The Art of Artificial Plants

The Art of Artificial Plants 

Artificial plants and flowers date back to ancient Rome and Egypt, where they were not considered tacky or cheap in any way. Back then, plants, feathers, and flowers were created from gold, silver, bone, wax, and even silkworm cocoons. The world of artificial flowers and plants has changed greatly over the last few decades. In fact, in metropolitan areas such as London and New York, many homeowners have created entire gardens of artificial plants, flowers, and trees, sometimes even changing the blooms and plants seasonally. For those who don't have the time to putter around in the garden or simply don't have the right weather to keep their green space in tip-top shape, artificial plants might fill the bill. High-end plants can cost much more than their natural cousins, but they will last up to five years before they need replacing, even in harsh climates.

A Forest of Artificial Trees

Faux trees are not limited to Christmas trees, which started out as being pretty awful. Now you can buy not just some Yuletide joy, but also beautifully sculpted topiary trees that are difficult to tell from the real thing until you actually touch them. Whether you want to line your driveway with simple stacks of boxwood balls or go all out with topiary pigs, penguins and pandas, you'll find what you need in either plastic or silk. Place them at the far side of your backyard and download some chainsaw sound effects on your cellphone and you can convince your neighbors you're a greenery genius. At the highest end of the purchase price--thousands of dollars--are green glass topiary animals covered in artificial grass.

A selection of pretend palms include exotic varieties such as Bermuda, Paradise, and Areca palm trees. On the lower end, the plastic ones are less expensive, but the silk palms are really sophisticated, even waving gently in a breeze.

Around the world in museums, art installations, luxury hotels, restaurants, and the homes of the rich and famous, steel art trees come in the form of an exotic banyan with a treehouse in Trinidad to a realistic apple tree in a Mennonite retirement home. No one seems to mind that the shiny red fruit on the tree would probably knock them unconscious if it fell from the tree like a real-life Washington Delicious might.

Putting the Art into Artificial Flowers

When it comes to flowers, most people prefer the real thing, but there are occasions when that is simply not practical. Think about a winter wedding at a Colorado ski resort, a bouquet under the hot lights of a movie set, or perhaps a permanent floral display for a memorial or simply as craft display. These are the sort of situations where the bogus blooms can fill the bill.

The bulk of the artificial silk flowers come from China, which is logical since the Chinese pioneered the silkworm raising methods 3,000 years ago. Historians believe they made the first fake flowers and although the process has changed down through history, China still leads the production pack. By the early 20th century, flowers made with silk, velvet, satin and gauze were all the rage. Today's artificial flowers are difficult to tell from the real thing without a good sniff, and you could always add a drop or two of scented oil. Try to find flowers that are crafted individually rather than as a bouquet and you can vary your arrangements throughout the year. Some roses even have artificial thorns, particularly the long-stemmed reds. Bear in mind that a bunch of top-of-the-line flowers can cost as much as the real thing, but also remember that you'll have them for at least five years if you maintain them. The best way to keep them looking fresh is to use a hairdryer on the cool setting and blow the dust away at least once a week.

Succulents and Cacti, Oh My!

A cactus is a succulent, meaning that it stores water in its fleshy leaves, stems, and roots to save up for a non-rainy day. However even though cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. And although plants of the Cactus family are particularly prominent in the deserts of Mexico and the American West, they are also found in high and cold areas such as Peru. Artificial cactus plants range in size from miniature agave to the giant barrel cactus, complete with impressive thorns and beautiful flowers. You may be entranced by the prickly pear with its beautiful red edible fruit, as long as you remind yourself that you can't make a tasty jam with plastic fruit.

Most succulents come from the desert, but many are found on sandy beaches, dense rainforests and freezing mountaintops. No matter where you live, you can find fake succulents that match your weather. Best of all, since many juicy succulents have an almost plastic look, it's easy to get low budget fakery. Ice plant, vibrant red hen and chick, and cascading donkey tail are among the most popular, along with the many varieties and colors of Echeveria.

Ferns and Vines

Boston ferns are notoriously persnickety and it seems that small changes in light or water can send them into a death spiral. They're also quite pricey, but a big lush silk fern on a wicker stand will give you all the pleasure with none of the frustration. The Bracken and bird's nest ferns come in all sizes and can be grouped together to create your own little rainforest.

Trailing ivy works inside or outside and is very reasonably priced. A flowering trailer such as wisteria or morning glory wouldn't be realistic inside, but both make a wonderfully colorful outdoor trellis.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Yes, you can get a full selection of herbs made of silk or plastic--inedible, of course--to brighten up your kitchen or garden. You can buy an entire vertical garden wall or just a few small pots of your favorite herbs. Plastic rosemary is one of the most realistic herbs, while silk is the best material for a more delicate herb such as parsley.

There are scores of online sources for artificial plants, but it's best to check out the possibilities in person. Carefully arranged and kept free from dust, these fabulous fakes might even fool that neighbor with that annoyingly green thumb.