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annual gardening, annual garden design
FAUX FINISHES

Contact Elisabeth Ginsburg
fall is a coming

Trend spotters undoubtedly know it already, but I have just discovered a new and immutable truth—there’s gold in rust.  Of course, I am familiar with rust—the shed at our summer cottage is full of rusty implements from my grandfather’s time.  We still use them, but I know that if we ever decide to buy something new, we can sell our ancient scythes and loppers to  an antique dealer for a pretty penny.

But it’s not enough to have a shed bursting with oxidized iron.  Now it’s chic to have a garden full of rust as well.  The catalogs have a wide selection of pre-rusted trellises and tuteurs, not to mention rusted armillaries, ornaments, pots and urns.  It would appear that rust has taken the place of moss, which was so fashionable a few years ago that magazines were publishing recipes for a homemade moss-inducing glop that you could use to “age” your pots and statues.

Several weeks ago I was visiting a large mail order nursery’s retail establishment.  I saw a beautiful, classic rusty urn that stood about 2 ½-feet tall.  I imagined how lovely a pair of them would look flanking my front walk.  The practical voice in my head whispered that when the fad for rust passes, I could convert them into perfectly acceptable black or dark green urns with the help of a modest amount of Rustoleum paint.

Then my husband intervened.  “Hey,” he said, as he fingered the edge of the object of my desire.  “This is a fake.”

I zeroed in for a closer look and found that he was right.  I knew that the urn was a faux antique, but I never would have guessed that it was faux cast iron embellished with faux rust.  What an idea!

It seems that this urn is made out of lightweight, weather resistant fiberglass, which, of course, can be cast into any shape, from the hull of a racing yacht to the body of a garden gnome.  Once cast, the urn was sprayed with gritty iron, and then allowed to rust.  After the rusting period, the urn was ready for sale.  From a distance it looks just like a piece of neglected cast iron.  The benefit to the gardener is that the faux rustgy urn is lighter than the real thing and possibly a bit cheaper (although the model that I saw was rather pricey).  It is supposed to be extremely durable as well.  Of course, that is also one of the advantages of cast iron.  On balance, I suppose, real cast iron might rust away to nothing in a millenium or so, while fiberglass will probably last for all eternity.  Either way, the initial investment will be completely amortized long before the urn disintegrates.

The market for faux cast iron is taking off at the same time as the market for faux terra cotta, and I must confess that I have already succumbed to the latter.  For years I was a purist, refusing to buy plastic pots that were made to resemble terra cotta originals.  Part of my resistance was based on snobbery, part of it was aesthetic and at least a small part of it was practical.  The practical side of me loves terra cotta because it is porous, allowing for an exchange of air and moisture that is healthy for plant roots.  My aesthetic soul also rebelled against the cheesy appearance of earlier generations of plastic pots and planters.  The color was acceptable from a great distance, but up close the tint and texture screamed “cheap imitation.”  I take the trouble to buy interesting and unusual plants, so it seemed to me that I should take the time and trouble to buy real terra cotta pots.  I haven’t been able to afford any yet, but I am especially fond of the rosy “Impruneta” pots, made from clay found only in a certain region of Italy.

Now, everything has changed.  I am pleased to say that I have two non-terra cotta pots in the back yard, and they are settling in nicely.  The faux terra cotta technology has gotten to the point where manufacturers have created an extremely light material that looks very much like aged terra cotta or weathered stone.  It is not hard and shiny like the old, cheesy pots, but looks and feels a bit dusty or sandy.  The pots I bought did not have drainage holes in them, but I was able to pierce the bottoms relatively easily without cracking the pots and ruining them.  Of course, this may be a liability, since I can also imagine myself denting them with an errant swipe of the hoe.  However, the difference in appearance between this new material and the old plastic makes up for the slightly-less-than-impervious nature of the former.  Besides, even fully loaded with plants and soil, these pots are easy to lift.  My lower back sings with joy.

Now, if I can just find the recipe for that moss mixture.  I’m dying  to age my faux terra cotta pots.

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