You’re Invited to a Super (Potpourri) Bowl Party!

(And we won’t be serving chicken wings and dips.)

I know that some people keep our potpourri in the box it comes it, but I suggest spreading it around the house in any kind of vessel you have.

all 2I begin by gathering a collection bowls, cachepots, unique baskets, and assorted pottery bowls and filling them.  I figure if I have them made, I will find a place for each and every one of them.

50sbowlx800It’s not always necessary to completely fill the vessel with potpourri.  Here I’m using a circa 1950 cachepot that I stuffed with bubble wrap and then filled with Lavender & Rosemary.

coffee-tablex600Here’s another cachepot that already had an orchid in it, so I just sprinkled some Lavender & Rosemary in the bottom and around the sides.  It’s an unexpected touch of fragrance to add to plants that have no fragrance of their own.

statisx600Not all my cachepots are fancy, but I wanted one in my kitchen and this simple white one looks perfect.  Notice I filled the bottom with bubble wrap so I could get several bowls out of one box of Lavender & Rosemary.

filled-lid-sidex600Here’s a little pot with a pretty lid that I put on sideways to let the fragrance escape. You’ll see below how I paired this with a companion piece that was made just for potpourri.  It has holes in the sides and in the lid.

moroccan-table-closex600Since this bowl has holes half way down the side, to keep the Bitter Orange blend from falling out, I added small pine cones (they’re known as cedar roses) as a base.  With a lid that also has holes, this pot has lots of fragrance escaping from both the sides and the top.

bathroomx700In the powder room, I filled a hand-made bowl with Bitter Orange and placed in next to this old green glass vase.  The reflection created thru the glass by a burning Woven Crystal Candle is almost hypnotic.   Burning a Lemon Verbena candle next to Bitter Orange potpourri is a great fragrance combo.

targe-bagx600I’ve always liked this oval basket with woven grapevines on the sides.  It has some holes in it so I stuffed it with a crimpled up paper bag prior to filling it with Bitter Orange (I ran out of bubble wrap).  It took me a while to find the perfect spot for it – on an old Korean rice chest in my bedroom.

stais_bauerx600Status is an excellent topping for Lavender & Rosemary potpourri.  I picked this cluster in my yard and carefully mounded it on top of this great old Bauer Pottery bowl.  It looks perfect in my living room next to my Foo Dog.

persimmonx800I decided to use this ceramic Japanese porcelain persimmon (it’s actually a rattle)as a topping for this blue bowl with a burnt orange interior glaze.  So I can still see the inside, I only added about 3 inches of Lavender & Rosemary to the bottom.

filling-LVx700Remember, you can always drop just a handful of potpourri in any vessel and not even be able to see it…but you will smell it!

dragon-bowlx700This is one my favorite bowls – a Chinese antique with dragons handles and turquoise cranes on the outside.

mantle1The Agraria founders developed the first four fragrances (Bitter Orange, Lemon Verbena, Lavender & Rosemary and Balsam) to “mix and mingle marvelously,” and I like to mingle on the mantel.  The advantage of placing fragrance on a mantel is it’s closer to nose-level and draws guests over to examine the collection of vessels.  Here I’ve combined both Bitter Orange (in the dragon bowl and inside the tall blue vase) and Lavender & Rosemary (as a cushion for the Japanese persimmon and inside the round vase at the back). Not shown in this image is an assortment of candles.  I vary fragrances depending on my mood and season.  Right now I’m burning Lime & Orange Blossoms and our newest fragrance, Golden Cassis.

Orange-Lidx900When I saw this orange bowl with lid, I had to have it for Bitter Orange Potpourri.  I think the lid is as pretty as the bowl.


Sometimes the inside of the bowl is just too beautiful to cover with potpourri.  Can you believe I found this bowl in the basement when I moved into my house 20 years ago?

Hope you all enjoy your Super (potpourri) Bowl Sunday.  Just keep your fingers crossed that no one tells you your trail mix needs salt!

If you need a new supply of potpourri or just a few bottles of refresher oil, visit us at


Reggie Recommends, Again: Agraria’s Bitter Orange Potpourri

The post below is gratefully reproduced from the wonderful blog Reggie Darling, Sunday, December 15, 2013.

