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I like competition and especially winning! This was my entry to the Quikcrete-1-Bag-Wonder Contest. ‘Take a bag of concrete and create something unique. Well, I’d say I should have won, but I guess ‘beer’ won out. I’ll get over it eventually as I can now enjoy my unique creation in my garden (which incidentally won a Trillium Garden award). You too can join the fun and make your own DIY Gigantic Concrete Leaf Orb.

The Concrete Mix:

As you know I love to use Rapidset Cementall but since it was a Quikcrete contest I needed to use their product; Fastset All-crete. (may be under a different name in the US) I know it can get confusing when choosing a mix so I’ve made a post here to help you.

Once you have used fast setting mixes it’s hard to go back… I know.

The Mold Material:

It’s old news that many use Rhubarb as a way to cast nice detailed leaves. I don’t have enough production of Rhubarb so I was looking for an alternative and came across one at the grocery store! ‘Artist brain’ is always looking at things in a different way. I’m the only ‘crazy’ looking at food for it’s great textural value.

Savoy Cabbage is perfect! It has such great pronounced texture and it is quite sturdy so it lasts well.

The Process:

Get Ready:

Gather your supplies

  • large inflatable form (24″ beach ball worked well)
  • bucket or bowl to stabilize the ball
  • Gloves and concrete dust rated mask
  • FastSet All-Crete
  • Fibreglass drywall Mesh
  • Mixing Vessel, spoon & water
  • Savoy Cabbage leaves
  • scissors

Step 1:

Blow up the ball and set it in an appropriate container that will keep it from rolling or toppling.

Mix up only small batches as this will set quite quickly. I use a container that is about 500ml (yoghurt). If you let it sit for about 30 seconds it stiffens nicely to make applying easier. Aim for a consistency that is quite pliable and plastic-like. You will get the hang of the consistency after a couple mixes, don’t worry.

The Forming:

To ensure strength it is key to have good over lap of the shapes and reinforcement material. The first layer is thin leaf shapes that join allowing the mesh strips to be layered over.

Make sure that you have good connection to the shapes. I work form the top middle outward.

Since the Cabbage leaves are quite large they will probably need trimming to shapes that match roughy the size you intend to use on the orb. You can use larger if you like as they tend to have some curvature as well. If they are too stiff, you could leave them to wilt a bit in the sun or zap in the microwave for a bit.

You are using the underside where the veins are. Put some mix on the shape replicating the size that you have on the orbs.

Quickly but gently ‘slap’ the leaf onto the one on the ball. Wriggle it to make good contact with the concrete. You can peek under to see how the shapes are joining and adjust if needed.

You can be fussy or more ‘rustic’ if you like The overall charm is the leaf textures anyways!

Around & around:

I work outward from the middle of the top and slightly rotate the ball to work outwards when it is hard enough. Keep the idea of gravity in mind. Do leave the valve opening accessible as well. The mesh also helps any shapes from sliding.

Since this mix sets so quickly I found that the leaves could easily be pulled off in a short time (will depend on your conditions like temperature etc) I even discovered that the cabbage leaves are so hardy that they will last through repeated use!

Wonderful Texture! If you have any concern that there are some weak spots where overlap did not occur that much you can add a leaf on top extra assurance. If it is really hot misting with water will help slow the curing a bit.

Do let the final shape cure well. I’d wait 24 hours to be sure. Open the valve and start to deflate the ball until it is small enough to pull out.

Any excess mesh can be cut or singed off with a mini torch as I did with these orbs.

The wonderful thing about these orbs is that they are light enough to carry! That one is about 25″ across and I can hold it no problem. It has such interesting shapes I’m hoping to install lights as well for great night lighting effects.

As a garden designer I believe that the ornaments should look natural in the garden not ‘kitschy’. That’s why the leaves work so great. They also echo the stepping stones that I have a ‘million’ of!

I am so delighted with this orb, I think it’s my favourite of all the orbs (but who knows) And I keep getting bigger! Bring on the exercise ball…

Garden delight… and wait til the snow in winter. Thanks for joining me in my garden and my concrete obsession! Go beautify your space!

I'm an artist & I make things... all kinds of things.

This Post Has 83 Comments

  1. Barb-
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write these instructions! I absolutely love all of your work and will definitely attempt this soon as it is spectacular!

      1. I think all the extra pictures and info help a lot I like that the more pictures and for the better I think great job love it

      2. Never too many pictures or words! Some of us are visual learners and some are auditory learners. I, for one, am very visual. Sure I could read ( and 1. 2. 3… steps are best) but I catch on much quicker with pics or hands on. I can’t wait to try a small version of this as a first project! I have a project in mind that I need lots of practice on. Thanks, Barb!

