Artificial Foliage, Genuine Convenience

From Associated Press

Decorating with artificial flowers, once akin to wearing fake diamonds, is no longer a social sin. But it does have its limits.

“Some people still turn up their noses, but I think it’s OK to use artificial and dried flowers and plants,” says decorating arbiter Mario Buatta.

For decades, plastic palms and polyester philodendron, anything that didn’t have to be watered, repotted, debugged or set in a sunny window, were bought by Americans for their convenience more than their beauty.


Most of today’s artificial flora is embraced for its beauty and realism.

“I am amazed at the great stuff that’s out there,” Buatta says. “You have to touch them to tell if they are real.”

Even Bunny Williams, gardener and flower lover, has succumbed to the realism of fake by combining silk foxgloves and real leaves.

“Actually, I prefer to emphasize that they are not real when I use dried or artificial material,” says Williams, a decorator and co-owner of Treillage, a garden shop in New York.

“At Treillage we carry stylized arrangements such as topiaries, and I have a pair of stylized pineapples in my apartment that are made of dried yellow roses and eucalyptus leaves.”

But Robert Isabell and Ronaldo Maia, stars on the New York floral circuit, say they would never use anything artificial or dried. And Buatta says he draws the line at working with plastic.

Today’s fakes are a vast improvement over the early-age plastic roses. With the use of polyester and silk, latex and parchment, colors are softer and more lifelike and textures realistic.

Even the dried flowers retain more of their color and are more lasting, thanks to better drying techniques such as kiln-drying and freeze-drying.

If artificial flowers and leaves look realistic, the way they’re used isn’t. One of the hot trends is to mix species and varieties that would never cross paths in the garden.

John Brown, a florist in Middletown, N.Y., goes out on a limb with his creations: pheasant feathers and dried mushrooms, leaves and a cobra lily. Frankly faux topiaries, some 5 feet tall, of boxwood and pheasant feathers are another of Brown’s trademark designs.

When arranging dried flowers, Brown is among a number of florists who borrow from the French. They put tiers of contrasting colors and textures into a rectangular box.

The tallest tier might be fluffy blue delphinium, followed in descending order by rye or wheat grass, miniature red roses and lemon tree leaves.

Other popular fantasy arrangements are made of plastic foam cones and balls covered with natural moss, lichen and bark.

Anna Maher, designer for Creative Accents, a Winter Park, Fla., manufacturer and wholesaler of artificial and dried arrangements, adds dried mushrooms and real or fake berries to her designs.

This conflation of real and artificial extends to potted plants--fake flowers and leaves on real trunks and branches. Among other companies, Creative Accents offers these in roses, snowball bushes and ficus trees.

Even Brown, who air-dries ornamental grasses, poppy-seed heads, yarrow and other plants that he gathers, embellishes them with spray-on colors. And he’s not beyond using polyester ivy.

“After all,” he says, “you can’t dry real ivy.”