I received a package the other day, Dear Reader, containing an unexpected and thoughtful gift from the owners of Agraria, a home fragrance company based in San Francisco.   It was a box of their Bitter Orange potpourri, which I have been a devotee of for thirty years.  I first wrote about my love affair with Bitter Orange potpourri two years ago, which is how I came to the attention of the folks at Agraria.  They have been kind to send me a present of a box of their Bitter Orange potpourri each Christmas since then, much to my surprised pleasure.

I have never done a paid endorsement of a product here on Reggie, Dear Reader, and I don’t expect to start doing ones any time soon, either.  In this case, because the gift from Agraria was sent to me as a “thank you” for an unsolicited review and not in exchange for it, I am happy to recommend Agraria’s Bitter Orange potpourri to you.  If you are anything like Reggie is, he is confident that you will also fall in love with Bitter Orange’s marvelous, can’t-live-without, heady scent.  That is, if you haven’t already. . .

Here’s a repeat of the post that I published in December 2011, in which I shared how I first learned of Bitter Orange and why I have loved it ever since:

I’m not, in general, a fan of potpourri.  Most of what is available today is vile, made of things like artificial peach scented cedar shavings.  No wonder it has such a bad reputation.

One of our Chinese export punch bowls, ca. 1800, filled with Bitter Orange potpourri

One of our Chinese export punch bowls, ca. 1800,
filled with Bitter Orange potpourri

However, there is one potpourri out there that I love, and which I make a point of buying every year when the weather turns cold and the heating season begins.  It is called Bitter Orange, and it is made by a company called Agraria.  I recommend it to you, Dear Reader.

It is the most marvelous potpourri there is.

Agraria makes its Bitter Orange potpourri in small batches of fragrant dried flowers and orange slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves, lavender, natural oils, and other exotic organic ingredients.  Bitter Orange is lovely—citrusy, floral, spicy, and woodsy.  I fill an antique Chinese export bowl with it every year at this time and place it in our drawing room at Darlington House, where its scent deliciously pervades the room.

I first learned of Bitter Orange back in the early 1980s, shortly after it became available in New York.  I vividly recall my introduction to it, in the living room of a large apartment on the Upper East Side that belonged to the parents of a classmate of mine from Yale.  I remember sitting in a chair in the room and wondering “What is that marvelous scent, and where is it coming from?” and my then delight in learning that it was a potpourri called Bitter Orange from a small company named Agraria, based in San Francisco.  The mother of my friend had just bought it at Henri Bendel, the only store in the city that stocked it at the time, and she was quite pleased with herself for having done so.

A freshly opened box of Bitter Orange, revealing the treasures inside

A freshly opened box of Bitter Orange,
revealing the treasures inside

At the time I had never seen or smelled potpourri before.  It seemed rarefied and exquisite to me, and I was entranced by it.  This was long before potpourri had become a degraded mass-market commodity found in every gift-shoppe, drug store, and big box retailer in America.  It was very special, then.  Bitter Orange created a sensation in New York when it was introduced to the city in the mid-1970s, where it became known as “the Park Avenue potpourri,” as it was immediately popular among the city’s uptown smart set.

I had to have it.  I went to Bendels at the next opportunity I had and bought myself a box of it.  I was shocked at how expensive it was, but that didn’t deter me.  I simply had to have it.

And I’ve been buying it ever since.

Agraria's handsome box for its Bittersweet potpourri

Agraria’s handsome box
for its Bittersweet potpourri

Agraria’s Bitter Orange has spawned many imitators over the years, but none have succeeded in replicating its signature scent or quality.  It is unique.  Bitter Orange was the foundation of Agraria’s subsequent success, and today the company’s products are widely distributed, a testament to its vision and the integrity of its offerings.  I’m pleased that they have been so successful.

If you are not already a fan of Agraria’s Bitter Orange potpourri, Dear Reader, I recommend that you get some, because I trust that you will love it, as I do.  But be forewarned: it is addicting.

Agraria’s website, which features not only their Bitter Orange potpourri and related products, but also a host of other gorgeously-scented irresistibles, can be found here.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Friends of Agaria: Geraldine Stutz

Geraldine Stuz

Geraldine Stutz (Walter Pippin/New York Times)

She launched Andy Warhol’s career, she revolutionized merchandising with Henri Bendel, and she scented the fashionable streets of New York City with Agraria’s Bitter Orange.

