Saying it with faux flowers
Eleanor Flegg with the best in design and decoration for your home
The Swiss cheese plant in my bedroom is 30 years old. Maybe more. It came as part of the décor in a 1980s student flat. When I moved on, I brought it with me. Despite some ups and downs, that plant is still going strong. Its will to live inspires me! Last year it burst its pot and ended up on the floor in a pile of earth and shards (you're meant to repot them every two years). We hastily stuffed it back into a larger pot and hoped for the best. It survived, against the odds, and currently measures six foot across.
When I look at faux plants, I can't help them comparing them to my own Swiss cheese plant. The best artificial plants are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. I nearly bought one by accident in Ikea before Christmas. It looked gorgeous and it was only when I read the label that I realized my mistake. This made me feel both cheated and impressed. The design was stunning, but yet the object was not what it made itself out to be. At the moment, it's hard to find a homeware store without a selection of artificial plants. Often, they come under the heading of "faux botanicals", which also includes artificial cut flowers.
The best of them are spectacular. The British designer Abigail Ahern has a particularly convincing collection of cacti. Her San Morita cactus (€158) is almost a metre high. So is her Tule cactus. The globe-shaped Goldenball cactus comes in two sizes, the larger of which (€86) is 46cm high and 36cm deep. This is ballsy, carefully constructed, design on a scale that would certainly make an impact on a room (and your wallet!). A group of them would look amazing, but you'd also need to buy online and factor in delivery costs as this range isn't currently available in Irish shops.
More local, and more affordable, the Caroline Donnelly Eclectic SS18 range for Dunnes includes a 35cm high cactus in a pretty pot (€15) and a succulent in an elephant-shaped pot or a cactus in a frog-shaped pot (€18 each). A taller (36cm high) aloe in a textured pot costs €30. Like all faux botanicals, they offer a very handy way of bringing greenery into the home. You can put them in dark corners, they don't need to be watered, and they're not going to die on you. There's also research to say that people find the presence of green plant-like things relaxing (even if they're not actually living).
A real aloe vera plant, of approximately 30 cm high, costs €7 from Plant Life. It comes in a bog-standard plastic pot (not nearly as attractive as the CDE versions) but the real plant has a couple of advantages over the artificial one. Aloe vera plants do a good job of cleaning the air and especially in getting rid of benzene, one of the nasties found in paint and cleaning products. They're also useful in first aid. If you break off a piece of aloe vera plant, it oozes a healing slime that can be applied directly to burns.
"The trend for faux plants baffles me," says Niamh O'Doherty, floral stylist and owner of House of Flowers in Mullingar. "How easy do you need it to be?" As she points out, the most popular artificial plants are cacti and succulents, both of which are very easy to care for.
"A succulent will take a drop of water every couple of weeks. You'd have to be really bad at minding plants to kill a cactus!" She's currently waiting for her tiny hyacinth bulbs, planted in vintage teacups, to flower. "They'll last for about two or three months and they'll smell amazing. Then they die back and we store them in a cupboard. Everything has its cycles, plants no more than humans. The whole idea of having plants in your house is because it's life!"
As a florist, she's found that some people adore faux botanicals and other people have no time for them at all. "You wouldn't believe what strong feelings people have! Older people would be very opposed to them." I tested this theory on my mum, who is an expert gardener, by showing her a gorgeously lifelike peony rose from Neptune (€18). Real peony roses make beautiful cut flowers, but they're very short-lived. This one will last forever. "Yes," said my mum, admiring the artificial bloom, "but in three months' time you're still going to be living with the same peony rose…" Point proven. For people who love flowers, their impermanence is part of the charm.
For many, though, a vase of faux flowers adds a sense of life to a dark alcove or a corner of the bathroom. "They fill a gap and make it look pretty, and you don't need to worry about trimming the stems and changing the water," O'Doherty says. Although she generally prefers real flowers, she recently bought some blue hydrangeas from Brown Thomas' Silk-ka range (€15 per spray) to decorate her guest bedroom. She recommends that you buy the best that you can afford.
"You can go into Euro Giant and buy a flower, but we all know what that's going to look like…" In contrast, O'Doherty shows me an orchid spray from Harvey Norman. It not only looks like a real flower, but it feels like one too.
Where faux botanicals really come into their own, she explains, is at special events. "People often want a big outdoor installation, and that's all very well, but you can't count on the weather... If I use artificial ones, I can be certain that it's going to stay perfect."
See houseofflowersdesigns.ie, abigailahern.com, plantlife.ie, dunnesstores.com, harveynorman.ie, brownthomas.com, and neptune.com