If you are creating manzanita centerpieces, there's a good chance that you'll want set the branches in plaster, particularly if you are planning on using a relatively low and wide container for the centerpiece. Doing so will make the centerpiece much more secure and stable than if you only set the branches in stones or other filler material. One option is to pour the plaster directly into the container you will be displaying the manzanita branches in, as we did in an earlier post. This works well, but means that you have to sacrifice the container, and are locked into your choice of container.
Another option is to create free-standing plaster bases for your manzanita centerpieces, which will give you a great deal of flexibility as you work towards creating your final display. Doing so will allow you to use any container that will fit the base for the display, or not use a container at all.
You will need a flexible plastic container, such as one of those food storage containers available in many shapes and sizes at the grocery store, or a somewhat flimsy bucket. The idea is that once the plaster sets, you can simply pull the sides of the container away from the plaster base, push up on the bottom of the container to break any bond between the plaster and the container, and slide the centerpiece out.
The basic materials are the plastic container, the branches (in this case 18-24" Sandblasted Manzanita Branches), and the plaster. In addition, you'll want a rubber band and some tape.
1. If you are using more than one branch, arrange the branches as you'd like, and then secure the arrangement at the base with a rubber band, so rather than having multiple pieces to juggle, you pretty much just have one.
2. Mix the plaster according to the directions and pour into your container.
3. Place the container near a wall that you can prop up the branches against and tape the branches to.
4. Put branches into the container with the plaster, make any final adjustments, prop up the branches against the wall and secure them to the wall with some tape.
5. Now you need to wait for the plaster to set, which takes about half an hour or so. At this point you can start cleaning up the mess you've made. If you used a flexible container to mix the plaster, just let it harden - once the plaster sets you can just squeeze the sides and the bottom and the dry plaster will pop right out.
6. Once the plaster has set, pull the sides of the container away from the plaster (avoid putting pressure on the branches though, just in case they haven't completely set), push up on the base of the container, and then slide the plaster base with branches embedded in it out.
At this point, the chemical reaction that causes plaster to harden has occurred, but all the water you mixed in is still in the base, and it will take at least a few days to dry out. To avoid mold or mildew problems, set the manzanita centerpieces on something that will allow air to circulate underneath the bases such as a baking rack or stones, and let them dry. If you have a wedding or other event within a day or two and need to make the centerpieces ASAP, you can go ahead and create them - just make sure you disassemble them quickly after the event to allow the bases to dry out.
While the plaster is wet, it is still soft enough to cut with a knife or work with other tools - the hardness and texture is like frozen butter. If you think you'd like to shape or sculpt the base, or just pare it down to fit into your container, now is your chance!
Here's my attempt at getting artistic with the base - I don't think my old high school art teacher would be impressed!
For the branch centerpiece shown above, we set the base in a clear glass cube, poured pea gravel around it, then topped the gravel with Reindeer Moss. Something that isn't conveyed in the picture is how stable the manzanita centerpiece is - the plaster base creates a heavy "root" on the manzanita branch that does a fantastic job of anchoring the branch. Below are the manzanita branches we set in plaster earlier on in the post.