Deb Babcock: Indoor whimsy with clay vessels
November 25, 2012
Each year around Christmas, you start seeing advertisements for one of the funniest gardening plants: Chia Pets.
A San Francisco company trademarked the name Chia Pet in 1977, but the idea or invention is not patented. The product is a kind of topiary using clay figurines in the shapes of animals (or political figures and other in-the-media icons) as the base rather than pruning branches of a woody plant to achieve the desired shape.
Ceramic art history books show that figurines in the shape of animals have been created by artisans for centuries. Clay art becomes garden art when the vessel has a hollow clay body with small grooves where moistened seeds are placed to grow. The clay may be in the shape of animals, a human head or an abstract figure. The idea is that as the seeds grow, the clay vessel is covered with foliage that resembles hair or fur, in a flattering shade of green.
Because clay is porous and holds moisture well, the tiny roots of the foliage can adhere to the vessel and obtain a continuous supply of water.
Moistened seeds are positioned in the grooves of the vessel producing a goo that helps the seeds stick to the clay surface. To create the "seed paste" for your clay planter, add 1/4 cup of water to two teaspoons of seeds. Stir it, and let it sit for 24 hours. Soak your planter in water, then smear on the pasty mixture. Fill your planter full, and check the water daily. Because the clay is porous, use a drip tray. Seeds should sprout within a few days.
Chia is a common name for Salvia columbariae seeds, a member of the watercress family. But any fast-growing seeds that form a gelatinous coat when soaked in water, such as basil, tend to work best since they will adhere to the clay planter. Some grass seeds, such as timothy and alfalfa, work well, too. Thyme, marjoram and oregano may take a little extra work because those seeds need a longer germination time.
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A nice benefit of these planters is the ability to harvest a crop of sprouts or greens for salads, soups and sauces. Give your pet a haircut, and use the tasty trimmings in your cooking.
So, if the cold weather has you yearning for something lush and green in your garden, consider an indoor planting of grasses, herbs or other greenery. Perhaps you'll try something in a whimsical clay vessel that will cause a smile as the greenery sprouts a new coat of fur.
Deb Babcock is a volunteer master gardener through the Routt County CSU Extension. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.