AGEING FLOWER POTS | Terracotta with a sprinkling of Homemade Patina
What an utterly lovely new flower pot: beautifully clean, orange, smooth – and sterile.
Is that really what we want in a cottage garden?
That'll be a hard 'No'.
What we're looking for are items with soul that tell stories instead of looking all "shiny & new".
Especially with flower pots though, I'm often required to switch over to brand-new models. I need too many to be able find enough combing through flea markets. So I buy new ones and then they just sit there as I wait, season after season, for that patina I love so much to appear.
Merriam-Webster defines patina (plural patinas or patinae) as a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use.
Patina is my kind of thing.
Imagine how delighted I was when I stumbled across Heidrun (Fraeulein Brocante) some time ago (or rather, she stumbled across me) and was introduced to her book about making new items look old by using charming ageing techniques and principles inspired by French flea markets. Her wonderful book "Aus NEU mach ALT" is currently available in German only but if you happen to speak/read the language, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. More on that below.
Even better – the lovely Heidrun offered to write a blog post for My Cottage Garden about how to use these techniques to age flower pots – and I couldn't possibly withhold her magical trickery from you so I took the liberty of translating it. Buckle up, there's so much good advice here, you'll want to take notes.
So, without further ado, Heidrun – I'm handing over to you:
Ageing new and pristine orange terracotta pots
I think we can all agree... Plastic pots are practical, but not particularly pretty. Terracotta definitely makes my heart beat faster, but that's until I find myself standing in a hardware store or garden center clutching one of those brand-new orange monstrosities.
In my mother's naturalistic garden, there's a corner full of beautiful pots and bowls that have been around for a couple of decades, that have been used to grow and water generations of plants, that have sprouted moss, been placed in the soil... In short, pots and bowls that are heart-meltingly old and shabby.
The new garden center monstrosities will most likely look just like this in a couple of years’ time, entirely of their own accord – they certainly have the potential. But if you can't wait that long, then you can achieve this look yourself and there's a number of ways to do it.
A seemingly "natural" look with paint and concrete
In my book, I point out that with any ageing technique, it's always a good idea to look at the original – the authentically aged item – first. With my mother's garden pots, it's the dirt, soil, moss, traces of lime and sediment that give the pots their charm.
You can easily imitate this with a little bit of thin (diluted) paint and some concrete.
Tip: A combination of concrete and plaster looks very natural. However, the plaster won't really hold that well. A little bit of rain and all your hard work is washed away. But it doesn't hurt to experiment.
Terracotta pots and bowls in various sizes (I like using pots that already have some kind of a defect... but they shouldn't be too cracked)
A bit of plaster (optional)
White paint. I prefer milk paint – it's wonderfully natural and slightly seeps into the porous clay material but you can also work with water-thinned acrylic paint, chalk paint or even emulsion paint
A little moss-green paint (optional)
Some dark paint or dark wax (optional)
Sealer (wax or tung oil)
A large bowl/bucket of water
Bowl and stirrer for concrete (and plaster)
Rubber gloves for when working with concrete
Fine sandpaper (optional)
You can start with the paint or the concrete, either works. I'll start with a bit of paint.
1. Mix up a white paint that has roughly the same consistency as milk.
You can now carefully dab irregular "clouds of lime" onto your pot using your sponge. When doing this, I would work in sections or create some kind of a border, so that you're not just dabbing evenly across the whole pot. You can also moisten the sponge a little every now and then, or work with a second piece of sponge and use it to dilute some of the paint a little more.
It also creates an interesting effect if you hold your pot in the water bowl for some time, just up to the edge of the clouds of lime. But it only makes sense to do this when the paint is still very fresh and wet. It will wash away a small section of the paint, creating a natural edge.
2. After this, you'll first need to let the paint completely dry, otherwise it will probably just wash off again in the next step.
3. Before working with the plaster or concrete, it's a really good idea to soak the clay pots. To do this, carefully place them in a bucket or bowl of water. You should leave them there for about an hour. This is important because otherwise the dry terracotta will immediately draw all of the moisture out of the concrete. That means it'll dry without curing and just crumble off the pot again.
4. While your pot is soaking, mix 1 part cement and 4 parts sand with approx. ½ part water until it forms a paste with a similar consistency to that of semolina pudding. It shouldn't be crumbly, but it shouldn't be runny either.
If you're also mixing some plaster, then you're aiming for a similar consistency.
You'll only need a pretty small amount of both, unless you're planning to work on twenty pots (which might not be practical due to the curing times).
