Don’t Be a Plastic Flower

Plastic flowers are popping up around here like fall mushrooms sprouting in my lawn. And when something shows up repeatedly in a fairly short time I think the universe is trying to get my attention. I’m weird that way.

This summer after a friend finished staging her house she gave me the faux flower display she’d used to lock down the sale. It was an attractive, life-like arrangement and the colors were pretty. Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of artificial flowers and had an abundance of cutting flowers growing in the garden, I put them in the dining room thinking I’d enjoy them for a few weeks before passing them on to someone else. The faux flowers remain in their waterless vase, a testament to my over-committed schedule (aka laziness) and my inability to say no to a well-meaning friend in the first place.

Last month, the subject of plastic flowers came up again. A bride-to-be was discussing floral arrangements for her wedding and said she was probably going to use plastic flowers as they were considerably cheaper and flowers ‘really didn’t matter.’ My response was immediate, visceral and surprisingly strong. Flowers do matter, I thought to myself, and plastic flowers seemed so wrong in the context of a wedding. Better to have only a few real flowers than a boatload of fake ones I told the woman when she asked my opinion. I couldn’t articulate my reasoning, beyond the fact that I’m loyal gardener and ardent lover of all things floral, and that I almost always favor real over fake.

Last week, plastic flowers reared their perfect perky little heads a third time in a book called Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier. The authors have a fresh take on an entrepreneurial approach to business, and much of what they say (delivered in blog style chapters) is applicable to self-publishing. One chapter is called ‘Don’t Be a Plastic Flower.’

Intrigued, I turned to that one first. Their points were simple: in order to succeed and grow a business, be real, don’t fear your flaws and accept the beauty of imperfection. They go into more detail than that, and they tie it into a business sensibility, but it boils down to giving customers something tangible and genuine, and recognizing that in providing something of real value, there’s always the risk of flaws. In short, no plastic flowers allowed.

The Japanese have something called wabi-sabi. It’s an aesthetic based on the appreciation of beauty in a transient and imperfect world. Character and uniqueness are favored, scratches and fissures are okay. In that culture, many of the antique bowls used in the tea ceremony have cracks, uneven glazes, and imperfect shapes. And they are highly prized for their inadequacies.

When I write novels, I’m always careful to develop characters with flaws. Most writers I know are careful to do that too. We recognize at a deep level that flawed characters are more believable, more relatable, and more likable. And yet it can be a real challenge to accept and let our own imperfections show.

That, I decided, was the lesson of the plastic flowers. In a culture that favors the flawless, the perfect, the plastic flower, I need to honor the beauty of imperfection. And I also need to find a new home for the faux flowers in my dining room.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Be a Plastic Flower

  1. Great post! And, re the woman who was going to opt for plastic flowers for her wedding, because “flowers don’t matter,” I would like to ask her why she’s bothering at all, if that’s how she feels. Undoubtedly because she wants the “perfect” wedding, and social custom decrees such a wedding must have flowers.

    1. What’s interesting is that she always wanted fresh flowers for her bouquet but was fine with plastic flowers everywhere else. After some thought she adopted the ‘less is more’ philosophy and settled on two very simple fresh arrangements.

  2. Our world is inundated with “fake” just now, so I’m all in favour of real flowers. Although, I have some beautiful hydrangea in the garden just now that I will cut and use as dried flowers during the winter season. However fake flowers in a “staged” house seems appropriate–the buyer doesn’t want to know about the real people who used to live there.

    1. I love hydrangea, fresh or dried, and for several years I dried them too, along with larkspur,nigella, statice and cornflowers for winter color. And I totally agree with using dried flowers for staging. The last thing you need is bloom droop (or drop!) when a prospective buyer walks in.

  3. As a former potter, the ‘wabi-sabi’ strikes a cord. The pots I valued most were the ones that were quirky or slightly flawed. The same in writing, the characters I remember most are the ones that aren’t perfect and plastic. But my real objection to plastic flowers is that you have to dust them!

    1. You’re right, Marjorie. Even dried flowers collect dust if they sit for too long. And it’s interesting that as a potter you favoured the quirkier pots. I really do think the Japanese have a point – there’s beauty in imperfection.

  4. I have occasionally used plastic flowers outside to give a few pots a boost. But on a temporary basis. However, in my neighbourhood, there is a home with a long cement planter tucked up against the house. And she displays dollar store plastic flowers. Yep. Year round. Hundreds of them. All very colourful and long-lasting. She loves them. So she displays them. And that is her.
    I adore real flowers and always have a vase of something or other in the kitchen or in the entrance hallway. Flowers make me feel good.
    I guess there is room for all of us in the world. Those who adore ‘fake’ and those who adore ‘real’.

    1. Jodie, I smiled at the visual of all those plastic flowers in a long cement planter. My grandmother had a longstanding display of plastic flowers outside too, and she also kept life-sized plastic fruit on the coffee table inside. As kids we loved (and were allowed to pay with) both. I’d completely forgotten that. Thanks for jogging my memory!

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