For many grandmothers, it was a summer tradition. Rose blossoms were picked regularly in spring and summer, the petals dried and added to earthenware crocks and urns already laden with dried blossoms from lilacs, lilies-of-the-valley, gardenias and jasmine for curing indoors. Week after week, the mixtures were gently turned, the foliage and petals absorbing the scent of spices and essential oils.
Then came the day of reckoning. The cover was removed and an aesthetic fragrance wafted through the living and sleeping quarters. No matter who came to the home, their first and last impressions were always the same: Potpourri.
Today, homemade potpourri is out of vogue. Here and there, some rural gardeners perpetuate the family tradition, but for the most part potpourri has lost much of its glitter. If you want to rekindle some old traditions and create a new excitement in your home, try making your own potpourri.
For starters, invest in a bag of potpourri. In Colonial Williamsburg last weekend, we saw generous samplings of potpourri available in moderate-size bags for as little as $8. Add the pre-scented potpourri to a few containers scattered throughout the house and note the affirmative responses by family members. That's your signal to proceed with your own potpourri.
First, you need roses. Dozens are a blessing. If you have but a handful, work a deal with neighbors so they save their blossoms in exchange for some potpourri later on. Capture blossoms in mid-morning when the dew has dried, then remove the petals individually and dry them promptly to retain their natural fragrance.
Second, harvest desirable plant foliage and flowers when they appear. Here is a definitive but by no means a complete list of plant for potpourri: ageratum, anemone, artemisia, aster, baby's breath, bay leaf, black-eyed Susan, borage, boxwood, calendula, carnation, chamomile, cornflower, coxcomb, dahlia, daisy, delphinium, fern, fennel, feverfew, forget-me-not, foxglove, scented geranium, gerbera, globe amaranth, goldenrod, heliotrope, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hydrangea and hyssop.
Also iris, jasmine, Joe-pye weed, jonquil, larkspur, lavender, leek, lemon verbena, lilac, lily-of-the-valley, marigold, mint, nasturtium, pansy, peony, peppermint, petunia, poppy, pot marjoram, ranunculus, rosemary, rose geranium, sage, salvia, spearmint, statice, strawflower, sunflower, sweet pea, tansy, teasel, thistle, thyme, veronica, wintergreen, yarrow and zinnia.
Everything must be bone dry for potpourri. Once harvested, dry foliage and flowers quickly. Racks fashioned from 2-by-4 timbers and window screens are perfect. Lay down one layer of petals on the screen, then separate the next above rack by 8 to 12 inches by placing bricks or blocks of wood between the racks. Air circulation is a must. Every other day, stir plant materials on each rack. Best drying location is the attic because of the intense heat and the absence of humidity. Normally, plant materials will dry in three or four days.
Once dry, place your materials in earthenware crocks with air-tight covers to exclude humidity. Handle dried leaves carefully when placing them in containers. Crocks should be stored in cool, dark locations so as not to discolor plant materials. Keep adding dried materials to the crocks through the rest of the summer and into the first days of fall. The first October column will provide recipes for adding essential oils and other fragrances to the final potpourri.
Turning to the landscape, sunny lawns have been under siege for the past three weeks by female Japanese beetles and, more recently, by sod webworms and chinch bugs. If your lawn is in sun, you should check things out now to see if you have problems.
As for grubs, expect to find near-record populations on sunny lawns right now. If you applied Oftanol in April, this destroyed overwintering beetles on your lawn, but your neighbor's beetles have probably made up the difference. Some patches of grass may show a reddish-orange tint on the lower stalks, and this is usually an early sign of grubworm damage; however, you can't tell until you start tugging on blades to see if the sod can be pulled easily from the soil. If so, you have grubs.
Here in midsummer, the best advice is not to use Oftanol. In the spring, the product effectively destroyed the larvae of Japanese beetles. One reason was the lack of microorganisms in the soil. Over a period of time, the bacterial population increased and was instrumental in degrading the Oftanol. If you applied Oftanol now, the large volume of bacteria in the soil would assure the quick breakdown of the chemical, thereby eliminating any chances of controlling the grub population.
If your examination uncovers grubs on the sunny lawn, you have a decision to make. If you do nothing, grubs will destroy all turfgrass over the next 8 to 10 weeks. They chew the roots of the grass plant, cutting off the food supply to the upper blades. This explains why grub-infested grass may be lifted from the lawn along the lines of a rug or carpet. If you fail to control the grubs, there is no reason to apply grass seed in late summer or the fall because the grubs will destroy the developing grass before the first blades poke out of the soil. Plainly, it is impossible to grow a new lawn in the presence of grubs.
The alternative is to control the grubs if you have them. The choices are granular diazinon, granular Dursban or granular Spectracide 6000, each applied with a lawn spreader. Start by applying the product to the border of the sunny lawn, then treating the balance of the turf. Try to time your application within hours of rain that will wash the chemical into the soil. Otherwise, set up your sprinkler for a thorough soaking of the lawn immediately after the grub treatment. Everyone, pets included, should stay off the treated area until the lawn is irrigated.
Within two days of the application, grubs will exit the top two inches of soil to escape the chemical; once on the lawn surface, sunlight will kill them.
Sod webworm injury shows as softball-size patches of dead grass, usually with green droppings (chewed grass blades) showing in the litter. Part the grass and look for tiny webs drawing grass blades together in the area next to the thatch.
Chinch bug damage appears as irregular dieback of grass, usually within five feet of a reflected heat surface such as a sidewalk or driveway. Dieback usually resembles an irregular lightning bolt on the turfgrass. Remove both ends of a one-pound coffee can, then position the can over healthy, green grass immediately next to the dead turf. While forcing the rim of the can into the soil, flood it twice so the water drains into the soil. Remove the can and place a white tissue on the grass. If chinch bugs are present, they will climb onto the tissue in a minute or two.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).