When it comes to adding greenery to your home and garden, the debate about whether it’s okay to use artificial foliage has been in the air for quite some time.
Many people swear by so-called fauxliage, while others say they’d never dream of spending their cash on anything but the real deal. In part, that’s because of the lingering image of fake plants as being made purely from plastic, and a lack of awareness around reclaimed wood and natural fabric versions.
With modern artificial plants increasingly using sustainable materials, like real wood and bamboo, let’s take a look at instances when faking it might be the only option – alongside the justifiable complaints and reservations that advocates of living greenery have.
Gardening with mobility restrictions
For people who have mobility restrictions, such as wheelchair users and elderly people, it often simply isn’t possible or affordable to maintain a garden that contains real, living plants. The options can feel stark – accept a grey garden of paving slabs and gravel, or try to find the funds to pay a regular gardener.
This is a fairly obvious example of where artificial plants can be the only route to enjoying the mood-boosting properties that flowers and greenery can bring. While some homeowners do have the time, money and energy to look after a living garden, the story isn’t the same for everyone.
Low beds can be too far to bend or reach, and even caring for indoor plants presents a challenge to those whose hands are occupied with walking frames, sticks and wheelchair wheels when moving around their space.
Considering carbon footprint
One of the core reasons that people advocate for real flowers over artificial ones is because of environmental concerns, and these are not unfair. A living garden cleans the air and creates oxygen, and if you plant the right flowers, you can help to support bees and other insect life. Artificial plants do no such thing.
While plants vs plastics feels like a debate that doesn’t need much consideration, the carbon footprint of plants bought from a market or garden centre may surprise a few of you.
Cacti, succulents and all manner of tropical flowers are very on-trend right now, so it may not come as a complete surprise to hear that 90% of the flowers sold in the UK have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to be here.
Farms in Africa and South America use ethylene-blocking chemicals to delay the ripening of plants for sale in the UK, and when you take into account the carbon footprint of chemicals, airfreighting, artificial light and temperature control, you might be surprised at just how problematic the real thing can sometimes be.
One report on the environmental impact of real roses imported into the UK noted, surprisingly, that flowers shipped from Kenya actually had a smaller carbon footprint than flowers shipped from the Netherlands. That’s because the climate in Kenya gives growers the benefits of natural warmth over artificially-heated greenhouses.
If you are shopping for natural plants with the planet in mind, the best bet is to buy seasonal flowers and greenery grown within a few hours of your home.
Another concern often raised with fauxliage is the common use of plastics. Modern artificial plants use a range of materials, such as bamboo, bark and organic fabrics such as silk and cotton, but many do still involve the use of plastic.
Unlike single-use plastics, a near-globally accepted problem contributing to the pollution of both land and sea, the materials used in artificial plants are designed to last so that you don’t have to keep replacing them – much like the plastic foam in your sofa seat, or car dashboard.
Just like other household items that involve plastic, such as chairs, tables, white goods and electricals, plastic-based plants can be passed on, re-sold or simply sent for recycling. Of course, that isn’t quite on par with being 100% natural.
A key benefit of real plants is that when they die, they can be thrown on the compost heap and used to put nutrients back into your soil. Any gardener who has struggled to maintain their flowerbeds through hot summers and freezing winters can testify to the impermanence of many species of plant life – but also to the usefulness that a mulch of dead plants can offer.
If you are physically able to tend to real plants but simply don’t have the time to do it, consider sowing wildflower seeds in your outside spaces, and only choosing artificial plants for those dark indoor corners where nothing living can survive.
Pet-safe indoor foliage
Of course, it’s not just people with mobility issues or people who are painfully busy that can’t look after living plants. Another reason many people turn to artificial plants is because they have pets.
A vast array of easy-care indoor houseplants, cut flowers and foliage, are toxic to cats and dogs. Instagram is alive with #MonsteraMondays and images of aloe vera, dragon trees and philodendron right now. But if you have a four-legged, furry family member, any one of those plants could cause serious illness, or even death.
Pet owners who don’t want to risk the lives of their beloved animals are best to look to things like boston ferns and spider plants to decorate their homes, steering well clear of highly toxic plants such as lilies, chrysanthemums and aloes.
However, if your pets enjoy playing with the hanging leaves of indoor plants, or are liable to digging in their pots, it’s easy to understand why artificial plants might offer more appeal.
Mood-boosting properties of flowers and greenery
Finally, a hot topic around plants of all kinds is their potential for stress reduction and mood lifting. Whether you’re in favour of faking it or keeping it real, there’s no denying that having plants around your home and garden can have positive effects on your overall wellbeing.
This is true whether the plants are real or not, but as with all aspects of the argument, there are things to consider both for and against investing in the real thing. Tending to a garden or regularly caring for real indoor plants can be a great exercise in mindfulness, giving you a period of quiet time in the day to enjoy nature and focus on nothing but the simple tasks in front of you.
However, for those who are a little less green-fingered, spending money on living plants only to have them wilt and die can be highly disheartening. The feeling that you’ve inadvertently killed something due to improper care is certainly not a mood-booster. And come the winter time, even an avid gardener will admit that their green and colourful garden quickly makes way to a sparse, frozen space.
For generation rent, who are frequently moving house and require home decor that can easily move with them without suffering for it, artificial plants made with more sustainable materials might be a perfect fit. For homeowners with the time and ability to care for real plants, they may seem to be a no-brainer.
Whether your home and garden should feature foliage or fauxliage comes down to your own personal needs and lifestyle. For most of us, the ideal solution may well be a combination of the two.
If you’re keen to grow a real garden but only have indoor space to work with, this post might help.
If you’re looking into plants as a form of mindfulness, you might also like to read my meditation tips for the easily distracted.