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Fake Flowers: Ever Green and Always Growing

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Fake flowers are blooming where they've never been before -- in upscale gardens, window boxes and containers. To increase sales of fakes, wholesalers such as Aldik, Inc. has botanists on staff to assure their botanical accuracy. Flowers are identified and sold by their botanical name. Some fakes include leaves with brown spots, and bug bites to make them look more natural. One salesman claimed their flowers could "trick a hummingbird." Even the rose fabric feels like real petals and flower stems are sealed so they can be put in water to complete the ruse.

Not so long ago, buyers used fakes only where real flowers were not practical. Now, it appears, buyers substitute fakes for real ones even when real flowers are easy and inexpensive to use. The question is, "Why grow a real plant if a fake one looks as good and is less work?" A bouquet of a dozen gladiolas, with each flower at a different stage of development, is a top seller. Also, roses, peonies and gardenias sold with a vial of their own scent are popular. Drops of the fragrance are dispersed in the water or on the petals and the scent lasts up to a month.

Conni Cross, a leading Long Island garden designer has fooled many a visiting garden club in the fall. When most gardens show distress, her garden glows. In an urn beside her driveway, an orange nasturtium basked in the sunlight against the misty, silvery sheen of Lotus berthelotii's feathery foliage and an Agave's tough rosette of green sword-like leaves. In a flower border atop an antique wheel barrel, a 3-gallon pot was in full bloom with dahlias and variegated cannas foliage. No one suspected the nasturtiums and dahlias were fake, nor that Cross who owns Environmentals, Inc., a wholesale nursery in Cutchogue, New York, would mix fakes with real plants.

Cross makes no apologies. Used with discretion she says, "it is aesthetic and practical." She buys from New Growth Designs, a wholesale web site selling botanically-correct flowers, plants and berries. Their goal is "to be ever green, and always growing."

Many upscale designers, like Betsey Johnson, have no qualms about using good fakes in their gardens. Mario Buatto, the celebrated interior decorator, uses fabulous fakes frequently in client homes. (One client's housekeeper unknowingly watered fake orchids for a year.) Buatto "plants" fake garden flowers -- foxgloves, orchids, delphiniums, hyacinths, lady's mantle, and roses -- in terra cotta pots. To complete the ruse, he adds saucers to give the illusion the plants are watered. Covering the soil in the pot with real moss also helps make the flowers believable.

One of the first times Chris Madden, an interior guru, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show she told the audience to "only buy fresh flowers." But she too succumbed and has been known to poke faux flowers into her window boxes and garden when they needed "a lift".

It's not simply an East Coast phenomenon. Rosalind Creasy, a West Coast garden designer, known for starting the edible landscape trend, has a client who spots silk flowers around her garden for color when she entertains. However, like a facelift, it's something the client wouldn't own up to in public. Creasy doesn't condone the practice yet felt obligated to give her client pointers. "Be subtle and cover your tracks. Use them seasonally, no delphiniums in early winter. Poke fake delphiniums into real delphinium foliage, or delphinium-like plants growing in a natural position, not scrunched together in a bouquet."

While most everyone agrees you can't fool Mother Nature, we now know you can fool with her.