Tuesday 20 May 2014

How to make potpourri

Are you a little bit blown away by all those beautiful roses growing in your garden right now? Do they smell divine? Would you like to capture a little bit of their summery wonderfulness and store it away in a glass jar for the gloomy, grey days of winter? Well I've got just the trick if that's something you're tempted to do: you could make your very own potpourri. If you've got some aromatic herbs like rosemary, bay or lavender you could add them to the mix as well.

I am a really big fan of the roses. I love them more than anything else that grows in my garden. I love how they look, I love their scent and I love their romance. Everyone from Robbie Burns to Shakespeare has written about them, they're a favourite heraldic device and here in England the lovely rose is, of course, our national flower.

They are remarkably robust plants. You can find one that will grow happily in just about any awkward spot in your garden. Got a dark corner? Got clay soil that sets like concrete in the summertime? No problem: there's a rose out there that will happily flourish in whatever conditions you have to throw at it.  They're great for security: burglars don't like to climb over a thorny, rose-covered wall.

And the modern hybrids are impressive in terms of how disease-resistant they are. The beautiful pink bloom in the bottom right hand frame above is my very favourite rose of all. It's a Sweet Hermione by David Austin. I bought two of them to go on either side of my gate, and they have bloomed faithfully for the past five years producing a profusion of big, opulent flowers that smell like heaven. Every time I go in or out I have to pause, inhale and admire them. I wish I could attach a scratch-card to give you a whiff of how beautifully they smell today.

Sadly the lighter coloured roses tend not to make such great potpourri. The problem is that they go a bit brown and grungy when they dry. You're much better off choosing the deep reds and burgundies, which keep their colour better. Avoid the light pinks, whites and yellows.

What you need to do first is gather as many rose petals as you think you're going to need. Pick them on a dry day when they're free from dew or moisture. Choose the blossoms that make your heart sing: the really perfect ones that don't have any brown leaves or imperfections. It's a good idea to try and keep a few roses whole to dry in one piece. They will add an interesting texture to your mix.

I also gather sprigs of rosemary and some bay leaves.

You need to lay everything out on sheets of newspaper somewhere dark and dry where they won't be disturbed by snuffling pets or football-playing children. Sunlight will fade the colours, and dry them out too quickly. Your attic might be a good spot or a well-aired basement room where there isn't much traffic. You'll need somewhere, where they can be left undisturbed for several weeks with good ventilation so that they won't mildew.

I collect some rose and geranium flowers with everything intact. I also collect some rose and geranium petals. I've got a lovely scented geranium with interesting leaves so I snip a few of those off too for good measure. This year I've spied a lovely deep cerise peony rose, which I'm going to dry as well. I've not used peony petals before, but I'll keep you posted on how they fare.

Everything gets laid out to dry on sheets of newspaper. It's a good idea to take a look at them every few days and stir things around a bit so that it all gets a chance to dry out evenly, although if you have reasonable ventilation that shouldn't be an issue.

The flowers, petals and leaves are ready to use when they're brittle and papery. It will probably take the better part of a couple of months for them to reach this point, although much will depend on the temperature of the room that you're using.

When you're satisfied that your flowers are dry you can move on to the next stage. For this you'll need a very large mixing bowl or a bucket, depending on how much stuff you've got. Please choose one with a lid as you will need to seal it. Maybe a huge biscuit tin or some catering-sized pickle jar would do.

Place all the dried flowers in your mixing bowl and mix them around so that they are evenly distributed. At this stage I plan to add some lavender flowers that I've dried overwinter from last year. If you want to dry your own lavender, just cut long stalks on a warm, dry day. Remove the green leaves, and tie in bunches. Then hang the bunches in a dark, dry room until they dry out. Mine were hung for a few months in my laundry room. They could have stayed there for less time, but to be very honest I forgot about them. When they were totally dried I rubbed off the small buds, and stored them in a huge, catering-sized, glass jar that a local cafe owner very kindly let me take away when it was empty.

Now you need to add some fixative to keep the mixture stable. I use orris root powder, which is made from dried iris roots. You can buy it on-line or from a health food shop. You will need 1 tablespoon of orris root powder for every quart (about 5 cups) of dried flowers that you use. 

I also add 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 tablespoonfuls of green cardamon pods, a dried vanilla pod and 2 tablespoonfuls of dried coriander seeds per quart of dried flowers. If you go to your local Asian grocer you'll get a much better deal on these spices than at the supermarket.

Mix everything so that it's all evenly distributed and then add 3 drops of rose essential oil and 1 drop each of geranium essential oil and lavender essential oil per quart of dried flowers. Give it all a good mix around and seal with your lid.

Leave the mixture to mature for between 4 and 8 weeks in a dry, dark place, giving it an occasional stir, although for the first week I'd advise you to mix it about a bit every day. The longer you leave it in its sealed container, the greater the strength of scent it will have. 

When you're ready to use it just empty it into your favourite dish, taking care to place a few of the prettiest dried roses on top, and ta-dah you've made your very own potpourri! And now you can enjoy those glorious summer roses all through the winter.

All the best,

Bonny x


  1. i pinned this! i want to do this so bad!

  2. Hope you give it a go, Tanya. It's really easy, and it's so lovely to use your own roses. All the best, Bonny

  3. Beautiful colours!! Boom, Bobbi and Gary.

  4. Love making pot pourri.Not added orris root powder. I'll have to give it a go. #pintorials

    1. Hi Cheryl, it's supposed to help fix the scent. I've never tried making potpourri without it so I can't vouch for how much better it makes the whole thing. All the best, Bonny

  5. Wow, I wish I had enough roses to make pot pourri! I bet this smells so much better than any you could buy.
    Thanks for sharing at #Pintorials

    1. You'd be surprised by how few you really need. Just think about the dish that you'd like to fill with potpourri, and then guess how many rose-heads it would take to fill it. They don't shrink much on drying so you can work backwards with surprising accuracy. Hope you find enough to give it a go! All the best, Bonny