Flowers tend to play a big role in setting a celebratory mood by emphasizing a wedding’s color palette and style—but many couples are actually exploring alternatives to fresh blooms, with sustainability being one of the main reasons. “There's a lot of waste associated with florals,” shares Michelle Cousins, owner and principal designer at Michelle Leo Events in Salt Lake City, Utah. “They’re typically disposed of after a celebration as they’re generally at the end of their life cycle when used at weddings.” Oftentimes, the arrangements are too large for the couple and guests to transport home and many times the attendees have traveled to a wedding, making it difficult to enjoy the flowers in their homes afterward.
That said, many wedding experts are predicting more eco-friendly floral alternatives in 2023. “A huge trend will be fresh vegetation and living tablescapes,” says Mandy Connor, the owner and lead planner of Hummingbird Events & Design in Boston, Massachusetts. “I’m advising clients to think of their tablescape as a personalized work of art, incorporating things like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and organic elements to add depth, color, and interest to the table design.”
Ahead, wedding planners share their favorite floral substitutes, from potted plants to sculptures, creative lighting designs, and more!
Use Fresh Herbs
“Herbs offer texture and a way to add an organic element to a table design, one that feels effortless, approachable, and even intimate,” notes Beth Helmstetter, CEO & Creative Director of Beth Helmstetter in Los Angeles, California. “Plus, herbs are a sustainable way to approach décor as they can be used after an event is over. We've created tablescapes where guests take home potted herbs to plant in their yards after the celebration.”
Leslie Price, founder and owner of In Any Event in New York City, agrees that herbs can nicely elevate a décor theme. “You can’t go wrong with potted herbs such as rosemary, sage, lavender, and thyme, combined with ferns or vines cascading on candelabras and lanterns,” she says.
“I love using fresh veggies as they add beautiful color and texture to a table and give off an intimate and garden-like feel,” says Heather Balliet, owner and lead designer/planner at Amorology in San Marcos, California. “Plus, guests can snack on them in-between courses and they’re eco-friendly—you can donate any leftovers after your event. We had a wedding this past spring where we wanted to create an al fresco feel and brought in tomatoes, eggplant, and other vegetables to bring the tables to life!”
Try Metal or Ceramic Blooms
“I’ve always been in love with flower sculptures made from metal and porcelain – they’re versatile and can be used in a variety of ways at a wedding while being repurposed as decorative objects afterward,” says Allison Jackson, owner and creative director at Pineapple Productions in Arlington, Virginia. “I once created an installation of white porcelain blooms peeking out from massive boxwood hedges in a parterre garden, then hung calligraphed escort cards from floral ‘knobs’ which ranged in size and shape. Guests were delighted to see mini faux flowers in lieu of fresh flowers in a formal garden setting.”
Opt for Paper Flowers
“For a retro literary look, I take old books and turn their pages into paper flowers. They’re eco-friendly while also giving new life to something that was otherwise gathering dust,” says KC Cloud, owner and creative director of KC Cloud Events in Dallas, Texas. “This is an especially nice idea if the stories or passages mean something to the couple. These ‘flowers’ can then be saved for years to come as a sweet reminder of your wedding day.”
Mix It Up Using Sculptures
“Everyone is talking about how to customize weddings these days and one way to do that is to give people things they don't always see, with the goal being selecting something that serves as a statement on the table. I’m in love with geometric-shaped sculptures or other interesting large shapes as centerpieces—anything that takes you away from the traditional and reflects the personality of my client,” says Andrew Roby, the creative director and CEO of Andrew Roby Events in Washington, D.C. “One of the perks of using sculptures is the ease of set-up at the wedding reception—having core pieces can cut down on prep time by hours. In some cases, it's more cost-effective to rent pieces.”
Use Fresh Fruit
“Fruit is very on-trend right now—prepare to see a lot more of it at weddings in 2023!" says Connor. "One reason is that it’s so easy to purchase in bulk—think crates of fresh citrus from a nearby farm or bundles of herbs from your local farmer's market,” she shares. “For an elevated tiki-themed wedding, I incorporated blood oranges, papaya, mango, and dragon fruit into the tablescape and the visual story became so much more interesting and the scent of these tropical fruits was intoxicating.”
