SINGAPORE - The fifth floor of The Verge shopping mall in Serangoon Road is awash with colour.
Pretty flowers of every kind are in full bloom. Roses and sunflowers are thriving, despite the lack of sun or rain indoors, their verdant leaves bursting with health.
No high-tech urban gardening experiment is at work here - these are artificial flowers sold by at least four stores in the mall.
Once shunned for their tackiness - and association with one too many dusty, kitschy, stuck-in- the-1970s interiors - fake flowers and plants are enjoying a resurgence, mainly because of new technology and better materials that make them look virtually indistinguishable from real blooms.
Mr George Kok, who runs Hoi Kee Flower Shop in Beach Road and supplies artificial plants to government agencies and private businesses, says that customers are often fooled.
"Sometimes when I deliver the plants to the office, the women in the office will ask, 'How much water do I need to give the plant and must I put it out in the sun?'" says the 62-year-old with a laugh.
Hoi Kee, started by Mr Kok's father in 1948 making paper flowers, began selling artificial fabric flowers and plants about 30 years ago. Among the fake trees it sells are 2.4m-tall Ficus benjamina, bamboo and caladiums, the last easily identifiable by its arrowhead-shaped leaves.
Floral specimens include guzmanias, anthuriums and heliconia plants.
Other lifestyle and decorating stores are also catering to those who want to decorate their space with greenery or flowers, but baulk at the hassle of constantly arranging fresh-cut flowers or caring for live plants.
Ikea sells more than 12 types of artificial flowers such as roses, gerberas, lilies, orchids, chrysanthemums and dahlias. Another lifestyle and furniture chain, Francfranc, stocked about 60 seasonal flowers last year such as gerberas and peonies. These are mainly made of polyester and polyethylene.
Most of these flowers are made from cotton or polyester-blend fabrics. Some are mixed with latex to give them a smoother and more realistic touch, and add shine so that their leaves look more realistic.
Stores mostly get their supply from China and Hong Kong.
Ms Rosalind Yang, co-owner of Vanda Win in The Verge who goes to Hong Kong three to four times a year to check out new flowers, says: "The technology is so good that no one can tell it is fake. Aside from using better fabric quality, the manufacturers also now have better printers, which can vary the colours and tones so that they look like how a real plant grows."
Prices for flowers can range from a few dollars for a single stalk to between $400 and $600 for a 2.1m-tall Ficus tree or a standing floral arrangement.
Daco Marketing, which sells fake flowers at its shop at The Verge and real flowers at its outlet in PSA Building in Alexandra Road, sells real roses for between $3 and $4 a stalk. Its fake flowers cost $3.90 a stalk.
Like any florist, faux flower shops can also put together floral arrangements from the flowers a customer picks out.
Daco's administrator and secretary Janice Luo, 52, says: "Artificial flowers last longer, are maintenance-free and won't attract insects such as mosquitos. And you don't have to change it often as most of the flowers can last for years, depending on wear and tear."
Student Nancy Charles, 29, a recent convert from fresh-cut flowers to mock beauties, says: "Fresh flowers, especially roses, can be expensive. Artificial ones are cheaper and I don't feel bad about destroying nature. As a gift, they last longer and people remember me every time they see the flowers."
Ms Charles, who is sitting examinations to qualify as an insurance agent, started buying fake flowers for her home last year. She prefers fake roses and orchids as they are cheaper, although she still buys fresh chrysanthemum and lilies on special occasions.
Given the ease of caring for these decorative items, some live plant experts turn to these places for some faux help.
Landscape designer Kenny Lee occasionally suggests fake flowers and plants to his clients as an option.
"Clients want some foliage, but something that's not too colourful, in their offices or home. But the area where they want to place a live plant might not be suitable as there may not be enough sunlight for the plant to grow. In that case, if it's only for show, I'll help them to source for fake plants," says Mr Lee, 33.
His company, Ecoflora in Neo Tiew Lane 1, does landscaping as well as rents out real plants, and installs home and commercial gardens and maintains them.
Mr Robert Han, group general manager of The Quayside Group, opts for artificial flowers to decorate its Chinese restaurant Peony Jade. "Sometimes, it's better to use fake ones because you can play with the design. They can be easily bent into the shape you want. Fresh flowers are too stiff and fragile," says Mr Han, 55, who does some of the floral arrangements himself.
The flowers he wants, such as cymbidium orchids and peonies, are seasonal while fake blooms are available year round from Steve Florists & Gifts Centre at The Verge, the shop he patronises. "Also, certain events such as outdoor catering might require us to set up one day in advance. Real flowers won't last till the end," he adds.
For housewife Yoke Mei Kea, the fake floral trend never went away. Every year for more than 20 years, she heads to Vanda Win to buy two table arrangements of faux blooms for her living room coffee table. She also buys a pot of these artificial creations to place near the entrance of her bungalow in Novena.
Last Tuesday afternoon, she spent 40 minutes at the floral shop, watching her standing arrangement of magnolias and red berries being put together. She spent about $500 in total.
The 59-year-old says: "I like to have flowers in the house because they brighten the place. But I don't like real ones because they die too fast and you have to keep replacing them.
"For these fake flowers, I just need to use a feather duster to clean them and they last a long time."
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