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How to Create a Garden Path With Stepping Stones

Add a creative touch to your garden with handmade stepping stones.

Having a path in the garden is a great way to get from one place to another without trampling grass or plants. But when it rains or gets wet from irrigation, many garden paths can leave your feet a muddy mess. Master gardener Jane Shannon shows how to create your own concrete stepping stones (figure A).

"A really great way to brighten up a garden path is with stepping stones," says Shannon. "They add a unique touch to your garden." But if you've gone to the store lately to price stepping stones or the kits used to make them, you might find that they can be expensive. So, Shannon shares a fun and downright inexpensive way to make them at home. These handmade stepping stones make great gifts and projects for kids, too.

Stepping Stone (figure B)

Materials and Tools:
Foam insulation board
Ball point pen
Serrated kitchen knife
Aluminum roof flashing
Masking tape
Lightweight tin snips
Shelving paper
Scissors
Plywood
Drill
Deck screws, 2 inch
Decorative materials like beads, tile shards and shells
All-purpose concrete
Bucket
Old trowel or other stirring tool
Protective gloves
Small scoop or cup
Stiff brush
Water

Steps:

1. First, come up with a design. Shannon draws a simple pineapple shape on some inexpensive foam insulation board with a ball point pen (figure C).

You can make at least six good templates out of just one piece of foam insulation board (figure D). You can draw or trace anything, such as a decorative cake pan, a large leaf or a heart, as long as it is big enough to accommodate an adult foot.

2. Cut the design out, starting at the edge of the board, with a standard serrated kitchen knife (figure E). Use the knife to gently saw through the board. The board may look flimsy, but it's actually very sturdy for the purposes of this project.

3. Use aluminum roof flashing from the hardware store to make the mold. Using lightweight tin snips, cut the flashing, which is about 10 feet long and 7 inches wide, into 2-inch strips for six molds. The edge of tin flashing can be quite sharp, so be careful.

4. Bend a flashing strip around the perimeter of your template, using masking tape to secure it in place. Line up the bottom of the flashing with the bottom of the template and secure it with masking tape (figure F).

5. Clip off the excess flashing, leaving a small overlap, and tape it in place.

6. Remove all the other pieces of tape holding the flashing to the template. Don't worry about the flimsiness of the mold.

7. Cut a piece of shelving paper a few inches bigger than the mold, and adhere it to a piece of plywood (figure G).

8. Place the mold in the center of the paper and adjust the mold to its original state (figure H).

9. Once you have the mold in the shape that you want, secure it in place on the board using a drill and 2-inch deck screws at every point along the outside perimeter (figure I). This will prevent it from shifting around while you pour the concrete and will prevent the concrete from pulling the mold out of shape.

10. Decorate the stepping stone using materials like rubber plant leaves to make an imprint, shards of broken china, sea glass, ceramic tile or shells (figure J).

11. Place objects right side facing down because the bottom of the mold is actually the top of the stepping stone (figure K). Keep the decorations at least 1/2 inch away from the edge of the mold.

12. Mix a general all-purpose concrete with enough water to the consistency of mud pies. You can use just about anything to mix the concrete such as an old trowel or your hands, but wear protective gloves for easy clean up (figure L). Use a scoop to gently add the concrete to avoid scattering the decorations.

Working from the center out, add concrete until you reach the desired height (figure M). Don't worry if some concrete seeps out of the bottom; it will flake off easily when the stone dries.

13. Once the form is filled, wait 24 to 48 hours for the concrete to cure.

14. To remove the mold, use the drill to undo the screws.

15. Take the last piece of tape off the mold, and peel away the flashing (figure N).

16. Flip the mold over and remove the shelving paper. It won't look like much at first, but dampen the stone and scrub it with a stiff brush to reveal the decorations (figure O).

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