Garden markers (or plant tags) are a great gift, but you need to make a lot of them. This tutorial shows clay markers fired in a kiln, but you could just as easily use paper clay or oven-bake clay and outdoor paint and glaze. The key is using mold putty so you can duplicate as many as you’d like, and leaving a business-card sized white area that allows the plant name to be written in grease pencil or dry-erase marker.
You Will Need...
- clay (pottery clay, airdry clay, paper clay, your choice)
- glazes (underglaze & clear glaze OR outdoor paint & glaze)
- mold putty
- corn starch
- carving tools
- cardboard for drying racks
- rust-resistant metal stakes
Step by Step Instructions
Design and carve your garden marker. I used a red pottery clay and letter stamps to customize the names, plus some push molds to apply the flowers (you’ll still need to clean up the design with basic clay carving tools). Make sure to leave enough flat, blank space, about the size of a business card, to eventually write in the flower/herb name.
Once your original has dried, prepare it for adding mold putty by brushing lightly with corn starch to keep the mold from sticking.
I used a product called Amazing Mold Putty. Make sure to cover the top and sides of your original model marker.
Once the mold has set, carefully peel it off and brush out any corn starch from the mold
Form rectangles of clay for as many markers as you plan to make. Make sure they are slightly smaller and higher than the dimensions of the mold, as you will be pushing them into the mold and they will flatten and spread out. Again, brush the new rectangle of clay with cornstarch before pressing into the mold. Allow it to set (I waited about 10 minutes per marker) and peel off the mold. Then carefully clean the mold of cornstarch and clay before moving onto the next one.
Once you have all your markers made, add a wedge or rectangle of clay to the back of each marker. This should be wide and long enough to accommodate the metal rod or stake used to anchor the marker in the ground or in a planter. I found 18″ metal rods at Home Depot (just make sure they are rust-proof). After attaching the back support, push the rod into it about 2/3 of the way through, making sure not to come through the top. Wiggle it a bit to widen the hole, as it will shrink when fired/baked.
Allow markers to dry. To create ventilation, I cut slots in pieces of cardboard which I raised (like the top lid of a gift box) so that air would reach the back of each marker for even drying. The next few steps are for using pottery clay…if you are using oven-baked clay or another medium, you’ll basically just paint and glaze your garden markers after they have dried.
Time to paint (for media other than pottery clay, you would bake now, paint later). I used underglazes for the first firing. To be able to paint the garden markers more easily, I made a little holder out of styrofoam with a notch cut in the middle to account for the support wedge in back, so the face of the marker would lie flat as I painted it. Just cover the foam in plastic wrap so it won’t stick to the clay.
Once the clay has dried, time for the first firing.
Apply clear glaze over the entire front of the garden marker. I chose a high gloss for the final firing to bring out the colors of the flowers. If using another medium than pottery clay, just make sure your paint has completely dried and choose an outdoor/waterproof glaze for your final coat.
When your garden markers are fired/baked, test the metal rods/stakes to make sure they still fit in the holes. You may need to use a narrow, round file to enlarge the width of the hole. I chose not to epoxy the rods into place to make it easier to store the garden markers in winter.