Geraldine Stutz and Buster, who's been opening doors to Bendel's for almost 60 years. (Women's Wear Daily, 1974)

Above: Geraldine Stutz and Buster, who’s been opening doors to Henri Bendel for almost 60 years. (Women’s Wear Daily, 1974)

It was 40 years ago this month, that Geraldine Stutz put Agraria at the first door of Henri Bendel and nothing has been the same since. Stutz was a visionary in the retail world. With her investment team, she was essentially the first woman to helm a world-class luxury retail store — Henri Bendel.

Stutz’s first big coup in the world of fashion and retail was the collaboration with Andy Warhol on I. Miller’s famous shoe ads and campaigns. Long before the most famous artist in the world painted his Campbell’s Soup cans, Stutz knew his sensitive, liquid line art would encapsulate the style of the times.

It was a natural transition in her ascendancy to be ensconced at Henri Bendel where she took the leadership position in 1957. Henri Bendel had a reputation for bringing the most exclusive European fashion lines to the store. They were the first American retailer that Coco Chanel would allow to sell her creations..

Geri Stutz focused the store on a young, hip, urban woman — not unlike herself. Ms. Stutz described her taste for what she called “dog whistle” fashion: “clothes with a pitch so high and special that only the thinnest and most sophisticated women would hear their call.”  And her vision of what defined ‘fashion’ came to include home decor, inventive menus, and even the fragrances in the home.

Henri Bendel's "Street of Shops" with Scentiments on the right.

Above: Henri Bendel’s “Street of Shops” with Scentiments on the right.

Stutz’s 1958 overhaul of the main floor at the store, at 10 West 57th Street, into a U-shaped “Street of Shops” was widely acknowledged as a precursor to modern shop-in-shop merchandising displays.

Robert Rufino, the former vice president of creative services at Tiffany & Co., is one of the many retail executives who found career initiations and inspirations with Ms. Stutz. He designed windows for the company in the 1970′s, and recalled Ms. Stutz’s ability to intermingle her acquisitive fascination with art and film, infused with fashion.

Rufino offered: “In those days, there was nothing else like Henri Bendel. It was like working for the best house in the world. To take this little town house and make it look like someone lived there, as you were going from room to room – it was just one woman’s vision on the world of fashion, and yet it did incredibly well.”

He also said in an interview about her:  No matter what the task, large or small, her motto was: If you are going to do it, do it once and do it right and be gutsy.

Maurice Gibson and Stanford Stevenson, the original founders of Agraria

Above: Agraria founders, Stanford Stevenson and Maurice Gibson, photographed in 1984 at the Scentiments Shop during the week-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of Agraria. The signature brown and white Henri Bendel boxes (to the far right with the green ribbon and gold Agraria logo) are filled with Bitter Orange Potpourri.

Often friends would suggest items to Stutz they thought might appeal to the Bendel’s “type.” But in this case it was a gift from a friend that made the first connection.

Sam Deitsch was one of Geraldine Stutz’s oldest chums — their friendship dated from early years in Chicago.  Gibson and Stevenson knew Deitsch when he was about to open the North Beach bistro Washington Square Bar and Grill.

Deitsch was a fan of Agraria and on a trip to Manhattan in ’74 he stopped by Henri Bendel (Stutz was away at the time) and left a box of Bitter Orange with her assistant.  Ms. Stutz  was pleased and liked it well enough to call and invite Gibson and Stevenson to come to New York for a meeting. The magic happened and for the next ten years 10 West 57th was home.

A year later Scentiments, the in-store home fragrance boutique, was opened. Stutz’s sense that fragrance defined style influenced her wise placement of the lattice worked jewel box to be right by the front door of the store and as the doors opened and closed all day long, the luxurious scent of Bitter Orange poured out onto the street luring the well-heeled clientele inside. Many years later, Vogue magazine quoted Michael Kors: “I thought 57th Street was heaven.  I smelled the Agraria potpourri wafting out of Henri Bendel, but I just thought the street smelled good.”

Stutz’s high-profile promotion of Agraria as the scent of the Park Avenue set was what established Gibson’s and Stevenson’s creation as a world-class home fragrance house.

“The way a house smells is one of the most important elements in decorating and entertaining,” Geraldine Stutz said, and for that we are very grateful.

