A mix of silk flowers and faux greenery decorates urns atop a pair of lion statues at Honey Starr’s home in Old Westbury, N.Y. - Newsday

Homeowners fill in with fake flowers

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — From the looks of it, Honey Starr is quite the gardener.

Splashes of summer color rim the grounds of her Old Westbury home. Deep terra-cotta pots filled with lush-looking dahlias and hyacinth line the deck. Massive urns of mums, spider greens, bush bamboo and field daisies crown a pair of stately lion statues flanking the front walk. At the driveway's edge, a long wooden flower box overflows with impossibly full mounds of yellow and white daisies, hydrangea and trailing vines.

What's her secret?

"I can't grow real flowers like these," confides Starr. Still, "No one ever, ever thinks they're fake."

And why would they? Though using artificial flowers indoors has long been perfectly acceptable — socially speaking — few have dared to put their arrangements out in the front yard. But some say the newest fake flowers look genuine enough that some people are willing to shun convention.

"What's coming in in plastic right now is looking extremely life-like," says Shelley Greenberg, owner of TerracottaHome, a flower shop in Great Neck. The rigid green stems and lackluster synthetic flowers of decades past have been ushered out by higher-quality flowers capable of fooling most people into thinking they're real — the stems are bendable, the petals have fluted edges and natural color variations, the blossoms aren't all perfectly wide-open.

When patrons wander the shop fingering Greenberg's mix of fresh and silk flower displays, she says, "90 percent of customers have to ask whether it's real."

At Michael's arts and crafts store in Huntington Station, floral designer Aria Catterson says plenty of customers pluck stems from the store's expansive silk flower displays to use in outdoor pots, beds and hanging baskets. Some want color in hard-to-grow shady spots. Others say they travel too often to keep fresh flowers watered and weeded. A few admit they simply envy a neighbor's pristine landscaping. All consider the solution is gardening with fake flowers.

"They don't die, you don't have to water them, they look great," says Catterson, who lives in Dix Hills. "Maybe they'll fade a little bit from the sun." For that reason, Michael's officially does not recommend their stock of artificial flowers for outdoor use.

Other manufacturers, such as California-based Hooks and Lattice, offer varieties that weather rain and UV rays.

After years of gardening exclusively with New Guinea impatiens and English ivy, Starr says she craved a showier look and tried her hand at arranging bundles of silk stems in wide pots. Purists may sniff derisively at the idea of planting faux flowers outdoors, but Starr says she's never been more pleased with the appearance of her yard. It's been particularly therapeutic in the wake of losing her daughter, Robin Starr Berman, to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in May.

"I got very bold this year," Starr says. "It takes a lot of work to get it all to flow."

Deer run so rampantly on Josephine Lane in East Islip — munching on every living bulb, bud and blossom within reach — that many neighbors have taken to landscaping with faux flowers.

"All the trees and bushes are eaten up," says Kathi King. "Everything looks like an umbrella."

She's tried tulips, daffodils, marigolds, even a few flowering ornamental trees. "Even if they don't like it, they pull it out of the ground and spit it out."

Enter clusters of faux hydrangea, geraniums and various ground covers, which are tucked into the mulch of the front yard's beds.

"It's probably easier than planting," King says. "You push them down and they're in. You give them a little fluff, bend them down and around and that's it."

Next door, Diane Kelly adds faux flowers such as peonies and geraniums around the perimeter of her contemporary-style home. She says she jumped on the bandwagon a few years ago.

"It definitely seems wacky," says Kelly, 54, who works as a personal trainer. "But it's nice to have some color in the yard."

Fooling the neighbors is hardly a concern, since everyone has the same problem. But visitors remain largely in the dark.

"From a distance you really can't tell the difference," King says. "Nobody knows, unless you don't pull them out and come June you still have daffodils blooming."

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