Getting Centered: Centerpieces and Decorations

Consider the environmental impact of balloons

Balloons look festive briefly before they end up in the trash or floating away. Latex balloons that escape skyward may end up in the ocean and harm sea animals who mistake them for food. This section, along with bridal magazines or other resources, can help you find creative ways to bring color and festivity to your party while generating less waste.

Consider the social and environmental impact of cut flowers
If the beautiful blossoms in your local grocery store or florist could talk, they might not have such a beautiful story to tell about the conditions under which they were grown. About two-thirds of all roses sold in the US are flown in from Colombia and most of the rest are flown in from Ecuador. The vast majority of cut flower workers in Central and South America, some of them children, earn poverty wages, labor long hours, and suffer significant health problems due to exposure to harmful pesticides. Flower workers organized a union on Dole’s largest plantation in November 2004 in order to address these and other issues; however Dole fought the union since its inception, culminating in the closure of the plantation in July 2007. Learn more at If you choose to decorate your event with flowers, consider locally-grown and/or organically grown flowers, and look for flowers certified to have been harvested under dignified labor conditions. Or, revisit the idea of cut flowers altogether with alternative centerpieces that might be less expensive or less ephemeral, including potted plants, herb gardens, fresh fruit, frosted cookies, cupcakes, or items to be donated.

Consider local flowers
If your event is in the spring or summer, it may be possible to obtain locally grown flowers or plants for your tables — flowers that haven’t taken a plane flight to attend your event, and whose purchase supports local farms. To find a farmers’ market offering local flowers in your neighborhood, search by zip code at, or find a list of local markets organized by FRESHFARM at

Consider flowers that are sustainably grown or fairly traded
If you decide to purchase cut flowers that are not available locally, look to support organically-grown flowers.

California Organic Flowers, (530.891.6265), offers organically-grown cut flowers that were grown in California.

Organic Bouquet, (877.899.2468), offers organically-grown cut flowers.

VeriFlora™,, is a sustainability certification program for fresh cut flowers and potted plants which includes fair labor standards. You will find a list of certified flower retailers at their website.

Fair Trade Certified™ cut flowers have recently entered the US market; visit or call 510.663.5260 for a list of retailers online and in your area that offer them.
Consider plants as centerpieces
A living plant can lend just as much color to your celebration as a bouquet, and it can live on after the event as a donation or a favor for guests. Edible plants like herb gardens can also be of use in your guests’ kitchens long after the celebration. Look for plants that are organically grown if possible, either at local farmers’ markets or at area garden stores such as:
  • Common Ground in Palo Alto: 650.493.6072.
  • Berkeley Horticultural Nursery in Berkeley: 510.526.4704.
  • Sloat Garden Center throughout the Bay Area: 415.566.4415.
  • Hortica in San Francisco: 415.863.4697.
  • West End Nursery in San Rafael: 415.454.4175.
  • Mordigan Nurseries in Los Angeles (organic herbs and vegetables): 323.655.6027. 
  • Hashimoto Nurseries in West Hollywood (independently owned, but not organic): 310.473.6232.
  • Armstrong Garden Centers (grown pesticide-free with recycled water): go to for Southern California locations.
Consider edible centerpieces
Decorating tables with something the guests will eat is less wasteful than using cut flowers. Check out the establishments below to consider edible centerpieces (these are not kosher certified). Or consider assembling your own “dessert-as-centerpiece” using cupcakes, organic fruit, or Fair Trade chocolate.

Edible Arrangements, (877.DOFRUIT), makes cheerful “bouquets” of fruit and chocolate-dipped fruit on wooden skewers —colorful centerpieces that double as dessert.

Cookies By Design, (888.882.6654), another national business, will do something similar with cookies (such as a vase containing a “bouquet” of cookies on sticks, frosted to look like pink and red roses).

Jennifer Stonebarger Designs, (949.422.1945), in Mission Viejo creates cookie centerpieces.

Consider centerpieces of donations
Some Jewish families have found ways to make items to be donated into colorful centerpieces. Traditional flowers or potted plants can be donated to a senior center or homeless shelter.  The tables at a bar or bat mitzvah luncheon can be decorated with children’s books or stuffed animals, accompanied by a note from the bat or bar mitzvah teen about the place to which they will be donated. Canned food goods, intended for later donation to a food bank, or toiletries for a homeless shelter, can also serve as a centerpiece. Guests can have the gift of seeds and/or tree saplings on their table to take home and plant. The list of ideas is endless. Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles, for example, offers “Baskets of Hope” for rental, custom-decorated baskets tied with colorful ribbon. The baskets serve as centerpieces for celebrations and reflect a donation to SOVA, (818.988.7682), JFSLA’s food assistance program.

In developing a plan to use items to be donated as centerpieces, remember to call the organization for which you are collecting items and ask what they need most and could use.

At some celebrations, a note in the center of the table describing the recipient of tzedakah funds that would otherwise have been spent on flowers can be centerpiece enough. For example, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, (310.442.0020), invites Jewish families to donate 3 percent of the cost of a celebration to fighting hunger and provides table notes to share this choice with guests. MAZON makes grants to anti-hunger organizations around the country.

A word about candles
Most conventional candles are made of paraffin — a petroleum by-product — which releases carcinogenic soot when burned. If you’re planning to use candles to help you set the mood at your celebration, consider beeswax or other vegetable-based wax candles that come from renewable resources and don’t release toxins when lit. Look for beeswax candles locally, or in the National Green Pages.
“Our centerpieces were edible, reusable and compostable: squares of wheatgrass in low recycled-glass square vases (we've continued to use a few at home, and have given the rest to friends for their wedding), surrounded by mandarin oranges that were picked especially for us by a local farmer. All it took was asking at the farmer's market, and the next week we had 2 boxes of beautiful, leaf-on mandarins for our tables. The buffet was decorated with seasonal greens, all edible and beautiful.” – Robyn Scher & Rachel Shoemake, Martinez

“At my brother's wedding the centerpieces were potted plants that people took home and planted in their gardens.” – Dawn Kepler, Grand Lake

“My daughter's bat mitzvah reception featured cute and fuzzy stuffed animals as centerpieces. Later, we donated them to a program for foster children, to provide some comfort as they arrive at a new home.” – Laurie Leiber, Rockridge

Have suggestions? Real-life stories using these or other ideas? Please share them with us for future versions of the Guide!