      3. This orb was not only different but a wonderful addition to a garden. My question is, will it last throughout a Michigan winter?

      1. Thank you for this great idea! I attempted last summer without success. This may be obvious to others, but am I to understand that there are two layers of concerte for every leaf? One that sits on the ball, with mesh on top, and one covering that; with the leaf print on its outer surface?
        Thanks again! I’m hoping yo give this another try.

        1. Yes, that way the mesh is not visible through the holes. The key is having good connection/overlap of each leaf so that it gives supporting structure. Perhaps, start with a smaller version. Also, make sure to have a high-strength fast setting concrete mix. Also, if there is some curing make sure to dampen the cured concrete to make sure it doesn’t ‘steal’ the moisture from the ‘fresh’ concrete. Hope that helps!

    1. I think concrete is considered somewhat of a ‘man’s world’! We need to start prettying up the ‘concrete box’ look! Onwards and upwards!

      1. I adore this! We recently overhauled our ENTIRE yard – tree removal, new fence, retaining wall – and planted over 150 plants!

        Now I’m looking for ways to personalize the space and make it even more beautiful and a bit unexpected!

        Thanks for the beautiful work and the inspiration!

        1. Barb,I have learned so much from your site and videos. Thank you !
          I have just finished several cement orbs (11 to be exact) for the yard, but after a long week of curing and drying several are showing hairline cracks all over the surface
          How can I cover these up and prevent from happening again. Would I use a resurfacer or another coat of cement. Your help is appreciated

          1. Oh dear, maybe I need to do a troubleshoot post. Are they curing too fast? If it’s hot/dry that might be the problem, Also what mix are you using? Some may a higher shrinkage factor and if they are on the outside of a form that might be an issue. I like to mist/spry mine as they cure as concrete loves moisture. Good luck

  2. This looks SO cool! Thanks for sharing and the great photos! I can see how this could become additive! I will bet that next you can make something even bigger -a leaf house-maybe using chicken wire (?) Love your creative brain! And of course I am sharing 🙂

      1. I absolutely adore this. I awoke in the morning and this was on my screen. Must have pushed some buttons in my sleep that popped it onto my screen (phone). What a happy surprise. I want to make my own fountain for my garden. If I figure out the pumps and lights I think this orb could be the top of the fountain. And another orb for my sister’s garden as a gift! Love this.

  3. nice to see your smiling face – love that these aren’t too heavy to carry around to different locations and how they add another texture along with your other ones in the garden!

    1. No, don’t wait til dry. It will set slightly but add second layer as soon as you can. I’ll edit. If you are a bit nervous for this as a first concrete project you may try these stepping stones first. Or read the Tips and Tricks postMy smaller version may also be a good start.

      I hate it when things don’t work so if I have doubt I do tiny tests. Cast a couple leaves and weight an hour to see how they worked out and how strong they are… Have fun!

  4. Absolutely love your Artist Eye, and Thinker. One of these days I will make the time to play with concrete and thanks to you there is a growing list of projects to attempt. Thank you for your courage to experiment and your generosity to share your discoveries and processes.

    1. Oh ya, I have the courage to try all kinds of things! I learnt that from a fabulous mother who always said if you put your mind to it you CAN do it. Children absorb what they see so I see the drive in my daughter too! Cheers!

  5. I’m not sure I understand the mesh. Is it put on the underside of each leaf shape,? Is it put on the top of each shape and pressed into the concrete by the Savoy leaf? Or??? This is a beautiful project—you are, indeed, an artist.

    1. The mesh is imbedded by being applied above the first layer and then the second layer with the leaf is applied on top. Try to aim for about 3/8″ or so thickness. You could go thicker for assurance it will just add some weight. Have fun!

  6. Beautiful! I am in awe of the way your mind works. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas.

  7. I love you……and your work!!! So inspirational to me……..I too love the sphere and your ideas really motivate to “branch ( leaf didn’t work:)) out on trying.
    Thank you so much for sharing your gift!!

    1. I find it funny sometimes how some ideas just come into my mind! I’ve had to now start a book to keep them documented. Now on to more making…

  8. I can hardly wait to try this absolutely wonderful idea.. My question is..
    . do you have to treat the beach ball in any way or does it just slip off because it is plastic? Thank you.

