Here's How Coral Gardens Grow
DECORATIVE MINIATURE gardens, made from coral and sea shells, have added another profitable item to the shellcraft hobby products made by Mrs. V.A. Flemming who lives near Tulsa, Oklahoma. These attractive coral gardens give the shellcraft hobbyist an opportunity for originality in design and a chance to exercise the imagination in the blending of coral and sea shells of a variety of colors into a pleasing ornamental decoration.
For many years Mrs. Flemming designed and made women's dresses, but her health failed and she had to turn to a less strenuous spare time interest. Her first thoughts turned to the large sea shell and coral collection that she had accumulated over a period of years as a hobby. It would be just a short step to making sea shell costume jewelry, plaques, and shell ornaments. From designs in shellcraft catalogues, she started fashioning sea shell costume jewelry. Soon she was making her own designs, and now her customers have a large variety of original designs in shellcraft costume jewelry to choose from.
BUT WHAT to do with the beautiful coral? Mrs. Flemming wished to make something of a decorative nature that would display the several types of coral to the best advantage. The coral garden idea came to her mind, and she started experimenting with the project.
Her first coral garden was made in a clam shell. The lid of a cosmetic jar was filled with patching plaster, and the round back of the clam shell was placed on it and left to dry. This lid, which was about 1½ inches in diameter, formed a base for the shell so that it would set solidly. Then the shell and base were painted green. A small amount of patching plaster mixed with water to a creamy paste was poured into the hollow of the shell to hold fast the pieces of coral and small shells. These gardens were something new and sold readily for $1 each.
Wishing to make a larger and more decorative garden, Mrs. Flemming decided to make a coral garden with a molded patching plaster base. This patching plaster can be bought in four-pound and larger quantities at almost any lumber yard or hardware store. She has found that patching plaster is not only less expensive but is better than plaster of Paris for the garden bases because it does not set up so quickly and one bas more time in which to place the coral and shell decorations.
But before she makes the base for the larger coral gardens, Mrs. Flemming assembles all the pieces of coral, shells, and miniature flower sprays ready to place in the garden. Since most of the coral is pure white, Mrs. Flemming uses diluted writing ink to color parts of it. In jars large enough to permit dipping the pieces of coral, she pours a small quantity of colored ink and then dilutes it with water until she gets the shade of colors she wishes. By having jars of the diluted ink in several shades of red, green, and blue, a great variety of color effects can be produced in the coral by dipping in the various color solutions. Since coral is very porous, the dipping method is the only practical way in which to give it color.
Fan coral, the solid rock-like kind, is best used in the background; lace coral, with its delicate lace-like formations, can best be used to form the central part of the garden; and the small finger coral, small shells, and the miniature flower sprays form the foreground. These miniature flower sprays are made from small Venetian shells and green florists' wire. First cut a six-inch length of wire, and then make three or four small loops in one end around a pencil or small round stick. These loops should be about ½ inch apart. Then glue small Venetian shells to these loops. The stem end is left long enough to stick in the plaster base of the garden.
For variety, Mrs. Flemming uses some sea shells with the coral in her gardens. Some of the smaller, rough shells are tinted in the diluted ink solutions. Large scallop shells and translucent window shells make good background pieces to help display the colored coral and miniature flower sprays in the foreground.
NOW, WITH the coral, shells, and flower sprays ready to use, Mrs. Flemming prepares a form in which to pour the base of the garden. The lid of a three-pound oatmeal can makes a very satisfactory form for the base of a small round coral garden. For a larger round garden base, the lid of a one-gallon ice cream container can be used. With any type cardboard lid or form, however, remember to oil it thoroughly on the inside with vegetable oil before pouring in the plaster so that the cardboard form can be removed after the plaster has dried.
The oval or oblong shape is very attractive for the larger coral garden. This oblong form is made from cardboard, and is about eight inches long, four inches wide, and 1½ inches deep. The form is made in two pieces—the oval base, and the 1½-inch wide strip for the rim which is fastened to the oval base with paper tape, making a tight cardboard form.
