Cement is the default medium for so many outdoor construction projects. It makes sense: Cement is durable, strong, easy to maintain and can be molded into all kinds of shapes and forms. Usually, it is simply poured for walkways or patio floors, but there is so much more you can do with concrete. You can dress up old cement, reuse broken-up slabs or create your own functional garden art.
A small amount of concrete can be mixed up thickly to be sculpted, poured into a mold or slathered over a wire frame. Using these techniques it becomes a plastic material ideal for three-dimensional sculpting. You can create fake rocks, caves or even representational or abstract artistic sculptures. You can even add three-dimensional ornamentation to dress up flat surfaces and create molded edges, relief designs, scratch artistic textures or indent effects. You can also use this mixture to repair an old piece of worn or cracked cement.
Another possibility is to impress ornamental items into the soft surface of concrete before it hardens completely. Decorative items like pieces of tiles, metallic shapes, stones — any inorganic materials that will not disintegrate over time outdoors will work. Create gemstone glitter with tumbled glass, marbles or stained glass. Add color with powdered pigments sprinkled or garnished over the surface of wet cement or blend colors into the mix itself.
Speaking of colored surfaces, even plain, flat concrete can be brought to life with outdoor acrylic paints or long-lasting acid stains. Effects can range from simulated stone and metal to painted illustrations and designs. Colors and textures can also be combined using brick, tile or other materials.
You can even use recycled concrete like worn cinder blocks, broken chunks of concrete or pieces of roadside curbing to stack as a wall, set out as a flooring or stepping stones or fashion into garden art, fountains or other structures.
By using old pieces of cement or adding new effects with concrete mixes you can rejuvenate dull or damaged surfaces. Walkways and walls become works of art, water spills over interesting waterfalls and mundane structures, steps are converted into colorful, decorative features. You can buy textural stamps to make outdoor surfaces look like wood, stone, metal or fabric. Add color and you can create the look of materials that would not normally withstand outdoor weather conditions.
Take a tour through your landscape. Are there any areas you can transform from dreary to decorative with some creative cement work? Is there any broken or cracked pieces of concrete that can be re-purposed or given a new life with some of these techniques? Just think: You can give your whole garden a facelift for mere pennies! And you might even get the whole family involved in a fun project.
Photo credits: Jane Gates