CACTUS CLAY GARDEN
Topped with white sand, these white-on-white creations make an elegant winter windowsill garden. This project uses bake-at-home polymer clay to make small, handformed vessels for cacti. Once the pots were shaped, I used materials like linen, burlap, plastic, and crumpled paper to make impressions along the sides of the pots, giving each its own texture and pattern. The quirky, individual style of the pots makes them the perfect handcrafted gift.
I selected cactus plants that had a mostly white color scheme. If you are in a climate where temperatures drop at night, be sure to move the plants away from the window until the sun has risen and the window has warmed up. You could also use a collection of haworthia and gasteria or ferns. If you do use ferns don’t display them on a windowsill—ferns burn in direct sun. Use caution when you’re working with cacti—they shouldn’t be handled without protective gloves, or use tweezers or folded paper to hold them.
1 pound of oven-bake polymer clay (A)
Four 2- to 4-inch cacti (B)
Succulent and cactus soil mix (C)
- White aquarium sand (D)
Parchment paper or a nonstick oven mat (E)
Rolling pin (F)
Two 3/16– or ¼-inch strips of bass or balsa
Smoothing tool (such as a clay modeling tool) (H)
Materials for printing patterns and texture,
such as burlap mesh, fabric, paper, plastic flowers, or other materials (I)
Brass tube with a ¼-inch diameter (J)
Baking sheet (K)
Gloves, large tweezers (L), or a folded sheet of
paper (for handling the cacti)
Before beginning to work with the clay, wash your hands thoroughly. Pull off a chunk of clay, about 4 oz. per pot, and knead the chunk into a smooth ball. The pots shown in this project are between 2 and 4 inches tall, but if you like you can make them taller by using more clay.
Lay the parchment paper or oven matt on the work surface and place one balsa strip on each side. You’ll use the balsa strips to rest the rolling pin on to create an even layer of clay.
Use the rolling pin to roll out the clay into a rough circle that’s between ⅛ and ¼ inch thick. If you’d like the pot to have a sturdier upright structure, then roll the clay to ¼ inch thick.
Pull the edges of the circle of clay up and gently begin to form it into a pot like shape. Pinch together the overlapping folds and smooth the folds together with your fingers or a smoothing tool. If you’d like the pot to have a smooth rim, use a utility knife to slice off any ragged edges. While you’re smoothing the folds be sure to brace the other side of the wall with your fingers so that you don’t rip or stretch the clay.
Place the material you wish to use to imprint a pattern on the side of the pot on the parchment paper. (In this photo, I’m using burlap mesh.) Holding the pot from the inside, press the outside of the pot into the material. Repeat around the outside of the whole pot. You can cover the pot completely with imprints or space them apart.
When you have formed a shape you are happy with and applied the pattern, place the pot back on the sheet of parchment paper and level the base if it’s uneven. Using the brass tube, poke a drainage hole in the base of the pot. Line a baking sheet with another piece of parchment paper, place the pot on the baking sheet, and bake as instructed on the polymer clay package.
Once the clay pot has cooled place a layer of cactus soil in the bottom of the pot.
Top dress the soil with white sand.
Wearing gloves or using a pair of tweezers or a folded piece of paper wrapped around the cactus, place the cactus in the pot. Fill in the sides with additional soil if needed to fill the container.
It is easy to overwater cacti, so be sure the plants need water before you water them. The best way to know when your plant needs water is to familiarize yourself with how heavy a just-watered plant feels versus a dry plant. The dry plant will weigh considerably less. When you do water make sure you water well. Less frequent, but more thorough waterings are better for the plant. Allow the plants to dry out between waterings. When plants are growing and blooming they need more water, but during colder months they need very little water.
Give your cacti the sunniest window you have. Indoors, they need at least four to six hours of strong light daily. You will know your plants are not getting adequate light if they begin to stretch toward the light.
Use a diluted liquid fertilizer formulated for cacti and succulents once or twice a year during the growing season (spring and summer).
Now it’s your turn to get your hands dirty!
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