Tufa is a specific variety of limestone that has become porous from, among other things, water seeping through it. When gardeners found that many Alpine plants thrived when planted in this porous stone, they became enamored with it. Tufa was, however, hard to find and quite expensive to buy, so in the 1930’s a few very ingenious gardeners worked with different materials to find an alternative. They came up with a product that they named hypertufa, which was not only very accessible, but inexpensive to produce.
Hypertufa is made with Portland cement and aggregates, usually peat moss and pearlite, with a ratio of 1 part cement to 3 parts aggregate. These materials are mixed together, and then you begin adding water while you continue mixing. The mixture should be roughly the same consistency as thick cottage cheese. You then begin placing the hypertufa into a mold, which should be prepared ahead of time. You can use anything at all for a mold, from plastic bowls or cardboard boxes, to a favorite basket. If it is a shape that you like, use it for a mold.
There are many things that hypertufa can be used for in your garden or yard because it is lighter than other materials such as typical cement or terra cotta. When placed in a shallow, round mold, it makes beautiful stepping stones, and if you place leaves or shells in the bottom of your mold, the design will be impressed into your work. Hypertufa also makes wonderful planters. Many types of plant will thrive in this material, and one of the only drawbacks is that, because it is a porous material, you will have to water more often than you would with planters made of other materials. Planters made of hypertufa are very sturdy, if you make the sides of your planter thick enough, at least one inch, it will withstand a very harsh winter unscathed.
The entire process of making hypertufa is easy and a great deal of fun, it would be a perfect weekend project for you and your kids to do together.