London's latest secret: Window dressing with faux flowers

The best faux flowers look great, fool the neighbours and have a place in the lives of busy Londoners.
Pristine white cyclamen that won't lose a petal through the fiercest storms. Box hedging with a refreshingly looser look than the ubiquitous sharply clipped greenery around town. Could this be the perfect winter window box for front-of-house? Undoubtedly. Look as closely as you like at the crisp, green-and-white planting in reality and you would still be hard-pushed to tell that the white frill of carmine-stemmed cyclamen and the backing of healthy box, complete with baby buds on the growing tips, are in fact very clever fakes.

The lollipop bay tree standing sentry by this townhouse's front door, in a square black planter and top-dressed with glossy white pebbles, lends the lie beautifully, too. However, the smartest trick is reserved for the casement well, that small and awkward space so many London buildings have that, if left uncovered, becomes a repository for fallen leaves and Twix wrappers.

How to turn a dark dead end into a light and lively view from the basement window? Inexpensive polycarbonate supplies a clear roof, and several bags of pale stone chippings provide the floor. A sheet of mirror on the opposite wall appears not only to double the space instantly, but also doubles the effect of a trio of zinc planters that hold realistic - but artificial - onion grasses, chosen for their gentle greenery that doesn't block any light. At night, uplighters automatically set to go on at dusk create a dramatic effect.


The great green solution: onion grass does not block light so makes the ideal choice for a small casement well

In awkward London spaces such as balconies, light wells, high walls and basements, where plants are difficult or impossible to tend, fakes provide a great green solution. For window boxes that are out of reach - or if you are out of town and cannot water regularly — artificial is the answer: no watering, feeding or deadheading required. No box blight or greenfly, or black staining on the walls made by water leaking from the window boxes.

"Our clients - some are time-poor, others have a second home - simply want no-maintenance plants that look good all the time," says Rebecca Gwyn of Fake It Flowers (, the company that dressed the house on this page, supplied another client with a wall of solid box hedging as screening in a Chelsea roof garden to provide privacy from neighbours, and is about to start work on a Belgravia terrace with two fake "living" green walls. "I've installed planters of English lavender around three walls of a Marble Arch courtyard so that the client has a permanent flowery view when she looks out of her first-floor study. The walls are 10ft high, so real plants aren't an option."

Not everybody, though, wants the unreality of flowering lavender in winter.

"One of the first things I ask a client is, 'How seasonally sensitive are you?' Some don't mind, others do." For those who prefer to switch their windowboxes and planters with the seasons, the artificial stems, pushed into florist's foam and top-dressed, can be pulled out and stored until the next year, making less than £60 for a row of cyclamen a real deal. A permanent backing of shaggy box, depending on density required, costs from £100. Informal winter window box choices might be baby conifers, heathers and pretty trails of birdsfoot ivy, while summer blooms include geraniums, hydrangeas, violas and ranunculus. No need for the green-fingered to feel guilty: this is dressing, not gardening, and very smart dressing at that.

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