Gardening: Fragrant blast from the past

By Leigh Bramwell

I'm tempted to write this column under an assumed name because my friends will ridicule me when they see it. They almost had me committed a while ago when I wrote something about growing gourds, and this will no doubt be seen as another slide down the slippery slope into dotty old lady territory.

But it's more about resurrecting old skills and pursuits, and passing the time in a relaxing, satisfying and productive way. A foodie I was talking to the other day summed it up: "I don't want to just cook food for the family. I want to mess around with a sauce and add things to it and reinvent it until it's absolutely perfect. Yes, it'll take ages, but what a nice way to spend my time."

Which brings me, in a somewhat apologetic fashion, to potpourri. If you're as old as I am, you'll remember when people made it themselves instead of buying it in ditzy cellophane bags from retro design shops. There were even coffee tables with depressions in the centre especially for potpourri. Good grief!

I won't be getting a potpourri coffee table any time soon, but I am attracted to the idea of making it, if only because I like wandering around the garden picking up berries, seeds, leaves and flowers. Thanks to the drought, a lot of the stuff in my garden's already dry, so I'm halfway there.

The ingredients list for potpourri is fairly short: aromatic and/or decorative plant material, and lovely-smelling ingredients such as whole spices, wood chips, citrus peel and essential oils, and fixative, which combines with essential oils to preserve their fragrance. You may have to pay for the oils and fixative, but otherwise, the ingredients are free for the taking.

You can use almost any plant material you like for its scent, colour or shape in potpourri - think rose petals, marigold flowers and foliage, geraniums, lavender, evergreen needles, and fragrant herbs such as mint, thyme and rosemary. Air-dry or microwave between paper towels, then add whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, bits of bark, or dried orange, lime or lemon peel. Adding a few drops of essential oil will ensure a longer-lasting scent. Aim to choose a fragrance that's compatible with your plant material.

The best-known fixative is orris root powder, which should be available wherever you purchase your essential oil (health, craft and aromatherapy shops).

Citrus Potpourri

3 tbsp each lemon verbena, lemon balm and lemon thyme

2 tbsp marjoram

1 tbsp crumbled bay leaf

1 tbsp crushed lemon peel

6 tbsp crushed orange peel

2 tbsp orris root powder

2 drops orange blossom oil

2 drops lemon oil

Mix dry ingredients in a glass container. Add oils and mix well. - Makes about 1 cup.

Oriental Jasmine Potpourri

1 cup each rose petals, jasmine flowers and citrus flowers

1 tbsp whole basil leaves

2 tbsp sandalwood chips

1 tbsp ginger root, crushed and broken into small pieces

5 star anise

2 tsp crushed coriander seed

2 tsp crushed cumin seed

3 tbsp gum benzoin

6 drops jasmine oil

Wearing rubber gloves, mix all ingredients except jasmine oil in a glass bowl with your hands. When mixture is well blended, add oil and continue to mix.

- Makes about 3 cups.

Potpourri needs to age in an airtight container for at least a month before it's ready for use. If you try it and find it not strong enough, add extra oil and fixative, shake and return to storage for further ageing. If you think it smells good but looks like a collection of old leaves, add dried flowers, coloured berries and seed pods to the mix so it looks as good as it smells.

Once you've figured out what works in the fragrance department, you could try colour theming your potpourri or using it to make interesting table decorations and static sculptures for indoors and out.

And finally, if you're making your own mixtures, write down your recipe - otherwise by the time your potpourri is ready for use, you'll have forgotten what's in it.

- Hamilton News

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