By Judy Allen
A visiting three-year-old was bored with adult conversation. While his mom and I strolled toward the garden, he spotted our favorite stepping stone pathway, leading from our back door to the drive, that holds impressions of our young son’s pair of boots, growing in size as they leave the house. Suddenly the pathway became a playground as he jumped from stone to stone and back again with delight.
Bring movement, art, and lasting memories to your garden by making your own stepping stones. For a fraction of the cost of craft store kits, stepping stones can be constructed in just a few hours. Materials are readily available or collectible from around the house—a good time to clean out that overflowing craft drawer! The process is straightforward and even preschoolers can participate.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED: (makes three stepping stones) Wheelbarrow Hoe and shovel Hose or other water source (a small bucket or watering can works well for younger children) Rubber garden gloves (optional) Motor oil (used oil works fine) Cheap paintbrush Plywood or cardboard (to place underneath molds) Rags Towels and plastic sheeting Trowel 80-lb bag of pre-mix concrete 3 forms for molds
Making the Forms: Mold forms should be a minimum of 2 inches thick. Stepping stones are typically 12 to 18 inches wide. Use any container that fits these dimensions, like old plastic tubs or aluminum pans. To make my forms, I purchased 4-inch-wide landscape edging, cut it into 55 to 60-inch lengths, formed each length into a circle, and held the circles together with duct tape.
Decorations to imbed: Here’s where you can utilize treasures from nature, vacations, or that old overflowing craft drawer—your imagination is the limit. Try seashells, sea glass, marbles, polished pebbles, or broken dishes and pottery. Make impressions with old baby boots, hand prints, foot prints (human or canine), leaves or flowers, or a written message.
Getting Started: For optimum drying and to diminish cracking, choose a day to make your stepping stones when the temperature is 60 to 70 degrees. 1. Use the paintbrush to grease the inside of each mold with oil. Wipe off excess oil with a rag.
2. Place greased molds on cardboard or plywood. Bottomless molds, like the ones in the photo, can be placed directly in their permanent location in the garden or landscape. I used a weed whacker to flatten a circle in the grass, and then set my empty mold on top of the bare ground. If you are placing a series of stones along a pathway, pay close attention to the distance between them. A few inches short or long will make for awkward walking.
3. Empty the bag of pre-mix concrete into the wheelbarrow. Add water slowly with the hose or bucket, mixing with the hoe after each addition. Be sure to scrape dry mix off the bottom to incorporate. Mixture should resemble thick pancake batter.
4. With the shovel, scoop concrete mix into molds, one at a time. Use the trowel to flatten and smooth.
5. Press in your decorations or impressions. Imbed decorations flush for easy walking and so they won’t pop out when the concrete is dry. Make impressions at least 1/2 inch deep (but not so deep that they will collect too much water, which can freeze and crack the stone).
6. Hose off tools and wheelbarrow so concrete doesn’t harden on them. 7. Cover finished stones with towels and plastic sheeting. Allow them to harden for two days before removing the molds. Allow another week of curing before placing them carefully in the garden or before subjecting them to traffic.
Though she does enjoy a good book by the woodstove, Judy Allen (who is also the author of Going Green) composts and gardens year-round at her home near Darby Canyon.