October 17, 2018

Turn your floral bouquet into homemade potpourri

Who doesn’t love receiving a bouquet of fresh flowers, whether it’s for a birthday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or just because? The sweet smells always brighten your day and add a burst of joyful color to your home. It’s too bad, then, that arrangements typically wilt in about a week. But here’s good news: You can preserve the flowers so they last forever. Just dry them and turn them into potpourri. As someone who once thought that potpourri was just a category on “Jeopardy!” I was surprised how easy it is to make.

Step 1: Dry the flowers

Dry whole rose buds by hanging roses upside down for several weeks. 

I like the idea of preserving some of the flowers in their entirety as well as taking some apart to dry the individual petals. The combination of whole flower buds and flaky petals provides a gorgeous texture to the finished potpourri. It’s easiest to dry larger petals, like those on roses and peonies. For flowers with small petals, like carnations and chrysanthemums, I recommend drying the entire flower bud rather than just the petals.

To dry whole flower buds, hang the flowers by their stems upside down, tying them to a clothesline with string or twist ties. Allow them to air-dry indoors for two to three weeks. When  they’re completely dry, the buds will snap off the stems, and you will be left with beautiful flowers that have the look and feel of vintage paper.

Dry rose petals in a conventional or microwave oven.

Drying petals is much faster. Place the petals in a single layer on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet, and heat in an oven at its lowest temperature, about 180 F. Crack open the oven door to allow moisture to escape. After 30 minutes, turn the petals over, and heat for an additional 30 minutes. When oven-baked, the petals turn crispy, and their color actually intensifies. (Oven times vary, so if your petals aren’t completely dried after an hour, keep checking their “doneness” in 10-minute increments.)

If you’re in a hurry and can’t wait an hour for them to dry in the oven, you can also microwave your petals. Place the petals between two paper towels and microwave them at full power for one minute. Remove the petals from the microwave, turn them over, and zap them for another minute. Instant dried petals!

Step 2: Add botanicals and other elements

Dried herbs and botanicals complement the flowers in your potpourri.

Once your flowers are dried, it’s time to add other elements to create the potpourri. What you include in your mixture is completely up to your taste and imagination.

Start by looking in your own backyard for botanicals that are available to you for free. Think leaves, tree bark, pinecones and twigs. Rinse them well to remove dirt and bugs, and dry them in the oven for an hour.

Next, consider adding fragrant herbs like lavender or rosemary. I know when I’m walking my dogs, Fosse and Gershwin, around the neighborhood, I can never go by a rosemary plant without running my fingers through the stalks. I just love how it smells. Best of all, lavender and rosemary retain their shape and fragrance when dried, so they work really well in potpourri.

You can also raid your pantry for aromatic spices. Cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves lend delightful fragrance notes to your potpourri while adding interesting shapes and textures.

When making potpourri, I also like to add nonbotanical filler elements. Costume jewelry, wooden thread spools, seashells, and even vintage keys help to personalize the potpourri and make it unique. Choosing modern and unexpected fillers (Legos, anyone?) can also help keep the potpourri from becoming too froufrou.

Step 3: Mix it all together

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, place them in a large bowl and stir everything together with a wooden spoon. The proportion of florals to botanicals is up to you, but I like about three-quarters of my mixture to be flowers. The ingredients you choose probably already have some scent, but if you want to enhance their natural fragrance, select an essential oil that will tie all your elements together. Essential oils — with scents such as lavender, almond, orange and jasmine — are available in most health food stores. Just add several drops of the oil to the mix. Then display your potpourri in dishes and bowls throughout your home.

Making homemade potpourri is a great way to preserve your beautiful flowers, as well as the memories associated with receiving them. So the next time you receive a lovely bouquet, save the petals. Love may not always last forever, but the flowers certainly can.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” ”Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects on jonathanfongstyle.com.