Potpourri – A Craft of the Garden

As if dried flowers weren’t old ladyish enough, I now have a passion for potpourri.

As if dried flowers weren’t old ladyish enough, I now have a passion for potpourri.  It is an interesting art.  A dry potpourri is made up on several components:  scented and decorative dried plant materials, dried herbs, spices, essential oils and fixatives.

During the summer I learned how to dry flowers, herbs and other plants.  The best methods proved to be the most low tech – air drying in the loft of the summer kitchen during the summer and on top of the steam radiators in the winter.  I tested a donated electric dehydrator but I found it too small and too slow.

In the heat of the summer the upstairs temperature easily reaches into the 100’s.   I hung bunches of plants from the rafters –  herbs,  flowers, lavender, and eastern red cedar branches.  I used old window screens propped up on pots to dry citrus rinds and small materials.

Delicate flowers were best dried using silica gel as most flowers lose their color when air dried. I found daylily petals stayed especially vibrant and I could collect them late in the day before the lilies closed.

When materials were dry I stored most (but not all) in large glass jars scavenged from the flea market. All went well until the late fall.  The mice had a grand snack chewing up pomegranates, buckeye seeds and anything else they could find before I spotted the damage.   Lesson learned (and time for the cats to earn their keep).  Now everything hangs from the rafters, is stored in containers or bags out of reach of gnawing teeth.

To add interesting texture to the mix,  I collected berries, pods, cones (hemlock and dawn redwood are just the right size) even shells.  Anything that strikes my fancy now gets rounded up and stored away – luckily there is room in the barns.

Learning about essential oils and aromatherapy was the next step.    The use of plant essences to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit, is becoming more widespread.  While some people may think it New Age bunk, consider that most every product we use has some added fragrance.  Human beings like scents.  Unfortunately the vast majority of fragrances are now synthetically derived.  These synthetic fragrances not only lack the subtlety of natural essential oils, they are quite noxious.  I find am constantly applying my knowledge of the properties of plants and essential oils whether in potpourri or my own non-toxic cleaning solutions.  How lucky we are to live in a time where quality organic oils are so readily available.  And so, what is old is new again.  Somewhere from the past, women who used this knowledge on a daily basis to care for their homes and families are smiling indulgently and nodding in approval.

The final component is a fixative.  Fixatives absorb and retain the volatile essential oils and can also add to the scent of the potpourri as a whole.  There are synthetic fixatives (sigh) but I use only natural ones – primarily orris root.  Orris root comes from Iris florentina – I need to look into growing some next year.

Spices – such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves – also act as a fixative and are aromatic in their own right.

After blending it all together in small bathes it must sit for at least six weeks to allow the scents to develop.

And finally, the finished product. A gift that allows a gardener to give of the garden long after the blooms have faded.