Hypertufa … A Mud-Pie Recipe That Is Used to Make All Sorts of Garden Art Objects
Hypertufa is perfect for making long lasting garden troughs (plant containers), fake rocks and boulders, stepping stones, wonderfully whimsical garden spheres and all sorts of decorative garden accents. Smooth it over a form or mold, let it properly cure (dry) and you’ll have a very durable DIY garden art treasure for years to come.
Exactly what is it? Hypertufa (pronounced hyper-toofa) is the term used for a type of artificial stone. It was first created in the mid 19th century by mixing sand, peat, various volcanic aggregates and cement. It’s relatively lightweight compared to stone or concrete and no matter how cold your winter temps may be, if properly cured, is freeze proof.
Hypertufa was concocted to be used as a substitute for the natural volcanic rock called Tufa. Tufa has been used for making Alpine style planting troughs. Unfortunately, it is not readily available anymore.
Most deposits have been depleted and it is increasingly difficult to find. I’ve read that there are only two deposits left in the United Kingdom, with a site in Wales having the best quality; there is some in East Germany; there are a few deposits left in the United States; and Canada has an excellent deposit located in Brisco, BC.
A Few Simple Ingredients and You’re On Your Way
There are different recipes you can mix up. It depends on what end result you’re desiring — lighter in weight? More durable? Want to carve it?
Basic hypertufa recipe ingredients are varying combinations of Portland cement, peat moss, sand, perlite, or vermiculite, and water.
Another big part of the whole process is … patience! Seems that many beginners are too impatient for their ‘tufa projects to set and cure, and end up destroying their first creation because it wasn’t ready to be unmolded yet.
The garden crafts and accessories that can be made with this remarkable mixture are almost limitless. To give you an idea, you can make: hypertufa troughs (planting containers), stepping stones, birdbaths, pedestals, columns, spheres, and garden lanterns. You can make ‘tufa castings of objects like giant plant leaves. You can free form sculpt it, hand mold it, sand-cast it, or mold it in a form. You can carve it, color it, or add mosaic pieces to it. It’s really quite incredibly versatile.
I’ve seen an entire pond completely encircled with hypertufa rocks along with a stacked rock waterfall! ( I wonder how many hours it took for that project—whew!!!) I’ve seen an entire rock wall constructed from it — it was amazing because it was so realistic — which stretched over 100 feet. I’ve seen photos of another adventurous project — a 30 foot long shallow stream with rocks on the side — all hypertufa and concreted together. I don’t think I could ever accomplish projects as large as these!
Start With Simple Projects and Move On From There
Start simple as this is really the best way to learn any technique, hypertufa too. I’m going to assume this is all new to you. One piece of advice I can give you is don’t make the mistake of taking on a project that is obviously difficult. Start with something simple, like a small garden trough. Maybe a stepping stone.
There is an art to making hypertufa but it’s not too much more involved than making a child’s mud-pie. Having your projects turn out a success means getting the feel of the recipe requirements, and the molding, curing and unmolding steps. To say it again … start out simple. It’s just like mixing and baking a cake. Most folks don’t attempt a complicated 7-tier cake recipe without first learning the basics by making a simple sheet cake!
The materials, mixing utensils and other tools needed are easily and affordably purchased or can be made, as in the case of the peat moss sieve many tufa-makers use. You probably have many of the items you’ll need around the house right now. For instance, molds can be as simple as a cardboard box, a styrofoam cooler, a waste paper basket, any kind of plastic bowl or container… you get the idea.
You can get as intricate and fancy as you wish with a hypertufa project. I do believe that the sky’s the limit when you start to think of all the garden crafts you can make with this incredibly versatile home-made mixture.
So … ready to give hypertufa a try?
I’ve got many free craft ideas for making great unique garden art using hypertufa. I’ve even got a beginner’s hypertufa recipe for those of you who might like to give it a test drive before really getting yourself involved in a more complicated project. I do hope you’ll investigate and try out a hypertufa project or two.