Out on the Streets: Can Plastic Be Fantastic?

Ever since I started my public planting series this year, I've been waiting for the right moment to ask Can plastic be fantastic? For years my daily commute ended at Bristol Temple Meads station where the most elaborate hanging baskets were to be found. As they were in the underpass section - the main thoroughfare to various train platforms - they were made from plastic as no self-respecting brightly coloured real plants would be able to survive the low light levels. However, this year they've disappeared. I suspect they've been hijacked by Kemble station - Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said he'd been fooled by some there on How Britain Got the Gardening Bug recently, until they were taken down for dusting.

So I shelved my planned post - though I was seriously tempted to make the 40 mile round trip to Kemble for you dear reader. Now I don't have to as I found just the thing on a very wet afternoon in Norwich recently. There's a great shopping area where one of the main focal points is the marvellous Royal Arcade. This place is a celebration of Art Nouveau dating from 1899 and the tiling murals are breathtaking. As I admired the designs, I realised that the flower displays above most of the shops were a most convincing plastic. You can see from their position that real flowers would be quite difficult to look after. I still can't make my mind up whether the flowers add anything as they hide quite a bit of the tiling when viewed at ground level. However, the pictured shop did have some real box topiary balls either side of the door in large planters. One of them was dead and actually looked much worse than the plastic flowers.

What do you think - is there a place or use for fake 'planting' in our public displays? Or should things be left unadorned in locations where real plants can't be used, particularly if the place is already as ornate as the one I found?

Don't forget there's still time for you to take part in this month's Out on the Streets - I'm keeping it open until early July for those of you who've said you need a little extra time to take your photos. Once you've got them and made your post, do come back over here and take the link from the top right sidebar, where you can leave us the link to your post in the comments.


  1. Wonderfully composed photo VP - I can see just what you mean about the elaborate and beautiful tiling.
    I think there's a good argument for dressing shops up with seasonal planting, it refreshes the shopping environment. But this particular example of plastics looks like garish pink icing. (Mind you, you could get the same effect with some shades of real geranium!)

  2. Some plastic plants/flowers are so good now its very difficult to tell them from real. We were at a dinner on Saturday and were speculating whether the flowers on the table were real until it was pointed out that as there was no water in the vase they were obviously false - dont you just hate some people

  3. Well, there's plastic and then there's plastic. I've seen some very obviously fake flowers in people's home "gardens," and they usually look pretty sad to me, but, I always think, what the hey! If the owner gets joy from them, so much the better. A friend lives next to someone who created a privacy hedge out of old plastic Christmas trees retrieved from the curb. Some look a lot better than others. The photo you show looks colorful and nice, and not obviously fake. Of course I prfer real flowers, but for public areas that require watering and care, I can see where nice plastic flowers would be fine! (We're running out of June so I have to go photograph public plantings... the traffic circle looks best in early September, though!)

  4. We have a shop front with a wonderful display of plastic flowers in Bridport - it looks really odd in the middle of winter!

    Best wishes Sylvia

  5. I've going to a local spring this saturday. I will post it as an on the streets. Don't care for plastic, would prefer some sort of art work sculpture or something where it is hard to grow plants.

  6. Scattered Gardener - thank you, you've reminded me that I have exactly that kind of geranium to show in this series too ;)

    PG - I agree, it's getting much harder to tell. Our local garden centre's started selling them as well!

    Monica - I'm looking forward to seeing your photos. Perhaps you need to show us the traffic circle now and in September as a kind of before and after photo?

    Sylvia - good point. Unless they change the display to a wintry one of course.

    Deb - looking forward to seeing what you come up with. Your contribution last time was wonderful. I like your idea of a sculpture instead of the plastic.

    Just to add a general note - I believe this might become a bit of a general discussion topic over the summer as I believe one of the Future Gardens also contains fake flowers.

  7. Isn't it all in the execution? When you think about it, why should we be snobby about plastic flowers if they're really well done -- is it inherently any worse than a well-done plaster frieze? The very word "plastic" has become pejorative.

    There are some very nasty plastic flowers. There can be something delightfully kitchy about them, too. Yet, some of the plastiplants I've seen lately have made me look twice to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing.

  8. Hi Helen - I do hope I wasn't coming over as being snobby about them. I was simply posing the question to open up a debate on the subject. And as I said in the piece, they certainly looked much better than the dead box topiary!

    Real flowers wouldn't survive in that shopping centre, nor the railway station I mentioned. However, in the example I've shown, the place is already rather ornate, so perhaps doesn't need further augmentation - fake or real. In the case of the station, they did brighten a rather gloomy and utilitarian area and you had to really look at them to realise they were plastic!

    I do find it rather ironic that a garden centre is selling plastic flowers though. It's interesting that the plastic topiary they're also selling there has been reduced drastically in price recently, suggesting that for fake topiary at least, there isn't much call for it in this part of the world.

  9. PS Helen - as you say it's all in the execution and perhaps personal preference too?


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