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Make your home blossom with potpourri

by VALLE NOVAK Contributing Writer
| October 9, 2022 1:00 AM

The breezy days of fall are a delight for potpourri and wreath-makers. Myriad ingredients for a woodsy blend of attractive potpourri have blown off trees and branches, littering the forest floor with pieces of lichen, lacy cedar and other evergreen branch tips, and an assortment of cones from tiny cedar, alder and hemlock specimens to larger wreath/swag-worthy pine and fir beauties.

An occasional bird’s nest is a true treasure. (Don’t steal one still attached to a branch, since many birds return to their same nests each year). By the way, if you have a bag of cedar chips for hamster cages, they serve nicely in potpourri, as do the various chips sold for barbecue use.

In meadow and garden, ornamental grasses have dried heads of varying size and texture for harvest, ranging from tiny, fluffy “bunny tails” to elegant plumes, and unique plants such as Japanese lantern and Honesty offer poufs and “coins” for added interest.

While dried flowers and rose petals add fragrance and delicacy to scented potpourris, the coarser pods and tips of poppies and teazel, along with woodland gatherings, create an impressive display as well. Too, they’re quicker and simpler, and for many of us with little time to spare, are the way to go. Many people do not care for scented items, preferring simply an ornamental collection in a wooden bowl, perhaps, for a rustic but beautiful display. If you’ve found a bird’s nest, make it a focal point.

Whether you create a floral or woodland potpourri, don’t forget the vital ingredients for either that await you in your herb garden. Clusters of sage dry beautifully, look pretty and offer a pleasing scent that isn’t “perfumey.” Dill heads — or the dried heads of parsley, Sweet Cicely, etc., are another possibility for a unique look and a touch of scent that isn’t overwhelming. Lavender, too, suits nicely, as does Rosemary: Used as sprigs, either of them emits a gentle, soothing fragrance that isn’t “flowery” — great for people plagued with headaches.

An herbalist from 1606 created a “sleep pillow” of herbs, as follows: Three cups of spearmint, three cups of rose petals, 1 cup of whole cloves, 1/4 cup grated orris root. “Place the mixture in a cloth drawstring bag … take that to bed with you, and it will cause you to sleep, and it is good to smell unto at other times.”

Easily dried flower-heads such as Feverfew, Sea-Holly, Echinops, Tansy and Yarrow are perfect for “scentless” potpourri, and naturally dried leaves of Lamb’s Ears (Stachys) or any of the Artemisias, add a silver-grey beauty without added scent.

On now, to the kitchen! Naturally, you have never thrown away an orange or lemon peel, but cut them into strips to dry just for today’s potpourris! You can toss them into any and all mixtures as you wish, along with dried apple slices if you have them, cinnamon sticks, whole or cracked nutmegs, whole cloves, vanilla beans, allspice, and little gossamer bags filled with fennel, caraway or dill seeds. Whole nuts — walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, etc., look great in potpourri, too.

Containers aren’t a problem. They should be either clear glass or open and shallow to display the contents, but can run the gamut from a pretty glass bowl to a long chunk of bark — birch is beautiful. Too, you needn’t toss all the ingredients together, but can arrange them into a centerpiece very easily.

Center a cluster of small cones, perhaps, surrounded by mixed gleanings such as lichens, chips and pods, then tuck cedar tips around the perimeter, and larger evergreen tufts at the ends. Sprinkle with your choice of “pretties” as you wish — bright rose hips, perhaps, or clusters of Mountain Ash berries (consider cranberries from the market — pretty and traditional)! As Christmas nears, add some small, shiny balls for holiday “spark.”

Bring nature into your home! Your potpourri can even serve as a surround for a houseplant. There’s no end to what you can create — and it’s all free!

(Editor’s note: For many years, Valle Novak has written gardening and cooking columns for the Daily Bee. “Weekend Gardener” and “Country Chef” became renowned for their humor, information and common sense advice on how to do everything from planting to cooking. While she recently retired, she has shared a number of columns to delight her many fans. This is one such column, originally published Sept. 23, 2007.)