5. With the plaster or cement – or ideally a combination of the two – apply small patches to imitate the look of sediment against the clouds of lime around the rim. You really only need small lumps and they should be applied very randomly and unevenly. In the examples, I've used a little more than usual so that you can see it clearly, but as always: there's no 'wrong' way – whatever makes you happy.
You could also form a rough crust across the pot, but try to make this look a little haphazard too.
6. Now at this point you'll need a little patience, because while plaster just dries, the concrete needs to set and that takes a bit of time. I'd leave it until the following day at the earliest – preferably the day after that.
Caution! You want to avoid leaving your concrete to set at hot temperatures or in direct sunlight. This will cause it to dry without curing properly and it will crumble.
There are no fixed rules when it comes to imitating signs of age and wear; you can and should just experiment a bit.
Which also means that it's up to you whether you want to do any more work at this point.
7. You could dab on some more thinned paint anywhere the concrete is looking too grey, and in places where the terracotta pot is still looking like a new terracotta pot.
If you want to, you can keep using the thinned white paint.
But you could also add some "soil residue" with small patches of dark paint (not as thinned) or dark wax. And again, with some very diluted green paint (beware though – you're aiming for a yellowy moss green, not an artificial greeny blue) you can dab on some very light traces of moss amidst the white clouds of lime.
I recommend proceeding quite cautiously at each stage. It's better to make small adjustments than to mess up the whole thing by being too heavy-handed.
8. If that does happen, or you're not happy with the result, you can always use the sandpaper to buff it away.
9. You can now seal the whole thing in a variety of ways (matte clear varnish, colorless wax, tung oil) or instead leave it exposed to the elements. The latter means that it will most likely look completely different after some time has passed. But it will never go back to looking like a brand-new terracotta pot.
Fully painted or spotted pots with some kind of a pattern aren't quite as natural. But they still look great in a cottage garden and have that French flea market feel!
Terracotta pots and bowls in various sizes
Paint in antique white shade – again, I prefer milk paint here but you could also work with water-thinned acrylic paint, chalk paint or even emulsion paint
Dark paint or dark wax
Fine sandpaper (optional)
1. This time, you're pretty much painting the entire pot with the thinned paint. It needs to be mostly white, but you don't want it to look too painted. Once again, I work with sponges here, applying cloud shapes, but I use significantly more paint. I also like to dab on multiple coats – maybe even in different shades of white.
2. Once the pot is well primed, you can use the sandpaper again on small patches – if you like.
3. As decoration, you can now apply a motif using a stencil.
Obviously, the template needs to work with the size of the pot. Lay it on the pot and, with a sponge or paintbrush, dab on the dark paint/dark wax. It's particularly important here that you don't use too much paint on your brush or sponge, i.e., you want to work almost 'dry'.
You can achieve this by first dabbing your brush or sponge on a piece of cardboard until there's barely any paint left on it. Not only will this look more natural than if you apply the motif in an even, opaque way, but it will also stop any excess or runny paint from seeping under the edge of the stencil.
4. Now leave the motif to fully dry and, if necessary, use a bit of sandpaper again to 'shabby it up'.
If you want to protect your artwork, you can coat it with a matte varnish (if you chose a dark paint) or with a clear wax (if you chose a dark wax for the motive). Or you could always just allow it to weather naturally.
Because one thing's for certain, if you don't go in with a really thick or extremely weather-resistant sealer, it will definitely weather at some point.
Which, really, is exactly what we're going for ;)
Materials used: I primed all the pots with Coucou Couleur Milk Paint in the shade "Leinen". The first pots were dabbed with concrete made from common hardware store cement and fine sand, plus some plaster. Afterwards, I added some more milk paint and set them with tung oil. The motif on the third pot was formed using a stencil and antique wax from Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint and set with beeswax – also from Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint.
And that's it! I wish you the best of luck with your projects and, if you like (and speak/read German), check out my website www.fraeulein-brocante.de
I'm Heidrun, and as Fraeulein Brocante, I share my passion for a life filled with antiques; for all things shabby chic and brocante. In May 2020, I published my first book "Aus Neu mach Alt – Grundlagen, Techniken & Projekte zur liebevollen Alterung für den Brocante-Stil" ("From New to Old - Principles, Techniques and Projects for Delightful Brocante-Style Ageing", available in German too). In the book I describe how you can give new items a distressed appearance using simple techniques and a little love. I'm a proud and enthusiastic cat mom and in my much-adored old cottage, I surround myself with treasures I've fervently collected, as well as my own hand-finished "antiques".
If you happen to be curious about my book, it's available on Amazon. Just click on the picture...