Gone is the fussy bowl of dried petals, herbs and wood chips that our mothers and grandmothers used to place in forgotten corners of the house. In its place are artful mixes of nature’s bounty – botanical elements such lotus pod, dried eucalyptus, mushroom, hydrangea, straw flower and Italian ruscus berry – displayed in minimalist vessels such as Japanese ceramics or simple teak plates. Potpourri, it seems, is making a comeback.
“I’ll admit until recently I had a potpourri bias. I associated it with the eighties, when Laura Ashley decor was popular and everything was floral and sweet,” Toronto floral designer Sarah Wu says. “I started noticing an increasing interest in potpourri about a year ago when dried flowers became more popular in bouquets.”
Wu, who owns Petite Studio, notes that potpourri’s more natural renaissance also reflects a collective interest in wellness and self care. “When you think about it, potpourri, which is made from sustainable ingredients and essential oils, is a reflection of how we want to live nowadays,” she says.
One of the world’s top purveyors of potpourri, Florence-based Santa Maria Novella, has experienced such an increase in demand for its buds, leaves and flower petals, which it culls from the Florentine hills, that it had to change the way it makes its potpourri.
“A few years ago, the potpourri was put inside terracotta jars from [the small Tuscan town of] Impruneta together with the essences obtained from the distillation of some of its ingredients. The wooden top of the jar was sealed with a plaster cast and the mixture macerated for months,” says Santa Maria Novella’s Barbara Faini, whose company’s 150-gram jar of potpourri sells for US$95. “Nowadays, the production of potpourri relies on a new machine due to huge demand on the market.”
This newfound interest doesn’t surprise Linda Wade, whose English mom adored potpourri and passed that love to her daughter. When Wade opened her Toronto store, Putti Fine Furnishings, 27 years ago, potpourri was one of her mainstay products. In the early nineties, however, she took it off the shelves.
“Demand for potpourri fell off around the same time the Feng Shui aesthetic began to take off and it was believed bad to have anything dead or dry in your house,” Wade says. “In the eighties and nineties, potpourri was cheapened by wood chip fillers and other synthetic products. It became passé and room infusers and scented candles became the popular choice.”
Last fall, however, she noticed high-end home and lifestyle brands restocking potpourri. At Putti, Wade now carries bags of lavender and rosemary from California’s Michel Design Works, as well as the venerable Bitter Orange potpourri from Agraria San Francisco. A hand-packed box of Bitter Orange sells for $89.95 and is called the “Park Avenue potpourri” because, 40 years ago, its scent wafted through many high-society homes in Manhattan. “I think [potpourri is back] because it’s a natural adjunct to the whole movement toward essential oils, aromatherapy and making our homes the havens they should be," Wade says.
Wu says the potpourri displays she creates for clients are designed to look like “art in a bowl.” However, she adds, the real beauty of potpourri is that it is simple, low-tech and something that can be made at home. “It’s all about texture, presentation and of course the scent, which you can customize with your own essential oils,” Wu says. “Go out to your garden, look around your yard, and assemble something in a simple dish with texture, colour and interest.”
“Today’s potpourri is more chunky,” she says. “For example, you might collect bark, add fruit peel, lavender buds, pine, herbs or take apart a bouquet that you’ve hung to dry for a couple of weeks. It’s not difficult to make something beautiful, that smells great.”
Florals and styling by Sarah Wu, Petite Studio.