Simulated stone planter (about 16- by 12-inches and 7 inches deep)
• Piece of white chalk
• Bag of stone chips (about 325)
• 6 small round pebbles
• Gray waterproof and frostproof cement-based adhesive
• Small pointed kitchen knife

1. Draw the lattice design onto the planter in chalk. There should be three diamonds on the front and back and one on each side. Mark the center of each diamond.
2. Select similarly sized stone chips. Mix the cement and apply a small quantity to the back of each stone. Stick the stones around the top and base of the planter on the front and along the two side edges.
3. Stick the stones in place for the latticework pattern on the front and the sides, ensuring that no cement protrudes from behind them.
4. Stick the round pebbles in the center of each diamond, then leave the cement to set overnight before repeating the design on the back of the planter. Allow the cement to harden thoroughly before planting.


Pebble basket

This charming little basket is made from flat, elongated pebbles which, when assembled into the basket shape, cleverly mimic the texture of weaving. It is designed to stay outside permanently and could contain a drought-tolerant plant such as Sedum. The basket needs to be planted in a modest, unshowy way so that the subtle colors of the chalky gray pebbles can be seen to advantage. When it rains, however, the colors alter, becoming richer and more differentiated, reminding us perhaps of where the pebbles were first found, on the shoreline or in the shallow waters of a gently lapping river.

The basket will need to be made over a couple of days in order to allow the main body to harden slightly before adding the arched handle. Although the cement adhesive used is particularly strong and is even frostrpoof, it is not advisable to lift the basket by the handle due to the sheer weight of the pebbles.

Materials



• Scissors
• 2 plastic flowerpots approximately 31/2 inches in diameter
• Pencil
• 10-inch square piece of 1/2-inch thick plywood
• Jigsaw
• 8 flat-headed tacks
• Hammer
• Plastic film
• Gray waterproof and frostproof cement-based adhesive
• 10-inch square piece of small-gauge chicken wire
• Wirecutters
• Approximately 220 flat gray pebbles 11/2 inches (longer than wider)
• Palette knife
• Container for cement
• Modeling tool
• Paintbrush
• Masking tape

1. Use the scissors to cut off the top 1 inch of the plastic pot. Squash the pot sides gently to create an oval ring. Place the ring on the plywood, trace the shape and cut out the wood using a jigsaw.
2. Push the plastic ring over the plywood oval and secure in place with the eight tacks around the edge of the plywood, equally spaced.
3. Place a piece of plastic film into the mold, letting the film drape over the side. Mix the cement adhesive to a creamy consistency and spread in the mold over the plastic film to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Cut the chicken wire to fit and push down into the cement.
4. Spread a small amount of adhesive onto the back of each pebble and set into place so that the whole base is covered with pebbles. Leave to set overnight in a cool dry place.
5. Remove the plastic ring and lift the cement base from the plywood. Carefully turn it over and remove the plastic film.
6. Start to build up the walls of the basket by sticking the first row of pebbles along the perimeter of the oval base. It is best to apply the cement adhesive directly to the back of the pebbles.
7. Build up each row in the same manner, placing the pebbles so that they straddle the ones directly underneath. This creates the outward-sloping basket shape. Tip: If you want to have plants in the basket, leave a couple of gaps between the lower stones for drainage.
8. After building about five rows, allow the cement to harden slightly by leaving it to stand for 30 minutes. If the sides seem unstable, prop them up by resting mugs against them. At this point you will need to clean up the excess cement before it hardens. Do this by pushing it in with the modeling tool and then removing the excess; a lightly dampened paintbrush will make a neat finish.
9. Apply two more layers of flat stones, finishing off with a row of round pebbles. Leave a space for a flat pebble in the center of each of the long sides (for the handle). Clean off the excess cement and leave to harden for one hour.
10. Cut two more rings of the same size from a plastic flowerpot and tape together to make the ring more rigid. Push the ring into the middle of the basket so that it partly protrudes, making a form for the handle. Carefully build up the handle with flat pebbles, adding slightly more cement between each one. Build up from both sides at the same time, adding the final pebble in the middle of the handle. Allow the cement to begin to harden and clean excess off carefully. The plastic can be carefully removed after a couple of hours and the inside of the handle cleaned.

Texts and images adapted with permission from Pebble Mosaics (Firefly, 2002).


 Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell is an award-winning artist who has appeared on radio and television and is the author of several craft books.
 Gloria Nicol is a professional photographer and writer who has collaborated with Schneebeli-Morrell on many projects.
 


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