At first glance, the humble terra cotta garden pot isn't anything special.

It's been around for thousands of years, used for pottery, roofing, bricks, even sculpture (see the famous warriors and horses of Xian, discovered in 1974, that date to the 3rd century BC). In fact, the most exotic thing about it may be its name: terra cotta, Italian for "baked earth."

But, like most humble things that have stuck around for years, and which are found the world over, the material's simplicity is deceiving.

Clay pots are easy to find and, if you're willing to go beyond filling them with dirt and plopping in some flowers, they're easy to adapt to other uses as well.

PERSONAL S'MORES ROASTERS

MATERIALS

unglazed terra cotta pots

heavy-duty aluminum foil

charcoal and lighter OR a can of Sterno for each pot (one that will sit on the bottom of the pot with at least 1-2 inches of clearance from the top)

If using charcoal, line the pots with the aluminum foil, then fill with charcoal, light and let the coals burn down a bit. If using Sterno, place the can in the pot and light. Roast away!

- Sources: apresfete.blogspot.com; salad-in-a-jar.com

BAKING BREAD

You will need to season your pots before the first time you use them:

MATERIALS

new, unglazed terra cotta pot(s)

shortening

oven

Thoroughly scrub pots with warm water using an abrasive sponge or 3M pad to remove any small burrs. Rinse well. Completely submerge pots in water and soak them for several hours; dry overnight.

Stand pots on baking sheet. Using paper towel, apply a liberal coating of shortening to the inside, bottom and rim. Place in oven, turn it to 350 and bake pots for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and repeat, until the pots will absorb no more oil (up to five or six times).

TO BAKE BREAD

Liberally grease inside and rim of pots with shortening. If the pots have holes in the bottom, cut a circle of parchment paper and place inside greased pot. Spray paper with cooking oil.

Follow any bread recipe you like. After the first rise, punch down the dough, form into balls and drop one in each pot, filling it slightly over half. Cover dough and allow to rise again.

Stand the pots on a baking sheet, place in cool oven and then turn on oven, baking at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes (time will vary based in size of pots). When bread has a golden crust, remove from oven and stand on a wire rack to cool for five minutes before turning bread out of pots.

Clean the pots using only warm water.

- Source: firedoglake.com

TOOTHBRUSH & SOAP HOLDER

MATERIALS

small terra cotta pot and saucer

paints

clear acrylic sealer

flat decorative marbles

Decorate the pot and saucer any way you like (or leave plain). Once any paint is dry, spray the pot and saucer with a few thin layers of clear acrylic sealer (make sure the area is well ventilated; ideally, outside). Let dry.

Fill the pot and saucer almost full with the marbles. Stand up toothbrushes in the pot by pushing their handles down into the marbles. Rest soap on top of marbles in saucer to keep it from sitting in water and getting soggy.

- Source: familycrafts.about.com

ESSENTIAL OIL DIFFUSERS

MATERIALS

small unglazed terra cotta saucer

essential oil(s) of your choice

To scent your personal space, about 4 to 5 feet in diameter, put several drops of essential oil on the saucer, and allow to soak in. They will evaporate and diffuse naturally, and are ideal for use on desks or in work areas, or beside your favorite chair.

- Source: birchhillhappenings.com

TERRA COTTA PENDANT LAMP

MATERIALS

terra cotta pot

ceiling cord set

toggle bolt hooks for hanging

drill, rasp bit or file

Soak the bottom of the pot for an hour to soften the clay for drilling. Enlarge the hole with a conical rasp bit, Dremel 562 tile-cutting bit or file.

Take your ceiling cord set, found at home-supply stores. Place the cord socket through the pot's hole. Gently squeeze the metal "ears" on socket and insert socket into hole. Release pressure on "ears."

Install light bulb (75-watt maximum)

If you want a little extra hold, add a bead of sealant around the circumference of the pot opening where it meets the cord socket.

Hang lamp.

- Source: apartmenttherapy.com

GARDEN-STYLE CLOCK

MATERIALS

10-inch terra cotta saucer

paints and brushes

quartz battery-operated clock movement (3/8-inch thick face) and package of large clock hands

drill and masonry bits

Dura Clear varnish

plate hanger

Soak bottom of terra cotta saucer until it is damp. Mark center of the saucer and drill a hole, first with 1/8-inch and then 1/4-inch masonry drill bit.

When saucer is dry, flip so the bottom of the saucer is face up. Decorate with whatever design you choose. If you wish, paint clock hands black.

When paint on saucer is dry, varnish with Dura Clear.

When all paint and varnish is dry, assemble according to clock directions, attach plate hanger to back and hang.

- Source: decoart.com

jkopf@lnpnews.com