Las Vegas comes to Brighton!
Imagine a replica plant and many of us immediately think of a dusty old plastic plant, looking unlike any real plant we know. And replica plants for outdoors? Forget it - they’re just mildew covered plastic plants that turn a strange fluorescent colour in the sun aren’t they? So when Brighton Marina were advised by interior and exterior landscaping specialist PHS Greenleaf that replica plants were the best solution for their windy outdoor Waterfront, understandably they were a bit apprehensive.
Replica plants have come a long way in recent years though, and nowadays a simple touch test will usually determine if they’re real or fake. With so many fantastic designs available, replica plants can also satisfy our changing horticulture tastes for tropical plants in our not so tropical climate.
Replica palms – or to be more accurate, preserved palms - have been a speciality of PHS Greenleaf, for many years. The company has installed these big beauties in shopping and leisure centres in as far away places as Dubai, Marseille and Turkey. Look closely and you’ll also see that the splendid avenue of tropical palms in Manchester’s Trafford Centre are, in fact, preserved palms.
Derek Brown PHS Greenleaf’s Southern Regional Manager who managed the project explains: “Preserved plants are an ideal solution for areas where live planting just won’t thrive. Indoors, it’s often because the area is too dark or lacking in natural light for plants to survive, and sometimes security issues may prevent us having access to maintain live plants.”
“In Brighton Marina’s case, our client X Leisure, who manage the Waterfront, really wanted a tropical feel to improve the look of the area but we were concerned that real palm trees would take such a battering in the windy conditions they wouldn’t survive long. So instead we installed 15 preserved Phoenix Date Palms measuring 20ft (6mtrs) high in the Marina Waterfront. The palm heads are wind tolerant to 80 miles per hour! So far the reaction we’ve had from the public has been great.
Some people would still prefer live palms but unfortunately with our British climate, they wouldn’t survive very long. This way we’ve been able to provide a planting solution that looks stunningly different for the Waterfront, and one that will continue to turn heads long into the future, in spite of its windy and exposed location”.
X-Leisure Project Manager Barrie Parkman commented: “Preserved palms sounded a bit unusual when PHS Greenleaf first suggested them for the Waterfront, but as I was aware of other schemes using preserved palm planting that Greenleaf had already done, I was confident that their idea would work. We are delighted with the street planting and the palms have certainly been a talking point in the town!”
Preserved palms are in fact real palms. The trunk is part of a real palm tree cut down and preserved in special fluid to keep it looking fantastic whilst the palm fronds are usually either silk or a special plastic suitable for outdoor use. That’s why the palms look so realistic. They’re also very versatile in that the hollow trunk is ideal for installing lights or security cameras.
PHS Greenleaf is one of only a handful of companies in the UK who have the technical experience to erect preserved palm trees above 1.8 metres. Specialist equipment such as cherry-picker machines are required for large palm installation, along with method statements and risk assessments provided as standard.
Shopping centres are the main customers for these palms in the UK but Greenleaf is seeing a trend towards palms being used in more traditional office buildings and specified in bespoke interior corporate projects, as the British public’s taste becomes ever more exotic.
Most people would feel faint at the thought of pruning a 40-feet high palm tree in the dead of night but for staff at PHS Greenleaf this kind of extreme gardening is all in the line of duty. Such dedication has earned PHS Greenleaf its most recent accolade from BALI, the British Association of Landscape Industries, beating off competition from the likes of Dubai International Airport.
BALI’s Principal Award for Interior Landscape Maintenance was bestowed upon PHS Greenleaf for its work at Manchester’s Trafford Centre, recognising the challenges of such a large scale operation. More than 10 years ago PHS Greenleaf installed some 500 plant groups and trees throughout the centre and a decade later the UK-wide interior and exterior landscaping specialist continues to maintain the real and replica displays. This is no ordinary interior landscaping project but then the Trafford Centre is no ordinary shopping mall, opening its doors 364 days of the year to a weekly average of half a million visitors to 230 stores.
As the Northwest’s premier location for shopping, dining and leisure, access to the Trafford Centre for service personnel is limited to late nights and early mornings. Despite this, the dedicated PHS Greenleaf team carry out pruning, watering and replacement several times a week taking any nocturnal activity in their stride. Flowering plants, such as Guzmania, Aechmea and Anthurium are changed every 5-6 weeks to co-ordinate with seasonal themes and 41 large specimen trees including 16-feet high Ficus Alii and 23-feet high Veitchia Merrillii (Adonidia Palms) have to be carefully watered, fed, dusted and pruned on a regular basis. Even the eye-catching 40-feet preserved palm trees, made from the real bark of Washingtonia Palms, the leaves from Phoenix Dactylifera (Giant Date Palm) and treated with special glycerine based fluid to maintain colour and flexibility still require maintenance to keep the foliage looking its best.
“Many of our visitors have travelled some distance to spend a day with us”, says Gordon McKinnon, Director of Operations at the Trafford Centre, “so they deserve the best shopping and leisure environment that we can provide. PHS Greenleaf has helped us to create a pleasant and relaxing ambience and the maintenance team keeps the plants looking great all year round. We are very happy to have them involved in our newest phase, Barton Square, which opened in March 2008.”
Bob Capel, PHS Greenleaf’s Northern Regional Business Manager, adds, “The fact that the Trafford Centre is still using PHS Greenleaf after 10 years is proof that we are doing a good job worthy of the BALI award. It’s great to be able to offer our service on such a large scale and enables us to demonstrate the abilities of our skilled staff. To be recognised for this is fantastic! We hope to be delighting visitors to the Trafford Centre with spectacular planting for many years to come.”