Stone trough for £3!
Last week, I whittled together this impressive hypertufa stone-effect trough (right). It cost me just £3 to make one and this example is not for sale! After just one week, the my trough looks very much like real stone. I can’t wait until it is populated with lichen and moss.
I’m not a stonemason, but working with hypertufa is straight forward. It’s so easy to create breathtaking rustic garden features that will improve with age.
Hypertufa recipe without peat
Hypertufa is basically an anthropic rock, made of equal parts of cement, sharp-sand and compost or coconut fibre (coir). See fig 1. Cement isn’t environmentally friendly. To reduce my carbon footprint I tend to use left ever cement from other projects. On the bright side, I use a sustainable media called coir instead of peat. Coir is a natural fibre, extracted from the husk of coconut.
How to build a realistic stone trough
A real stone trough can be a very expensive item. Expect to pay anywhere between £150-£300, even for a small one like this. To construct using hypertufa, costs about £3 per unit (or £10 set-up for a one-off). 5% of the cost of a real stone trough!
Please make sure you have the following items before your start your mix:
- 1 large mixing bucket
- 1 pair of rubber gloves
- 1 garden trowel
- 1 part sharp, gritty sand (or perlite if you want a lighter mix)
- 1 part cement
- 1 part coconut fibre (coir).
- 1 good sized cardboard box (a great hypertufa mould!)
- 1 slightly smaller cardboard box
- Bricks for supporting box sides
- A flexible butter knife for sculpting
- A frost free environment!
Constructing the trough
- Mix equal parts of sand, fresh cement, and coir/spent compost together, adding water until your mixture is of the consistency of porridge.
- Pour some of the mixture 2 inches deep into the bottom of the larger cardboard box and spread evenly. Press in a few small and well-placed tubes for drainage holes – pieces of old broom-handle are perfect for the job.
- Allow the hypertufa mixture to partially set (5 hours).
- Place the smaller box inside the larger box, on top and in the centre of the base mixture (fig 2). Ensure that there is an equal gap between the inner and outer boxes. At this point, it’s a good idea to remove the drainage plugs. They may prove difficult to extract later once the cement has set.
- Pour in the rest of the mixture, filling the gaps until you have achieved the desired height. Ensure that the mixture is reasonably level.
- At this point, the cardboard will start to bulge a little. Don’t worry, as this adds to the stone-like effect. You can prevent excessive bulging by supporting the sides and insides with bricks (fig 3).
- After 24 hours (36 in colder conditions), peel away the cardboard if it is still in place (fig 4). Don’t attempt to move your hypertufa trough as it will be quite fragile.
- Take a butter knife and gently smooth the edges down a little and sculpt your trough into the desired effect (fig 5). For extra realism, gently jab to create small linear grooves to add a chiselled effect.
- Allow to dry for a week. It is recommended that you leave your trough empty for a few months. Let the rain wash away the alkaline compounds in the cement, which otherwise may cause your plants to suffer.
I found that using coconut fibre is good because not only is it inexpensive, it looks great and the small fibres add to the overall strength of the trough.
If you are making a very large hypertufa stone trough, then I’d recommend reinforcing it with chicken wire and/or steel rods to give it extra strength and flexibility.
Remember, make sure that you remove the drainage plugs early on in the process. I didn’t and I had to drill them out later! I really don’t know why I opted to use square plugs in this instance!
If you want to accelerate the ageing process, try painting your hypertufa trough with natural yogurt or rice water in to encourage lichen and moss growth.
Other Hypertufa projects
There are so many uses for hypertufa . I have used this building material to create millstones, name plaques, fake rocks and even hypertufa stepping stones!
If you are embarking on an amazing hypertufa project, let me know about it by submitting a comment! You may have an alternative mix for us to consider. New ideas and hypertufa recipes are always welcome.
For more information on the subject of hypertufa, visit thehypertufagardener.