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Turn over a new leaf - but make sure it's real

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The article (or was it an advertisement? ) 'Turning over a new leaf ' (AJ 22.5.03) was questionable both in its philosophy and practical advice.

The problem with artificial plants is that they are, essentially, dead. A few look realistic but they only try to mimic real plants in form - they do not have all the other wonderful qualities of absorbing toxic chemicals emitted from floor and wall coverings, adding water vapour to the air by transpiration, giving out beneficial ions from their tips, and adding oxygen to the air at night.

They can only be considered a rather poor cosmetic addition to a scheme - in architectural terms rather like adding a fake Georgian portico to a house to add a bit of interest.

To suggest that we want to 'avoid the non-compliant ad hoc-ism of natural growth' is sad - that is what gives surprise and originality to a scheme.

I remember travelling to Florida a few years ago to select 40 corkscrew Ficus trees and during the nursery visits came across some totally unique specimens of a group of four trees in one pot. I tagged them and varied the design of the office headquarters in Knightsbridge to include them - a delightful accident.

The article's proposition that 'maintenance is effectively eliminated ' is just not true - I have seen some horrific examples of shrivelled up preserved palms laden with dust, which settles and stays more on artificial plants. They do need regular cleaning (which is a difficult task) and, whatever the sales pitch, need replacing every two to five years depending on the environment - not a long lifecycle material.

As a landscape practice, we have used artificial plants on some schemes where they are far away from the observer or in places that cannot be accessed for regular maintenance. All I would say about them is 'buyer beware'.

Philip Cave, Philip Cave Associates, London WC2

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