Lifestyle

It's Alive! ... Or is it?

It

Spring has sprung and that means it's time to get gardening - indoors too

When you were in kindergarten, did you make "flowers" with a blob of glue, the end of a pencil and a square piece of pink tissue paper? If you did that's probably your most vivid memory of "fake" plants. Man-made flowers have long been the butt of jokes, and mention of them usually inspires frowns. But they've come a long, long way. "These days, if you do it right, nobody knows the difference," says Barbara Park, director of Plant-a-Park in Central, pointing to a vibrant red, partially latex, flower.

There's a valid argument for man-made flowers in modern urban jungles like Hong Kong. Fresh cut flowers and real potted greenery dotting the home are lovely, but pets with habits of nibbling (sometimes) toxic plants, allergies, and simply living between two high-rises can put a crimp in the best laid plans. And the man-made plant's biggest upside trumps all others. "There's no maintenance. There's no problem with insects, no problem with over-watering. And living plants, as much as we all love them, are very difficult to look after," declares Park.

Getting the right balance of light for real plants is tricky to master. "I'm a gardener and I know very well how hard it is to look after plants, particularly in an apartment where the natural light is only on one side. You bring your plants in another three feet and they die," she explains. Contrary to popular belief, plants don't crave endless amounts of sun - altogether different from light. "A few hours [of sunlight] a day is fine. But not everybody has a terrace and they want to have plants inside the house. It's quite difficult," Park points out, and that's where the man-mades come in handy.

Large windows, micro-balconies and "useless" empty spaces in many flats are perfect for a little faux-flora, but if you do have a terrace or rooftop and you're a curse to plant life everywhere, some are suitable for use outside. Park admits most people come to her for indoor decor, but, "Nowadays you can have plants made of plastics, which are fine outdoors, preferably not in full sun; in time they will change colour if they're exposed to full sun all day. But you can do some very successful outdoor gardening, as they do in New York. But of course that's largely in concrete canyons." Sounds perfect.

Of course, the knock on fake plants comes when any of us looks at one in a doctor's office that's clearly been neglected for a considerable amount of time. "Of course you must dust from time to time," Park scoffs. "If you have a thick carpet that throws up dust when it's vacuumed you must dust the plants. Or every six months," as she makes the universal sign for swishing, "Soapy water." That's great for plastic but what about fabric? "Same. Even flowers. Then dry them with a hair dryer."

Plant-a-Park is a commercial enterprise and the majority of the shop's clientele is in the hospitality industry, but she welcomes consumers. It's simply a matter of demand. The ficus tree is what Park refers to as the "workhorse" of the man-made plant world, as most people in her experience want natural looking trees. The ones Plant-a-Park carries has leaf branches glued to a natural trunk and admittedly it's pretty convincing. Just be sure to keep it out of the sun.