Jack and the Beanstalk, by Jessie Wilcox Smith
BY KIMBERLY MAYER
I’d been browsing end tables in a vast and sparsely appointed CB2 showroom in La Jolla for some time before I realized that the potted trees scattered about were artificial. Fiddle Leaf Fig, Dracaena, Palm, Eucalyptus. What once cheapened a room, does it still? Not necessarily. Not here apparently. I’d been pondering this issue for a condo we are furnishing for rental in Solana Beach, California. What can you do plant-wise when you’re not there to care for it?
Like a skater on thin ice, I pressed my luck and slid over to the Arhaus showroom. Artificial trees there too. If you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t know. There, in a backroom among various items that had been marked down, I took the plunge on a 7’ palm tree. Up close, I could appreciate that the trunk was made of real fiber. The hairy fiber got me, and it came home with me.
And now I cannot imagine the living room without it. How did this happen?
As a child I used to press flowers and string daisies for wreaths to wear in my hair. I still find dried, preserved, and even wilted plants lovely. Silk flowers not so much. Silk flowers trigger an unpleasant memory for me. I was single, getting a divorce, and living alone in a railroad flat in a brownstone that had seen better days in Midtown Manhatten. A sublet apartment. A closet where I thought about hanging myself. On a dinner date with advertising executives in Greenwich CT our hostess pointed out silk flower arrangements gifted by her mad man husband, one for each child born to them. They, the arrangements, were displayed on bookcases, console tables, end tables and side tables in their elegant living room. All I could think was, as if every flower would be in bloom at once!
Sorrow for my own marriage engulfed me then. At the time it was like seeing the possibility of a life I’d lost. As if my marriage, might have come to this. As if that was what I wanted. It was not a happy period for me. I see all that in silk flowers.
Even now, artificial trees were something I had to warm up to. No, I had to push myself. From the disciplines of an architectural/interior design background to writing and Master Gardening, what am I doing now but appointing artificial trees in my interiors. Heaven help me.
Here’s what I’ve learned: The first thing I have to do is to stop calling them “artificial trees.” Stop saying artificial trees, artificial plants, artificial anything. They are faux botanicals. The next thing I learned is to place them where, if they were a real specimen, the light would be right and they might thrive. Give them credibility. Also, give them some distance. Let them hang back. People should be surprised, as I was in that CB2 showroom.
Call it magical thinking but as soon as you disclose something, you find you are not alone. Think of all the photo shoots in the world of design, and how essential we have come to feel plants are in our environments, our interiors. A photograph doesn’t know faux from real, so we’ve all been dupped a trillion times, I’m sure.
It’s a dirty little secret, and now you have it.
6 responses to “Fee Fi Faux Fum”
I absolutely love this!🥰 You are so raw and real in your writing. Nothing “faux” about you. But then again, I’m not a bit surprised. You were always so real and stayed true to who you are.❤️
You are too kind!
Yes! I’ve been fooled by faux so many times that I’ve also finally decided to change my perspective. Going from transfixed to trans-faux has made a huge difference. Wonderful. Like you.
Love that: “going from trans-fixed to trans-faux.” You’re a genius, Gil.
As always your wonderful passage gets me thinking. This time about perceptions and memory. Interesting that the subtler art of faux botanicals has escaped me or dupped me but the idea of artificial flowers and plants conjures up road memorials in NM and Mexico. The visual and associative memory is strong.
However, being an afficionado of the house plant, I would say that a wilted rhododendron or a shriveled begonia is offensive to me, and while I tend to balk at artificial plants where real ones will grow, I would rather see a pert faux botanical palm than a dying eucalyptus in any bank lobby. And amazing, that plastic treemakers use real wood for trunks!
I have a plant that I have had since undergraduate school and although if may look a bit disabled at times, it persists. I believe that plants have energy that resonates with that of the owner. What I love about your faux palm and preparation for the rental, is that you are eliminating the sense of abandonment and multiple caretakers that a real palm might endure. Feels compassionate and respectful by a master gardener such as yourself.
The great anthropologist Margaret Mead actually talked about the practicality of the whole artificial plant phenomenon (which started after WWII and really took off by 1960) by offering the opinion that plastic plants are indicative of an attempt to ‘circumvent nature.’ I found a quote, “People are unwilling to be at the mercy of a fading flower.” Perhaps she would agree with you in this time of rentals and airbnbs that a tree or plant may be unwilling to be at the mercy of an uncaring transient!
The other thought I had when reading this passage is from neuroscience: the brain makes and stores associations between the sensory information (e.g., sights, sounds, smells, positions, and emotions – silk flowers) from that specific event (e.g., difficult divorce) allowing us to generalize to sensory information present in current or future events. The remarkable capacity of the brain to take a specific event and generalize, makes us vulnerable to the development of ‘false’ associations and false generalizations from a specific traumatic event to other non-threatening situations such as silk flowers. I know that was a difficult period in your life and so grateful that your move west and meeting Paul allowed you to flower and grow. D.H. Lawrence wrote once that, “Happiness is being used by life” in all its messiness.
Once again, your writing has been an inspiration. Love always, Jane
I learn so much from you, my dear. Artificial flowers in roadside memorials are a vivid and chilling example. Death by traffic accident or a divorce, there I go again, taking the sensory information from a specific event and wanting to generalize or wax philosophical, on plastic flowers now too.