If you’ve ever yearned for a costly piece of stone statuary or a hefty stone container, here’s a simple and inexpensive alternative: hypertufa

Offering a textured stone-like finish without the weight, hypertufa is created from a mixture of ingredients, such as Portland cement, sand, vermiculite, straw, soil, fibre mesh and peat moss. Variations on this recipe abound, depending on the finished project, which can range from garden statues to stepping stones. Here, we’ve come up with an easy recipe for a simple hypertufa container to hold your favourite springtime plants. What’s more, this project will allow you to spend a great family afternoon with the kids, who generally love to get into a hypertufa project!

Hypertufa can be moulded onto virtually any durable form, such as a tough plastic or stainless-steel bowl. For our hypertufa mix, we added peat moss to act as a binder and give the container added texture, strength and porosity. For smoother results, sift the peat moss through a one-centimetre wire mesh before mixing. The finished container can be used for many purposes.

To create a permanent planter, build in some drainage holes by inserting paper towel tubes into the bottom of the hypertufa as you build it. To give your containers an aged look, wash with a blended mixture of buttermilk and moss to encourage moss growth.

1. Find a spacious work area with easy access to a garden hose or large sink. Protect your work area with a sheet of plastic or a drop cloth. Set up your mould to receive the mix. Gather all the items you will need to build your container. Note that Portland cement contains hydrated lime, which is corrosive, so use eye protection, a face mask and rubber gloves. The dry stages of mixing should be done by an adult.

2. Using a trowel and your hands, mix evenly 1 part Portland cement, 1 part peat moss, 1 part perlite. Very slowly add water to the dry mix until it can be formed into a ball in your hand without squeezing out excess water. It should appear somewhat dry but still keep its shape. Mix thoroughly as you go, being careful not to add too much water. The mixture should adhere to the mould without sloughing off.

3. Cover the mould with a layer of plastic to ensure easy removal later. Over the plastic, place chicken wire that you have cut and fit to the form. This will give the finished piece tensile strength and a framework to accept the hypertufa. Apply the hypertufa mix to the covered mould by pressing a handful of mix at a time into the chicken wire. Spread it evenly to create a layer at least 2.5 centimetres thick.

4. Mix aquarium stone into equal parts premixed hypertufa. Add water to form a wet slurry. Rub this mixture onto the container surface. Let the container stand for about an hour. Then gently rub the stones with a wet rag to remove any cement residue from their surfaces. Seashells or other decorative objects can also be pressed into the surface of the bowl.

5. Leave your bowl to set overnight, then remove it from its mould. With a steel brush and pliers, smooth the edges of the container and reveal the texture of the perlite. The hypertufa will take two weeks to a month to cure, before it can be planted. Let your bowl dry in an area that has even temperature and humidity for best results. Horticulturist and hypertufa fan Barbra Fairclough welcomes questions about hypertufa at bcgardens@shaw.ca.