This activity was developed for The Arts Center’s 2022 Spring Break Art Carnival. In this one project, we combine art, crafting, scientific observation, and dialogue about social and personal responsibility for waste and care of natural resources.
Using non-biodegradeable materials that would normally be thrown away, we create propagation tubs and planters for small plants, starts or seeds. Through the acticvity, we talk about what we know about plants and waste materials, what we are curious about, and what we observe about plants, the planet and single use plastic products.
To celebrate this project, spring, and the wonder of plants, I created a poetry zine about my indoor garden that’s free to download here!
The materials for this project are very accessible, especially if you’re like me and save every single plastic tub you’ve ever seen in your life. If you are having a hard time finding plastic food tubs, ask friends and family members to save theirs, or check out a nearby materials exchange organization. Here in the Willamette Valley, we have MECCA (Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts) which is legitimately one of my top 3 favorite art resorces in the world.
- Plastic tubs (yogurt tubs, cottage cheese, butter, etc.) – I found an adorable tiny tub for green chiles!
- Yarn, collage materials
- Adhesive (white glue, mod podge, hot glue)
- Awl or screwdriver for making drainage holes
- basic potting soil with perlite
- plant starts, seeds or ground cover/ moss
- dechlorinated water (see notes below for how to do this)
- Sketch paper
Through this activity, participants will be able to:
- identify non-recyclable materials (plastic tubs) and alternative uses for those materials
- to construct a planter with drain holes and understand what a plant needs to thrive (water, air, light, soil)
- practice observational skills using different senses for drawing plants and observing conditions of soil
- describe their observations verbally
- know when to change the circumstances of a plant’s environment (more water, more light, etc.)
- use different weights and types of line to depict plants
- identify and label different parts of a plant
- understand and recall the different stages of growth of a plant
Process & Notes
To create the planter:
- Select a plastic tub to use for this project (one with a lid is best).
- Clean the tub well with soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
- Pierce the bottom of the tub with several holes using the awl or screwdriver. These will be drainage holes for the planter.
- Drainage holes help keep the soil the right moistness. Without them, when we water our plants, the water will collect in the bottom of the tub and could rot the plant’s roots, which can kill the plant. The drainage holes also help keep the soil areated and not compacted so the plant’s roots can grow freely.
- Decorate your tub! Use collage paper, yarn, paint, anything you’d like to decorate the outside of the tub. Don’t add decoration to the inside of the tub, those materials can leech into the soil and make the plant sick.
- Allow your decorations to dry while you mix your soil with perlite (3:2, soil:perlite)
- The perlite is a natural material that helps keel the soil airy and helps balance the water in the soil, to keep it from getting too wet and to release water when the soil is dry.
- As you mix the soil and the perlite, observe the material:
- with the soil in your hands, notice what it feels like: dry, damp
- hold the material to your face and look closely, what do you see?
- smell the material, what does it smell like?
- as you mix the soil and the perlite, what does it sound like?
- DO NOT taste the soil or the perlite
- Place your soil and perlite into the planter when it’s dry. If you need more drying time, use the time to look at the plant starts, and make observations using your senses. You could even start drawing the plants.
- When your soil and perlite are in the tub, you can add your seeds, plant starts or ground cover.
- Gently place the plant or ground cover onto the top of the soil. If the start has long roots, carefully dig into the soil and place the roots gently into the soil, and then cover.
- For seeds, use your finger to poke holes to the depth of about your first knuckle and place seeds into the hole. Cover with soil.
- Water the soil with fresh, dechlorinated water (see notes below); use observations about the soil and the planter to know how much water to use.
- when you water the soil, listen to the water run into the soil. what does it sound like?
Observation and drawing:
- Hold your planter with your plant or seeds in your hands. Use your senses to observe the plant or seeds, and use words to descibe what you observe
- What does the plant, soil, planter look like?
- What does the plant, soil, planter smell like?
- Gently feel the soil or the plant leaves, what do they feel like?
- Does the plant/ seed/ soil/ or planter make a sound as you hold it?
- DO NOT taste the plants, seeds, or planter
- Use your pencil and paper to sketch what you’ve obsereved (using all the physical external senses, not just sight).
- What kind of marks or lines do you use to depict what you have observed.
- What do you notice when you look/ smell/ feel/ touch/ listen more?
- What different ways can you approach your planter or the plant to observe it differently? From above, from below, from a different side, etc.
- Make predictions: what do you think will happen to the plant next?
- Use your plant diary in the zine to make notes. Include the date and time and write about what you notice.
How to dechlorinate water
The water in most taps will be treated with chlorine, in amounts that’s typically safe to drink, but can be harmful to plants. Spring water is best for plants, as it contains natural occuring nutrients that can support plant health. Distilled water is not advised for plants as it can damage plants. If tap water is your best option, you can dechlorinate water by filling a large bowl with water and allowing it to sit at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours. Since chlorine is a volitile chemical, it will dissipate from the water over those hours. I give the water a stir every few hours to make sure I can bring some water up to the surface where the chlorine can dissipate.
What plants to use
For the project at The Arts Center, I brought clippings from my own houseplants: spiderettes and persian shields, which I prepped the night before by dipping their stems into rooting hormone and placing in a holding container with some potting soil and perlite. I also brought baby’s tears, an easy-to-grow ground cover from a local nursery, and some packets of wildflower seeds.
This was a super fun activity, and my first time doing a community event like this with actually 100’s of folks over a few hours in such a long time! Some of the participants came up with clever ways to turn their planters into hanging planters, and different ways of collaging and decorating the plastic tubs. I also brought extra handbound journals to give away since I always have a bunch of those lying around, and special Plant Love stickers I designed and printed for the event!
Thanks so much to The Arts Center for inviting me to be a part of this event!