April 2011
Featured Articles

Mix Cement, Peat Moss and Perlite for a Creative Gardening Experience


Hypertufa containers made by industrial designer Justin Manning of CreoConcrete in Valley Head. Hypertufa container gardening is a way to add an organic feel of the old and aged, stone watering troughs found throughout English country gardens.

Hypertufa Container Gardening

This season is the time of year when gardeners pull out their seed magazines, spend the day cleaning out flowerbeds and the next day rubbing IcyHot on their overexerted muscles, all the while they are adding to their list of favorite annuals and herbs to enjoy throughout the warm months.A new project for gardeners to try is hypertufa container gardening.

Justin Manning has created a Hypertufa Mix of the ingredients commonly used in creating a hypertufa container. Composed of Portland cement, perlite and peat moss, using the Hypertufa Mix is an easier way for creating gardening containers for homeowners.


Hypertufa container gardening is a creative experience in which Portland cement is mixed with peat moss and perlite to make a light-weight, porous and all-weather container for showcasing plants. The cement mixture is shaped around every- day containers and objects, acting as molds which result in an aged patina looking similar to what can be found in century-old English gardens. The container has thick, porous walls protecting the plants from weather year-round.

For the average do-it-yourself gardener, the process can seem a little daunting as working with cement does require some skill. After teaching several classes on hypertufa container gardening, industrial designer Justin Manning of Creo LLC in Valley Head heard some of his students saying they didn’t want to have to buy each ingredient, especially the heavy bag of cement and hard-to-find PVA fibers.

While teaching a hypertufa class at Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery at Pepper Place in downtown Birmingham, Justin noticed, even though the students were enjoying working with the cement, they weren’t interested in taking the recipe home to make more containers.

“No one wanted to do it at home,” Justin said. “They did not want to buy each ingredient and haul the heavy bag of cement home. So I had the idea of making a bag of pre-mixed hypertufa ingredients for gardeners to purchase, making it easier to create at home.”

Since then, he has created a Hypertufa Mix which is a 17-lb bag of the perfect amount of Portland cement, peat moss, lightweight aggregates and reinforcement fibers for gardeners to buy. They can carry it home and just add water to begin creating their containers. This takes away the frustrations of calculating the perfect amount of each ingredient, and makes it easier and more enjoyable to create a sturdy container.


Caladiums, creeping jenny and pink impatiens stay well-watered and cool in a Hypertufa container. The ingredients used to create the container are porous, making for good drainage while keeping the plants moist through the hot summers.

In making a hypertufa container, using Portland cement, peat moss and lightweight aggregates creates a sturdy but light container. Portland cement is a hydraulic cement that hardens when the chemicals react with water. It is called Portland cement because of its similarity to Portland stone, first quarried in England. Peat moss is decayed spaghnum moss and increases the cements ability to hold water as well as being a good insulator. Various lightweight aggregates like perlite or vermiculite are also utilized. When mixed together with the Portland cement, in place of traditional rocks or other aggregates, they form porous walls which hold enough water to feed the plant while allowing sufficient drainage.

The history of hypertufa began in the ancient areas of Asia. It is most commonly known for its familiarity with rural English gardens during the 1920s and 1930s as old stone watering troughs began being used as plant containers. The idea of forming the Portland cement around an object used as a mold is to give it the look of an old trough.

Using the stone troughs for gardening soon declined because of how heavy there were so gardeners began using the hypertufa method as a substitute. Its popularity spread throughout the United States, and gardeners began making the containers to look like aged-cement troughs.

Hypertufa is great garden container to use year-round. With its thick walls, it will insulate plants throughout each season. (Photos:  Justin Manning)


Growing up in scenic Valley Head, Justin had always had a knack for making things. Through his high school years, he always considered his enjoyment of creating and developing new things to help his dad and uncle on their family property as just a hobby.

During his sophomore year at Auburn University, while trying to decide on a major, he stumbled across the industrial design program. He realized the course load incorporated art and engineering and “a little bit about a lot of stuff.” Industrial design seemed to be a perfect way to make his passion of creating into a career.

Justin always had dreams to have his own business and be his own boss, but upon graduating from Auburn University he took a job in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, working with a furniture manufacturing company. That time away taught Justin the skills needed in the casual furniture market. He began to fine-tune the craft of designing rubber molds and creating products from them and soon realized concrete was a favorite medium to work with. He started taking weekend classes to learn the art of using concrete in furniture design.


Hypertufa containers are great to use in any garden throughout the year. (Photo:  Justin Manning)

He returned home after living and working in Florida with ideas of a product line using concrete. Justin began making items out of concrete: countertops, bathroom vanities, benches, console tables and other types of cabin décor. He creates his own rubber molds to use when making each piece. Currently he is working with reclaimed wood and concrete to make modular bases for tables with a galvanized metal table top.

“I hope to do classes for working with concrete,” Justin said. “There are a lot of people who have called me wanting to learn how to work with concrete to use in their homes.

“I chose the name Creo for my company because it means to ‘create’ in Latin. I wanted to choose a name that was short, but different. I knew I would always be creating something whether with concrete, rubber molds, reclaimed wood or anything else.”

Justin sells his products at the Shabby Sheep Antique Store in Valley Head and Myrtle Jane’s Antiques in Fort Payne. You can reach Justin at www.creoconcrete.com, on Facebook or at (256) 997-7919.

Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.