  9. I love everything that I see that you have made out of concrete. You should have won, the Leaf Orbs are so beautiful as is also the rest time
    Of your beautiful artwork. . So far my big projects have been good except when I remove the molds, they crumble. Last night I even cried over what I hoped to be the top of. A bird bath. I realize now it has been the wrong cement. Tonight I have fast setting cement, not sure it’s the same as yours and I hope to make some pots. Thanks so much for all the instructions and guidance. I’m not going to give up. I’m in Tennessee and will find the same cement eventually. I love your artworks, it is a huge inspiration to me. Thanks again. Jance

    1. Thanks! I know that the RapidSet Cementall is made in the US so you may find it. I use the Quikrete Sand Topping mix for my Stepping stones and have made a curved version to use as a birdbath. It will need a good 24 hours of warm weather to unmold. If not set wait longer and do keep it hydrated. See here for some mix options. I do read the specs on the multiple concrete mixes and check for recommended thickness and use. I’m pretty sure each manufacturer has a similar product for all the uses. Happy Concreting!

  10. Thank you ever so much for your inspirational, creative and brilliant ideas. Your posts are not to long. I think they are considerate and generous.

    1. I think I just added the concrete since there was already a criss-cross of the mesh. When in doubt you can layer in a mesh. All my quick set sculptures have held up really well.

  11. Hi I too love your concrete orbs, I’m moving to a bungalow with a garden (hurrah) and after seeing this great idea I’m going to ask for a couple of large water lily leaves from someone I know with a very large pond. I’ll then make your leaf orbs to go beside my own small wildlife pond. I’ll have some with lights in and some with smaller gaps in the top that wildlife could use as a home.
    I’m disabled so delighted that these are easy to carry, will be making stepping stones too and thinking about an orb variation for my cat’s enclosure. For sunning on and hiding in.
    I do pottery sculpture and am now thinking of ways to do some of that in concrete 🙂 I made a bowl out of cabbage leaves and a fruit bowl from interlocking autumn leaves

  12. Still not understanding when the fiberglass mesh tape is applied. Your work is wonderful and I would like to try your method for myself.

    1. The mesh is meant to reinforce the connection between the leaves, so the most efficient is to put it on after a thin first layer of concrete. It will then be imbedded. It can also be the first layer but may be more visible on the inside. It’s similar to the lacy leaves Good luck!

  13. Barb…quick question….have you ever used the fibers in the cement mix to strengthen it, instead of the drywall tape? When we had some cement pads installed, that’s what the cement men used….its not cheap but a little goes a long way!

    Thanks for all your tutorials …they are fantastic!!

    1. Yes, I have! I’ve been working through the one bag I bought for a long time. I have some tips in this post When working with shapes that are cast I prefer not to use it as then I need to mix it in each time and it can interfere with the ‘print’. But you can use whatever works for you! Good luck!

  14. I just discovered the posting on candle orb with metallic painted interior so found my answer – so nevermind!

  15. I absolutely love this leaf orb!! Thank you so much for the instructions.
    You’re right, you should have won the contest.

    1. Awe, thanks! I love it nonetheless. Hmmm, maybe there is another this year… stay tuned. Ideas are always in that brain of mine, time to make is precious!

  16. Hey, Barb,
    Am always amazed by your work, especially the chair with vines. It is as wild as my world. Couldn’t you imagine a gathering place in the woods with a collection of such thrones? Even by moonlight.
    I am afraid to open “your” latest post. Instead of being sent from “made by Barb”, it just says “Barb”. What’s up? Is this your new “thing”, or a dangerous copy-cat? Won’t open any of your posts until I hear from you. It must take you ages to reply to everyone. Thanks.

  17. Can you use the Portland Cement for all your concrete globes that are made . Just wondering because a different one is used for a few of the ones I have seen

  18. Just came across your site, love your work. Avid gardener looking to add some features to my yard without looking “commercial”. Thanks for the inspiring how to’s.

  19. Hi Barb, My first attempt at concrete work was a large leaf platter. I used Shapecrete by Sakcrete. I was really pleased with the result but it cracked and broke down the center vein when I jiggled it to seat it in the landscape mulch. I know I should have used some chicken wire to strengthen it but I don’t have the strength in my hands to cut it and I didn’t have help that day. My question is can this be repaired and if so, how?

    1. Oh, yes I can imagine this happening as te centre vein is so deep it needs to be thicker there. I would make a nice spot in a wet sand pile for the leaf shape to sit (like a mold) and line with some thin plastic. Test sitting the leaf halves in it. Dampen the concrete leaf and make a bed layer of Rapidset cementall mix (slightly moldable). Carefully sit the halves into/onto it. Don’t cure too fast. You can add some fibreglass mesh tape if it’s thin. Sand-topping mix will also work but need to be thicker. That’s what I use to make my leaves Shapecrete looks like fun but I want to make more and it’s pricey! So I use the pre-made mixes! Hope that helps!

