Volume I, No. 4, Summer 1974

A Rose In The Winter Time Smell As Sweet

by Karen Mulrenin

Photography by Robert McKenzie

Esther Griffin loves to grow flowers not only for their present beauty, but for their year round enjoyment. Gathering her flowers in the growing seasons, she dries them in various ways to provide outdoor beauty in her home far into the winter months. She combines wildflowers with her garden grown ones, making many unique dried arrangments with yarrow, sea lavender, straw flowers, wild milkweed pods, money plant and others. She even provides for the fragrance of a summertime garden of flowers by preserving rose petals in a mixture called rose potpourri.

Rose potpourri [poe-per-ee] is a fragrant mixture of dried rose petals and other flowers plus spices. The dried rose petals are placed in sacket bags, or more permanently in containers called rose jars. When the lid of the jar is opened, a delightful scent will travel through the room. Rose potpourri looks like faded rose petals, remembrances of sunny days. Entering a room filled with the scent smells like a garden of roses with only a hint of its fragrance gone.

The rose jars themselves add to the room because of the way they are so colorfully decorated. These rose jars can by any kind of a decorated jar. Esther made most of her own ceramic jars, but some of her jars are antiques from the Victorian days when rose jars graced many parlors.

Rose potpourri makes wonderful gifts. Also, rose potpourri will serve as perfect party favors put into little jars decorated to match the season. After learning how to make it from Esther, I was at a meeting where some of her mixture in jars cleverly decorated like Santa Claus's head was a favor at each plate.

Esther began making rose potpourri about fifteen years ago when her sister gave her some. Since then she has made many batches. While mixing up her last batch last fall she invited three BITTERSWEET staff members to watch her make her favorite recipe for rose potpourri.

First comes the difficult job of gathering enough rose petals to make up a good batch of potpourri. Rose petals should be gathered during the summer while they are in full bloom when the "dew goes off." Esther chooses only the best colored and most fragrant blooms. Since she has quite a few rose bushes, her job was not so hard. She told us, "I just love to fool with this stuff. If you don't have very many roses, it takes you quite a while to collect them. I wish I was fortunate enough to have some old-fashioned roses like damask roses and the old hill varieties for they're a lot more fragrant."


To add color and fragrance other dried blooms can be added. Esther uses lavender, lemon balm, rosemary and honeysuckle blooms. Many other dried materials can be used to add changes in color, texture and scent, such as delphinium, corn flowers for blue color, carnations, heliotrope, jasmine, lily of the valley, magnolia, violet, sweet pea, orange flowers or different scents and ferns for texture. Each person has her own special mixture and recipe making a great deal of variety.

When adding these herbs and other flowers do not mix more than two quarts to every twelve quarts of rose petals. All blooms should be thoroughly dry also. The petals shrink up when dried to about one-fourth of their fresh size.

After the rose petals and herbs have been dried to where they are brittle to the touch, and mixed together, shake them up in a sack with the following kitchen spices.

For each quart of dried petals add:

1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of cloves
1 teaspoon of allspice
1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Next, for each quart of dried petals sprinkle and mix well 1 teaspoon of orrisroot. Orrisroot is a natural fixative which is used to slow down the rate of evaporation and keep it from getting limp and damp. It can be bought at a drugstore.

Esther went on to explain the next few steps. "You want to put this all together so that all the spices aren't in one place. Then we add an oil. You use half an ounce of oil to twelve quarts of potpourri.'' The oils to use are any fragrant oils obtainable, such as oil of lemon and oil of geranium, but oil of rose is especially preferred, though almost impossible to get today. You can have your druggist order these oils. They cost Esther $5.00 an ounce. The oil is used to intensify the scent of the roses, because in the drying process some scent is lost.

Some people use salt to keep in the drying process but Esther prefers not to use it. "I tried using salt once for I thought it was a lot simpler to use," she explained. "But I don't care for it. I never tried it again. I just use spices and orrisroot and dry the petals in the air."

When these are all combined and mixed well, "You leave the rose potpourri for about three weeks for the fragrances of all the spices, orrisroot and the oils to mingle. When you want to have a fragrance in the room you open the lid of the jar. If you see that it's beginning to lose its fragrance, you can add in a few drops of any kind of good perfume or good cologne."


If you leave the lid of your container tightly closed, the scent of roses will remain indefinitely; but if you would prefer to keep it open, it begins to lose its fragrance. The perfume or cologne will cause the scent of the roses and spices to mingle and be more penetrating.

Some people use other spices such as mace, vanilla, dried orange and lemon rind, bay leaves and ginger to name a few. A word of precaution, though, is to be careful not to use too many kinds of scented flowers and spices or the fragrance becomes overpowering. The scent should be delicate, pleasant and tantalizing.

It is fun to experiment with mixtures to get the desired fragrance. Esther's rose potpourri brings just the hint of summer to the winter, making you remember the comfortable scented warmth of a June day in the crisp chill of January.

Esther grows many beautiful flowers in her garden. Here she displays her lovely crysthaneums.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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