Lately I’ve been crafting my own succulent bowls from concrete and recycled materials. I’d been trying to come up with a way to keep gardening throughout the winter without spending a lot of money. I also wanted my indoor garden to look good.
My indoor garden needed to be calming. I wanted it to look like a spa or coffee shop, not like a hodge-podge of recyclables (like last winter). Don’t get me wrong, I love repurposing containers or recycling them rather than throwing them out, but I just don’t love the look of yogurt containers with plants coming out of them. I need boring, grey, uniformity. It calms me.
I also wanted to create something durable from raw materials. Concrete is one material I have experience with, so I started there.
Throughout the summer I made different batches of bowls, updating and refining my process. There is something calming about sticking with something, iterating and improving as you go, to slowly perfect it as a craft.
My Past Life as a Construction Concrete Tester
When I was 20, I became a certified concrete tester, working on heavy civil construction projects up north. It was a rough job. Concrete is tough to work with, heavy, messy, and generally a bother in large quantities. I haven’t tested concrete for a living since I graduated from University, but the experience did teach me a lot about working with it.
I learned that you could make unexpected goods from concrete, as long as you had the form worked out and had considered scale and reinforcement. Our civil engineering class made a concrete toboggan to compete against other universities, and we even had a giant concrete logo for our school.
So, concrete seemed like a natural starting point for me when I thought about making my own plant containers. I did think about buying containers, but I wanted them to be slightly different from one another to complement the different plants I grow. And it’s also just satisfying to try making things rather than buying them.
My Current Method of Making Concrete Succulent Bowls
I’m still in the testing phase in my little bowl factory, so I haven’t worked out the finer details of the steps yet. I’m finding that the raw simple lines are what makes them beautiful. Each bowl is different, as I’ve been using many different forms and testing out mix recipes.
The first step I take is to find used plastic bowls at the thrift store or in the recycling bin. I spray the bowls with oil, mix up a batch of concrete, and pour the concrete in the larger bowl. Once the bowl is half full, I place the smaller bowl into the larger bowl, squishing the concrete. Rocks inside the smaller bowl weigh it down, keeping it in place. I place the bowl on a flat surface, leaving the concrete to cure. The forms are peeled a week later.
There are a few more improvements I’d like to make. I need to do some more experimenting with my concrete recipe. It would also be nice to have a moist-curing bath (a.k.a. a giant tub of water) set up outside.
I’d like to finalize both a heavy and a lightweight concrete mix design. Right now the bowls have rough rims, due to the perlite and recycled concrete I’m using as aggregate. If I used a different mix, without perlite or recycled concrete, I could get a nice flat top.
I actually do kind of like the raw top edge though. To me it is more real. Concrete is full of chunks, and it’s nice to see that as a raw edge. I am also liking the lightweight feature of the bowls right now.
Future as a Maker?
Making durable goods from raw materials sure is fun. I feel pretty witchy mixing up a big batch of concrete. There’s something about stirring up a concrete batch outdoors that makes me feel like a witch stirring a cauldron. Perfect for halloween! Witchy-ness also seems to be on-trend right now, with all of the crystals and tarot cards flooding Instagram. I guess that mixing concrete is my own unique witchy-ness this season.
At this point, I’ve been making my concrete succulent bowls purely for the fun of it. They’re not expensive to make, and I think they’ll be lovely unique gifts.
I may end up opening a little web store to sell these bowls one day. It would be interesting to learn about how online sales work, and it would be great to get some experience making income outside of the corporate world. Until then, however, I’ll keep on testing and mixing up witchy batches of concrete in the backyard! (UPDATE – I did end up selling a few bowls at a local craft sale, but decided that I’m not really cut out to be a maker…and that is ok!).
What’s your favourite crafty hobby? Do you also have a collection of wintertime house-plants? Share your stories in the comments below!