Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Faking It in the Window Box

Some months ago, in a time between winter and spring, I featured myself in an article about window boxes for the Washington Post. Not that I mentioned it; they’re not hot on first person in the real estate section, which is where my stuff usually lands.

The issue was that I couldn't find a better example of an out of season window box than my own. So there it was (alongside several prize-winning specimens snapped at the Philadelphia Flower Show) a photo of one of the five boxes on the front of my house, wearing its wintry garb: corners dripping ivy, assorted dried shrubbish, and pansies surrounding –wait for it -- a fake boxwood centerpiece.
For years now I’ve tried to get something permanent growing in the center of the boxes, which were installed over a decade ago. First there were real boxwood, clipped into perky balls. These looked particularly wonderful at Christmas, covered in tiny white lights. But they died.

I tried again the next year and worse happened, two of them dropped dead in late October, too late to be replaced and making a mess of the holiday display.

Then there was the year of the dwarf azalea, followed by several featuring spikes. The annual disasters were expensive and thoroughly irritating, though mostly my fault. I’m good with watering and feeding for the first few months and then get lazy, particularly with the upstairs boxes that are sheltered from rain.

Last fall, when the spikes I was trying again yellowed and drooped, I went on-line and hunted up fake boxwood, ordering five 12-inch specimens from a wedding supply vendor. (Who uses fake flowers in wedding displays, I ask you? And then I answer, That would probably be me, on one pretext or another).

12-inches seemed right, but there wasn’t enough stem to loft them into centerpieces, so I wired them onto chop sticks, which helped. They were also surprisingly skimpy things and required a lot of bending about to look fullish.

But they work, and as always with such things, no one notices.

The trick is to mix fake and real, and make sure the fakes are reasonably realistic. Plastic just will not do.

The fake should also be restrained to an accent, not dominate the box like they do in the skin-crawler pictured here, a display I had the misfortune to come across last week in Old Town, Alexandria. At a quick glance these fake peonies looked real, but they were so lush they demanded a closer look, which was their comeuppance.

Had one or two flowers been mixed with real ivy and potato vine, or some other mix drapey, bushy, and virtually unkillable things, they’d be witty—a touch of tromp l’loeil. On their own, a window box display of fake peonies (particularly in a window box where you can go nose to nose with them and sniff their counterfeit souls) is not just unimaginative, it's plain depressing.

I refuse to get into the two boxes full of plastic flowers that Pizzaria Uno currently displays at its Georgetown location. Shudder.

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