Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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Steamboat Springs Because our gardening season is so short in the Steamboat area, consider using scents from your garden in the form of potpourri to make the aroma of summer last all year.
Put simply, potpourri is a mixture of flower parts (blooms, leaves, seeds, etc.) that have been dried and then mixed with a fixative and sometimes with added fragrant oils.
We grow many plants in our Yampa Valley gardens that lend themselves to an attractive and fragrant potpourri mixture. Among the flowers to consider harvesting for potpourri, try roses, delphinium, peonies, sweet peas, hyssop, lilacs, honeysuckle, Artemisia (sage), yarrow, lavender, mints, verbenas and fennel. Rose hips, juniper berries and the rinds of several common fruits (grapefruit, orange, apple) and spices such as allspice, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, bay leaves and cloves also add to the appearance and aroma of your mixture as do pinecones and cedar chips.
Keep in mind that the appearance of the dried flower parts is more important than the fragrance. They need to be carefully dried so they don’t crumble too easily and lose all their oils.
Pick the best-looking flowers you want to use in potpourri after morning dew or rain has evaporated. For long-stemmed flowers, strip off the bottom leaves and tie the stems together and hang upside down to dry. For other flowers, place the parts on a screen or a paper-towel covered tray and let them air-dry.
Once they are dry, store each type of flower separately. A lidded glass jar is a good choice. If moisture appears on the glass, reopen the lid and allow the flowers to dry a little longer.
When you have enough dried flowers to mix up your potpourri, you’ll need a fixative, which helps soak up the remaining oils in the flowers and slowly releases them into the air. Common fixatives include chopped orris root, calamus root, pickling salt, oakmoss, tonka bean and ambergris. Be aware that finely ground fixatives (versus chopped) can sometimes detract from the looks of your potpourri, covering everything with a fine powder. Drugstores and hobby stores carry these fixatives. You’ll need at least two tablespoons of fixative for each quart of dried flower material.
If the flowers you dried do not seem to have enough fragrance on their own, you can add oils such as rose geranium, lemon or patchouli oil. There are many to choose from, and a blend of two or three oils (one dominant scent with one or two accents) can be pleasing. Some oils provide floral scents while others are spicy. Again, these are available in most hobby stores or departments.
To make your potpourri, mix your oils, if you’re using any, with the fixative (experiment to come up with what you like), and let the mixture sit in a cool, dark place for a few days. Then add your dried flowers, cover and let set for several weeks, shaking the container gently every few days. After 4 to 6 weeks, your potpourri should be ready to place in an attractive container.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.