  20. Merci beaucoup!!!
    Grace à vous j’ai plein de projets pour amuser mon été… et si je me laisse un peu trop aller, mon jardin risque fort de ressembler au “palais du facteur cheval”… Lol !
    Merci encore, bonne année et plein de bonnes idées à nous partager, merci, merci, merci…

    1. “Thank you so much!!!
      Thanks to you I have lots of plans to amuse my summer … and if I let myself go a little too much, my garden is likely to resemble the “palace of the horse factor” … Lol!
      Thank you again, happy new year and lots of good ideas to share with us, thank you, thank you, thank you…”

      So much fun!

  21. Wow. This is what I have wanted to make for ages and you have done it so beautifully. I am all fired up to make presents for my friends. I’ve even got the cabbage. My stepping stones are rhubarb but the savoy looks better. A lovely social distancing friendly present to give. You are a 🌟 Thanks

  22. I’m actually working on doing my first Orb.
    It’s coming along pretty well. I did have trouble with a section that I had just put on the ball. It started to slowly slide down the side 😩
    I carefully slid the two leaves back up, I grabbed a bit of my mix and applied some to the other leaves to keep it from sliding again.
    Just curious, how much does the orb weigh?
    Also, the fiberglass mesh I bought has sticky on one side, do,you think it would work if I just stuck the mesh to the ball and then just put the one leaf on instead of double layering?

    Thanks so much
    Sandra Hampton

    1. It’s fun isn’t it!!! Yes, I have had that happen, and sometimes have to shift the ‘ball’ so it’s balanced. The tape is a bit sticky and I had stuck it to the ball, but afterward I did not like seeing it through the holes. So that’s why I do it… But there are no rules; if it works! Just make sure you have good ‘connections’ for strength! I am able to carry it easily. ‘If’ you feel there is a weak spot, you can dampen it and add another ‘joiner’ leaf. Good luck!

  23. Dear Barb, I‘m from Germany and our winters are sometimes really cold with lots of snow. What about your experiences with concrete orbs during these times? Can I leave them in the garden?
    Thanx for all your inspiring ideas. I do love my garden and every kind of arts!

  24. My father has been doing concret project for years, and I have taken an interest. The projects you have done are alot of fun, and I am still experimenting with leaves and colour. The problem is that when I go for a walk I am looking for shapes textures and colours.

    1. Oh, I know the feeling! I also eco print with leaves so I am always looking, even in the grocery store (cabbage) Think outside the box… Happy concreting!

  25. Hi Barb, Thanks for putting this out. Question..I can’t seem to track down the Quikcrete
    ‘fastset mix. ( i our local Home Depot here in Prince George, B.C.) they did not have any.
    They do have a QUIKWALL SURFACE BONDING CEMENT, which i have used before,,lots of small fibres in the mix……..its very strong but would take a longer time to set up. I also would use the drywall’ mess with it…$22 a bag.,,think i’ll try this with this mix.

  26. Your page is a terrible influence on me. I got obsessed with the idea of these a while back, and now I’m finally making them, and my basement is full of buckets of different kinds of cement. I have multiple forms of different sizes and shapes, and my yoga ball has my second leaf orb attempt curing on it now. I’m spending hours down there sifting my portland cement, playing it like clay, making big dusty messes… my roommate wants to shake me, I’m sure, but it’s just so… meditative… and I get cool things I can’t buy.

    I have been using poly felt mattress pads (bought a bunch at $1 each from a hotel clearance) to make my planters and my porch ghoul, and now I’m using strips soaked in cement. It is thick, and absorbs a lot of cement, is slightly stiffish as apposed to polarfleece so it holds some shape, and has almost no texture of it’s own so I get a smoother finish.
    I also put a couple pounds of cheap sand in my yoga ball, which helps it stay where I put it and not roll around as much when I’m putting the layers of cement soaked fabric on it.

    Thank you so much for your awesome page, with all the awesome info. There are a ton of pages out there that offer ‘tutorials’ that are basically just ‘get some cement, whatever you want, and some stuff to put it on, and mix it until it feels right’ and so on, with no details to guide the reader. Your cement comparison page was a godsend, and your fabric comparison page kept me from making too many mistakes, wasting too much of my supplies and money on failed attempts.

    1. Wow, that’s what I like to hear! So many sites only fluff over a one-time try at a media. I learn by doing and testing so it takes a long time to get to the point of sharing. BUT, please be safe and wear a dust mask!!! You need to protect your lungs and use a proper mask for concrete dust. Otherwise, I’m glad to inspire! Concrete on…

    1. Pretty well, the mesh assures a better connection between the leaves. Do make sure to use a very strong mix, (Rapidset Cementall) as ordinary concrete mixes will not cure fast or strong enough

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