Monday, June 27, 2011

Making Old Fashioned Pot Pourri.

Today, I've been gathering old fashioned scented rose petals and spreading them out to dry in our conservatory, so that I can make pot pourri for the winter months  - it's like preserving a little bit of summer. If I can make enough, I'll give some as gifts, too. Our problem here in Scotland has been the rain - really you need a dry, sunny day to pick your flower petals to make pot pourri, but I'm persevering! 
There's no great mystery to making this traditional mixture for scenting a room, and you can add whatever you like to it, experimenting with different herb leaves and scented flowers. I favour a very old fashioned mixture of various rose petals and a few tiny rosebuds which look very pretty, with dried lavender and - this year, because they are so prolific and so heavily scented - some sweet peas as well. I leave them on a tray to dry in the sunshine, and hope to carry on gathering the flowers for some weeks yet. I buy orris root powder in small quantities on eBay, which I use as a fixative, to stop the pot pourri from getting damp, and also to carry the scent. I mix a small amount of this with my dried petals, and a little rose and lavender essential oil, both of which have a wonderfully calming and cheering effect - another reason why home made pot pourri is so much better than the synthetic bought kind!
Once the dried petals, oils and orris root have been combined, I've found that the most effective way of 'curing'the pot pourri is to put it in an old fashioned paper bag, shake it up gently, and leave it for a few days to mature. Avoid plastic, which encourages mould. After that, you can use your imagination in finding a container for your pot pourri. My own favourite is a big, antique Mason's Ironstone bowl that used to belong to my mother. It seems like the perfect container, and you'll certainly see bowls like this containing pot pourri in country houses. But in fact you can use any bowl or dish, ornate or simple. If you're short of antique or vintage dishes, your local charity shop or car boot sale will usually have a good selection at bargain prices! Even the odd crack or chip doesn't really matter. Those single, fragile Victorian or Edwardian china cups you sometimes find, make excellent little containers for pot pourri. If you want to give your pot pourri as a gift, you can package it prettily in small cellophane bags, tied with ribbon and sealed with flower stickers - or even assemble a little collection of vintage cups and dishes and give them ready filled with your pot pourri.

Although I generally favour rose and lavender pot pourri, it's interesting to experiment. I've got so many different varieties of mint in pots this year that I'm thinking of trying a herb pot pourri with pineapple and spearmints, marjoram flowers, and maybe some scented geraniums.I've made a successful 'seaside' pot pourri in the past, with lots of little shells and pebbles, and those tiny white pieces of driftwood you sometimes find on the beach. ('The bones of a Goddess', as one of my artist friends calls them!) There are some lovely, astringent 'seaside' type oil mixtures on the market, but you could also try coconut - anyone who lives close to the sea will know that when the gorse bushes are in full bloom (or whins as they are called in Scotland) they smell very strongly and sweetly of coconut and for me, at least, it's a scent that always reminds me of the West of Scotland and one that I've used in the past to evoke that particular landscape in a novel. I've often had ideas of trying gorse flowers in a a seaside pot pourri, but the spines have usually deterred me!

 Cones, large and small, are good carriers for pine or cinammon scented oil, and can be mixed with dried leaves and seed heads to make a spicy winter pot pourri. I still bring out an old Christmas pot pourri I made some years ago, with dried orange slices, little fir cones, shiny brown horse chestnuts, cloves and cinammon sticks along with the spicy essential oils (a mixture of cinammon and orange is particularly good) which most shops stock around Christmas time. That - mercifully - is a long way off at the moment but you could bear it in mind if you see any pretty seed heads that could be dried and added to the mix. 
Finally, pot pourri keeps for a very long time. The only thing that spoils it is dust and damp but if the scent fades, as it will, over time, you can simply refresh it with a few drops of whatever oils you prefer.  

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