Foliage Options for Challenging Spots

Often in this business, you get a new job opportunity and the client wants plants hanging from the rafters, palm trees inside grand rooms that remain in darkness for days, or planters that are situated right above dining patrons that would be a complete nightmare to service.  You’re envisioning one of your staff falling off a ladder trying to water plants, dying palm trees or hurried phone calls making sure someone shows up to service at six a.m. or after midnight.  You don’t want to lose a sale because the situation would be dangerous to maintain, or cause sticker shock with the client when quoting out replacement costs. For less than ideal places, alternative foliage options could be the answer.  

The main reason interiorscapers get asked for quotes is because the client is expecting live plants and has envisioned their work space or customer location to be filled with plants similar to the hanging gardens of Babylon. One of the worst parts of my job is to inform them that servicing their vision would be too risky or that the maintenance cost is way beyond their budget.  Persuading them to incorporate other foliage options is often tricky.  I try to appeal to their emotions, saying something like this room with the dark walls and low light is really detrimental to a plant’s health and not a happy place for them to grow. Normally, a true plant lover is quick to be open to other possibilities.  Here are some ideas I’ll typically throw out as live foliage alternatives.

Dried Botanicals

The next best thing to a living plant is a dead dried one.  While the no-maintenance is great, the selection is going to be limited.  There are several flowers such as hydrangeas, lilium, gypsum, lavender that still maintain much of their living beauty when dried.  

For one design I did for a grocery store that wanted real plants above their cooler sections, I used groupings of curly willow, echinop, lotus pods, larkspur and hydrangeas that gave the organic store a nice hippie vibe that they wanted without the high cost of high risky servicing that would have to be during super late or super early hours.

Your local floral supplier is a good source for dried foliage options.  Some dried foliage arrives naturally dried, and other varieties are dyed to enhance color. A good savings trick I use is saving leftover wedding material like baby’s breath or seeded eucalyptus that is very easy to dry out and maintains much of its original appearance.

Unfortunately, this foliage can become very delicate and brittle especially if you have to transport it.  In order to help prevent breakage, I will go over branches with a spray glue or you can try hairspray to help the delicate material stay together.  

Preserved Botanicals

When I worked for another interiorscape company, our NFL team headquarters requested a juniper spiral topiary for the wife of the owner’s office.  Her office was large and elegant but the windows were covered and had very little natural light coming through. Even with the drapes open, there was no way a spiral juniper would hold up indoors. Additionally, techs couldn’t have regular access to her office. 

Her mind was dead set on that topiary and artificial was out of the question.  In order to give her a real juniper, the best option was to use a preserved juniper spiral.  Different from a dried plant, these plants are put through a chemical process immediately after cutting that includes a colorant which keeps them in their perfect natural state.  No maintenance, no light required, preserved foliage can be the answer for impossible living plant situations such as this. One downside is the limited selection. 

You can find bonsai, dracaenas, palms, junipers for trees and then other companies specialize in florals like roses, protea, hydrangeas.  While these botanicals will hold up for years, the cost is steep.  Preserved botanicals will be the most expensive live foliage alternative but for the client that is determined to have the real thing and has the budget, this is a great option 

Keep Maintenance in Mind

There are still maintenance business opportunities with dried or preserved botanicals.  I try to check in with my alternative botanical clients quarterly to see how the alternative foliage options are holding up.  Depending on the placement area, light will start to fade foliage, regular touch will certainly cause some damage, and of course, dust will eventually start to collect.  You have to be especially careful dusting.  Don’t try to shake or use a cloth or mist, otherwise you can have a big mess on your hands.  The best option is to use a small handheld fan or a hairdryer set on low to gently blow the dust away.  In some situations, replacement of the damaged material is the only option.  In this case, you get the sale all over again.

It can be a challenge balancing client desires while maintaining costs and maintenance requirements. However, these unique situations offer interiorscapers a unique opportunity to make your expertise shine with creative solutions that both you and your client love.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

Fiberglass Planters

Leave a Reply

Join the Community