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Friday, November 15, 2013

Garden Crafts: Making Potpourri from Scented Garden Trimmings

Southern California is blessed with a climate that’s perfect for plants with scented foliage.  Our native sages (Salvias), mints, roses, California Sagebrush and other Artemisias make our gardens a treat for the nose as well as the eye.  Add scented plants from other mediterranean climates – rosemary, thyme, lavender and others – and you’ve got a nice smelling garden.   Consider a plant’s aroma when choosing new plants for your garden.  You’ll be glad you did!

Fall is the best time to prune many scented plants; and pruning can produce lots of trimmings, even in a small garden.  Consider using your scented trimmings for garden crafts that produce products unique to your garden.  One of the easiest – and fun - is making potpourri.  It’s a good activity to do with children (in small groups).  You might even want to host a ‘potpourri party’, where guests bring scented materials from their gardens to share.   Making potpourri brings out the creative side in all of us.

A potpourri is simply a mixture of scented plant materials.  Most people think of natural room fresheners when they hear the word potpourri.  But people in times past – and thrifty gardeners now – use potpourri for much more.  Fill a small cloth bag with potpourri to make a sachet to scent a closet or clothes drawer.  Use a pretty fabric, tie the sachet with a ribbon and you’ve got a unique, inexpensive gift.   A cloth bag filled with potpourri can also be used to scent a bath or shower (just hang the bag under the running water).  You can use a cloth re-useable tea bag to hold the potpourri.  Potpourri can even be used under your pillowcase to scent your pillow.  Use a soothing sage, lavender or mint for a restful sleep

Making potpourri is easy.  But like anything involving scent, it allows lots of room for creative expression.  No two people smell a scent exactly the same.  We all have memories associated with particular scents.  And some scents just make us feel relaxed or energized.  So have fun combining scents to get just the right combination.

Here’s how to make your own unique blend of garden potpourri:

  1. Choose your plant materials.  A number of plant materials that can be used as a base for potpourri.  Choose any scented plant you like as long as it is not toxic.  Here are a few possibilities:
    • Native plants (leaves/stems): Sages (Salvias) all have slightly different scents (we particularly like Black, Purple, Cleveland and ‘Winifred Gilman’ Sages) ; California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and Mugwort (Artemisia douglasii); plants in the Mint family (Wild Mint – Mentha arvensis; Hummingbird Sage - Salvia spathacea; Fragrant Pitchersage -Lepechinia fragrans)
    • Other scented shrubs/herbs: Leaves/stems of Rosemary, Thyme, Lemon Verbena, Lavender, scented Geraniums, Mints, etc.; flowers like scented Rose petals, Carnations, Orange blossoms, etc.
    • Citrus fruits or apples: use thinly sliced citrus peel, or cut entire fruit in very thin slices before drying
  2. Dry the plant materials.  It’s very important that plant materials are completely dry, otherwise the potpourri may mildew.  Lay larger materials out to dry outdoors.  Turn them every few days until they are dry.  Or bundle the stems, tie and hang up to dry on a patio or porch.   Flowers, apple and citrus slices can be sun dried, dried on cookie sheets in a warm (less than 130°F) oven or dried in a food dehydrator.  Check flowers often – they can dry quickly.
  3. Prepare the plant materials.   Wearing leather gloves, strip leaves off woody stems of Salvias and shrubby Mediterranean herbs. Place each type of material in a separate plastic bag, seal & label with plant name and date.  For California Sagebrush, it’s easiest to just cut the ends of stems into pieces. Other materials need no additional preparation after drying.  The leaves simply drop off some dried materials.  Dried flowers and fruits are ready to be bagged as is.   It’s important to bag your materials as soon as they are dry to retain their fragrance.
  4. Choose a primary scent: Now the real fun begins.  Making a good potpourri is a bit like making a perfume.  You begin by choosing your primary scent.  This should be an aroma that you really enjoy.  It can be a strong/spicy scent (native California and Mediterranean herbs) or something more mild, but with a fairly strong scent: rose petals, mint, and other garden herbs.  This is going to be the primary scent for your potpourri, so take a good handful or two and place it in a plastic bag.   We suggest that you write down the names of your ingredients on a piece of paper.  You may even want to weigh/measure your ingredients so you can duplicate your ‘signature potpourri’ in the future.
  5. Choose 1 to 2 secondary scents:   The secondary scents should complement your primary scent.   If your primary scent is mild, choose mild secondaries so you don’t overpower the primary scent.  Some good secondaries include any of the primaries (in smaller amounts), the dried fruits, dried flowers, mints and perennial garden herbs.  If you have scented oils or single-scent perfumes (lavender; rose; gardenia; etc.) you can also use these as secondary scents.  Just place a little bit on a cotton ball or cotton pad – a little goes a long way – and place it in your bag of potpourri. Remember to write the materials on your ‘ingredients list’.
  6. Close the potpourri bag, shake it well, and let it sit for a half hour or more.  This will let the flavors mingle. 
  7. Open the bag and smell your potpourri.   You may decide that your potpourri is just right.  If so, it’s ready to use – and you can create another blend.  If you decide that your potpourri still needs a little something, smell the secondary scents again; one or more of them may be just what you need.  You can also use a little bit of dried spices from your kitchen cupboard.   You can add up to 4 additional (tertiary) scents.
  8. Once you’re happy with your blend, it’s ready to use.   

Don’t be afraid to experiment – sometimes unusual combinations are the most successful.  If you end up with a truly awful combination, just throw it in the compost bin and try again.  


We welcome your comments, below.  If you have questions, please e- mail us at: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

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