Try Potted Plants Instead
“At a recent wedding, I chose flowering potted flowers such as lily of the valley, white cyclamen, skimmia, and Calocephalus in lieu of flowers," shares Tara Fay, owner of Tara Fay Events in Dublin, Ireland. "They were interspersed on the tables with small votive-style candles and tall candlesticks. Over the top table, we hung an arrangement of dried and silk florals in the same color palette as the table plants. The end result was a conversation piece plus more!” says Fay. “The day after the wedding, the pots were used to decorate the tables at brunch and guests were encouraged to take them home, along with small cards with tips on how to care for them, as a wedding keepsake.”
Include Coastal Elements
“If I’m planning a celebration near the beach, I’ll reach for driftwood, oversized shells and corals set out on the tables separately or an assortment, depending on the design,” says Price. “Coral is a modern, sculptural alternative to flowers—expensive but definitely very cool when done well and driftwood is versatile, it can be both modern and rustic. Plus, both are natural resources and they pair perfectly with candlelight.”
Combine Moss and Fresh Greens
“When wedding guests enter a room, they expect to see flowers, but when you walk in and see different textures of plants it’s a great conversation piece,” says Mindy Weiss, the owner of Mindy Weiss Party Consultants in Beverly Hills, California. “I love moss and greens and an unkept terranean look, especially one that includes an ombre effect. There are so many benefits to this look—from cost-cutting to being more eco-friendly to being multi-use."
Make a Statement Using Vases
“There’s a time and place for ceramic vessels and vases to be used without flowers to make a really unique and more minimalistic statement,” says Virginia Frischkorn, the founder and CEO of Partytrick and Bluebird Productions in Aspen, Colorado. “I’ve used a runner of empty earthenware vases and objects in neutral and natural colors on a charcoal linen table and I’ve incorporated similar vases with a single stem or trio of dried grass for a more sculptural and minimalistic design.”
Opt for Cloches
“One of my favorite weddings featured tables containing cloches filled with dried butterflies, crystals, air plants, vintage books, and more," recalls Frischkorn. "They were unexpected and an absolute delight to look at, adding color and texture to each table.”
Focus on the Lighting
“If someone is going to eliminate as huge a design detail as florals, then the goal should be to replace this important element with an equally dramatic element, such as lighting,” notes Cousins. “Lighting can enhance a space's ambiance and is a great way to manipulate the square footage of a venue's footprint, including unused square footage." She explains that for spaces that feel too large, the right lighting design can help make the space look smaller. "Lighting details can make a room absolutely pop with energy or subdue the mood and create a cozy, intimate vibe. This can be achieved through an incredible ceiling installation, perimeter lighting, lighting behind a stage backdrop, and lighting on the tables in the form of candles and lanterns," she says.
Get Creative Using Bread
“Bread is an easy ‘go-to’ floral replacement and makes a great addition to any table,” says Price. “I feel food as a centerpiece should be an invitation to eat, not just something pretty that people are afraid to touch. For an upcoming wedding in Italy, we’re planning to use gorgeous loaves of bread and focaccia art paired with assorted glass olive oil and vinegar dispensers in different shapes."
Bring Out the Candles
“Candlelight can provide a warm glow, adding a feeling of intimacy to a wedding," says Becca Atchison, founding partner and the creative director of Rebecca Rose Events in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "They can also highlight or define a certain space or help elevate the look of an environment that might otherwise seem cold or uninteresting. I love to light fields, meadows, exterior driveways, porches, walkways, natural or architectural elements, and stairs with candles, lanterns, or hurricane vessels." Atchison goes on to explain that an added benefit of replacing flowers with candles is that candles can be purchased in bulk, come in a wide array of colors, heights, and styles, and are generally easier to work with in any environment.