Centerpieces and Decorations

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. Look for ways to bring color and festivity to your party while generating less garbage.

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 www.laborrights.org)

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 www.localharvest.org, or find a list of local markets organized by FRESHFARM at www.freshfarmmarket.org.

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 offers organically grown cut flowers that were grown in California: www.californiaorganicflowers.com, 530.891.6265.
  • Organic Bouquet offers organically grown cut flowers: www.organicbouquet.com, 877.899.2468.
  • VeriFlora™ is a sustainability certification program for fresh cut flowers and potted plants which includes fair labor standards. Find VeriFlora certified flower retailers listed online at www.veriflora.com.
  • Fair Trade Certified™ cut flowers have recently entered the US market; visit www.fairtradecertifiedflowers.org, or call

510.663.5260 for a list of retailers online and in the area that offer them.

  • To read Rabbi Sue Fendrick’s fond memories of donating floral centerpieces to a nursing home after her wedding, see After the Simchah.

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:

  • Garden District in DC: 202.797.9005
  • Ginkgo Gardens in DC: 202.543.5172
  • American Plant Food Garden Center & Nursery in Bethesda: 301.656.3311
  • Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville: 301.937.1100 and Potomac: 301.983.9200
  • Meadows Farms Nurseries in MD: 301.353.0606 and VA: 703.327.5050

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. (Neither is kosher certified.) Or consider assembling your own “dessert-as-centerpiece” using cupcakes, organic fruit, or Fair Trade chocolate:

  • Edible Arrangements makes cheerful “bouquets” of fruit and chocolate-dipped fruit on wooden skewers —colorful centerpieces that double as dessert: www.ediblearrangements.com, 1.877.DOFRUIT.
  • Bundles of Cookies, a locally-owned business in Bethesda, 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, or a basket of cookies frosted to look like a Torah, Jewish star, and bar/bat mitzvah teen in a tallit): www.bundlesofcookies.com, 1.877.ONA.STIK.

Consider centerpieces of donations

Some Jewish families have found ways to make items to be donated into colorful centerpieces. 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 her or himself about the place to which they will be donated. Jewish Family Services in Baltimore, for example, offers “Centerpieces for Tzedakah” for rental, custom-decorated baskets tied with colorful ribbon. The baskets serve as centerpieces for celebrations and reflect a donation to Baltimore’s Kosher Food Pantry that will help feed a family for more than a week: www.jfs.org, 410.843.7325. 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 tzedakah recipient of funds that would otherwise have been spent on flowers can be centerpiece enough. For example, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger 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. www.mazon.org, 310.442.0020.

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.