About one pound of patching plaster will fill a garden base of this size. The plaster should be mixed with water to a creamy paste and poured into the form to a full inch in depth. Be sure and mix enough plaster to fill the form at one pouring. After a few minutes the plaster will begin to set up and then it is time to start placing the larger pieces of coral and shells for the background. These larger pieces may have to be held temporarily until the plaster will support them. Then place the lace coral in the central part of the garden; the miniature flower sprays and small shells should be placed in the foreground. The garden is then ready to set aside for drying. After twenty-four hours the plaster base will have hardened, and the oiled cardboard form can be removed. The edge of the base can then be finished by sanding smooth and painting with a coat or two of clear shellac or liquid plastic. These finished coral gardens are very decorative and sell readily for from $2 to $3 each.
MRS. FLEMMING also makes an ornamental coral table centerpiece. For a base she uses a paper plate with a metal rim. First, she mixes a small quantity of patching plaster to a heavy paste, and with a spoon or knife she spreads the plaster on the outside of the rim of the paper plate. After this plaster has set and stuck firmly to the outside of the rim of the plate, she mixes more plaster and covers the inside of the plate both rim and bottom. This coating of plaster is left rough, showing the spoon or knife marks and is 1/8 inch more or less in thickness. A marbleized effect can be obtained on this coat of plaster by gently drawing across sections of it a knife blade that has been dipped in full strength blue or black writing ink. This must be done while the plaster is still moist. The pull of the plaster on the ink will leave streaks of color in imitation of marble. The plaster covered paper plate should now be left to dry for twenty-four hours. Then to make a permanent finish it should be given a coat or two of clear shellac.
When the shellac is thoroughly dry, about a cup full of plaster should be mixed to a creamy paste and poured into the prepared paper plate base. A large piece of lace coral should be placed in the center, and smaller pieces of coral, miniature flower sprays, and small shells should be placed around it extending to the edges of the plate. This arrangement presents a front view from any angle and makes a very attractive table centerpiece. Mrs. Flemming sells these table centerpieces for $3 each.
SINCE MRS. FLEMMING has been a semi-invalid for the past twenty years, a means of marketing her coral gardens and other hobby items was her big problem. The market had to come to her because she was unable to take her hobby products to the market outlets.
Her method of handling this market problem might well be emulated by other handicapped hobbyists. First she placed small "for sale" advertisements in local suburban newspapers, and later an advertisement in a magazine with national circulation. A large lumber yard near Tulsa advertises each month with a mimeographed folder one side of which is used for their advertising, and the other side devoted to twenty-five-word, advertisements by people in the Tulsa area who have things to sell. This service is free of charge to the people, and the bulletin is distributed monthly to 20,000 box holders in the Tulsa area. Mrs. Flemming uses this advertising service.
A sewing club to which Mrs. Flemming belongs meets at regular intervals at her home. Members of this group seldom leave without some of her hobby items, and sales to many of their friends result from these contacts.
Also, at the refinery where Mr. Flemming works, the older employees have an organization known as the Twenty Year Club. Only employees with twenty or more years of service and their wives are eligible for membership. For many years the Flemmings have belonged to this club, and their host of friends in the club, form a continual market for Mrs. Flemming's hobby items.
As a result of these sales promotion methods seldom a day passes that Mrs. Flemming does not make a sale of a hobby product either in person or by mail order. This shows that a hobbyist, even though handicapped, can, over a period of time make contacts whereby he can market his hobby items.
The making of coral gardens is an interesting addition to shellcraft. If you are not familiar with sea shells and coral, Mrs. Flemming recommends the book, "Florida Marine Shells," by C.N. Vilas and N.R. Vilas as an authoritative source of information on this subject. This book gives a full description of the various kinds of coral and shells with colored illustrations of each variety. Mrs. Flemming purchases most of her coral and shells by mail from two firms specializing in supplies for shell crafters.
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.