Q. I'd like to add greenery to my store's design but am afraid of getting caught up in a cycle of replacing dead plants and flowers. Are there any alternatives that are cost-efficient and yet still look natural?

A. As you are discovering, there is indeed a trend toward bringing the outside indoors, and more and more mall owners, retailers and restaurants are taking advantage of the Mother Nature theme. There are several avenues to take.

Preserved foliage is a relatively new technique that allows you to decorate with a real plant that has been preserved internally. Palm trees work well in this category; you simply preserve the leaves, or the fronds, and attach them to lightweight, man-made trunks. They require no light, water, regulated temperature or air, and they are much lighter than the real thing. A second alternative is replica production. These are not your old silk plants of yesterday; instead, they feature new fabrics such as polyesters and synthetics.

Both preserved foliage and replica production allow for greater versatility and lower cost overall. Addition-ally, the plants and trees can act as an accent utility, housing hidden security cameras or other lighting conduits and devices. Best of all, the trees and plants don't grow, so they don't need more space, and you don't have to worry about them getting in the way of signage or lighting fixtures. You might not be able fool Mother Nature, but you can bring her indoors.

Vito Milano is vice president and co-founder of Preserved TreeScapes International, Oceanside, Calif. (619) 631-6789.