Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
November, 2004
Regional Report

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Potpourri is set off to advantage in this colored-metal bucket.

Potpourri From the Garden

Scent is a powerful memory inducer, and nothing conjures up visions of holidays past better than the fragrance of pine, bay and cinnamon. Potpourri is a blend of aromatic and colorful flowers and leaves, displayed in an open container so the scents can permeate the room. Your garden plants can provide ingredients for this easy-to-make and personalized gift for the holidays. And all those wonderful aromas wafting about as you mix the ingredients will give you some much-needed stress relief during this hectic time of year!

In addition to dried flowers and leaves, potpourri can contain spices and peels, fixatives that absorb and hold the scent, and essential oils that intensify the scent.

Fixatives and Oils
Spices and peels include whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise and orange peel. Orris root (a whitish powder) is a common fixative. There are dozens of essential oils. Consider adding a rose geranium oil to dried rose petals, citrus essential oil to dried orange peels, or pine oil to miniature pinecones. Use essential oil sparingly, adding it one drop at a time so its fragrance doesn't overpower the mixture. Orris root, bulk spices and essential oils can be found at health food stores.

Flowers and Foliage
Scented flowers include roses (especially the old-fashioned varieties), lavender, orange blossoms and stocks. Blossoms for color include borage, calendula, bachelor's buttons, blanket flowers and zinnias. Fragrant foliage includes herbs such as basil, bay, lemon balm, lemon verbena, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint and scented geraniums. Also consider intensely fragrant landscape plants, such as Chaparral sage (Salvia clevelandii) and Mt. Lemmon marigold (Tagetes palmeri).

Drying Plants
Harvest plants when they are completely dry. Pick in the morning when essential oils in the plants are most intense. Choose flowers that have just barely opened as they will have stronger scents. Cut stalks as long as possible, and tie a few stems together tightly or use rubber bands. Hang upside down in a dry, dark area with good ventilation. The desert's low humidity speeds the drying process.

Sample Recipe
The following recipe contains ingredients currently available in gardens, but don't be afraid to personalize a blend with your favorite plants, colors and aromas. It's helpful to dry flowers and foliage throughout the year so there will be a variety of ingredients ready when you start mixing.

2-1/2 cups dried rose petals
3/4 cup dried mint leaves
3/4 cup dried scented geranium leaves
6 tablespoons dried orange, lemon or lime peel
1 tablespoon orris root
3-6 drops rose geranium essential oil

Gently mix together dried ingredients. Add essential oil 1 drop at a time and remix. Put it all in an oversized, closed container in a cool, dark place for three to six weeks. Shake the container 2 or 3 times a week to mix the scent.

If you're entertaining, fill an unusual old pottery planter or metal pail to the brim with potpourri. Set out a flour scoop or ladle, festive cellophane bags, and precut ribbon or raffia. Guests can scoop their own pretty and aromatic party gift.

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