Geraldine Stutz

Above: Geraldine Stutz

“What is the difference between mere fashion and true style? Fashion says ‘Me too’, and style says ‘Only me’.” Words to live by from Geraldine Stutz.

Lincoln, Lobbyists, and Lemon Verbena

The Willard InterContinental Hotel

The Willard InterContinental Hotel

Lincoln, Lobbyists, and Lemon Verbena: What might these three things have in common? The Willard InterContinental Hotel, of course.

Abraham Lincoln became a hotel guest shortly before his first inauguration as president in 1861. He arrived abruptly on February 23 after an assassination plot in Baltimore changed his travel plans. He was joined soon after by his wife and sons, remaining until his inauguration on March 4.

Linoln's Inauguration in 1861.

Linoln’s Inauguration in 1861.

At noon on March 4, Lincoln left the hotel with outgoing President Buchanan to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue enroute the Capitol. President Lincoln returned to the hotel after the inaugural ceremonies to watch the parade and enjoy his inaugural luncheon. The menu consisted of Mock Turtle Soup, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes and Blackberry Pie.

The American legend surrounding the term ‘lobbyist’ originated at the Willard Hotel when Ulysses S. Grant was in office (1869-1877).  Apparently President Grant would frequent the Willard Hotel to enjoy brandy and a cigar, and while he was there, he’d be hounded by petitioners asking for legislative favors or jobs.  It is said that President Grant coined the term by referring to the petitioners as “those damn lobbyists.”

The lobby as it is today at the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

The lobby as it is today at the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

Grant most likely was coining the phrase for American idiom, as the phrase was in common use in England a few decades before. But in the United States, the ancestry of the word Lobbyists was born at the Willard.

President Obama's 2009 Inauguration

President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration

Next week, we are honored to mention that guests staying at the Willard InterContinental Hotel during President Obama’s Second Inauguration, will be greeted with a commemorative Lemon Verbena Bath Bar and a Sweet Dreams card making a reference to when the President moved into the White House in 2009.

sweetdreamscardWho says that politics can’t have a lovely fragrance?

Lemon Mellow

A Victorian perfume pendant

Everyone knows that fragrance stimulates memory: cinnamon at holiday time, mock orange blossoms on an early spring night, the eau de parfum that your mother used, your favorite cookies baking in the oven. These can all trigger pleasant, happy memories. But fragrance can also affect your moods.

De Materia Medica

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function, or health. Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides describes the use of essential oils in his De Materia Medica, written in the first century.

The ancient Greeks used lemon Verbena leaves in their pillows to enhance their dreams. Today, dream pillows are used as part of aromatherapy to stimulate lucid dreaming. A lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. The term was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932). In a lucid dream, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment. Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid.

Many artists and writers — and anyone with a curious imagination — have explored the world of lucid dreaming. Our goals and struggles and our very destiny often play out in symbolic form. Enhancing the hours you sleep with conscious dreaming, or even just the lightening of the spirit sought by those ancient Greeks with their Lemon Verbena pillows, can be a tonic to our hectic and demanding lives.

Get the most out of all your hours — not just the waking ones. No need for a crunchy pillow full of leaves. We have a wide assortment of great products to make the dreamworld a more crisp and lemony journey.

The Lemon Verbena Story: Part 1, The Precarious Journey

Aloysia citrodora

The cool lemon essence so delightful in potpourri, foods and sauces, and steeped in tea, had at least a half dozen alternate names and a circuitous journey to Europe in the 18th century from it’s native regions in South America.

An early botanical print

The accepted Latin botanical name, Aloysia citrodora is a species of flowering plant in the verbena family, Verbenaceae, that is native to Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. Common names include Lemon Verbena and Lemon Beebrush.

Philibert Commerson

Often great ideas and important discoveries happen simultaneously. Philibert Commerson, a French botanist who first publicly recorded this plant collected it in Buenos Aires on his botanical explorations with Louis Antoine de Bougainville (yes, the man for whom Bougainvillea is named), about 1785. The plant had already been quietly imported directly into the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid, where professors Casimiro Gómez Ortega and Antonio Palau y Verdera named it, though they did not publish it, Aloysia citrodora, to compliment the morganatic wife of the Garden’s patron Infante Luis Antonio de Borbon, Prince of Asturias and brother of King Carlos III.

The Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid

A drawer container used for transporting samples.

Other botanists with collections from Spanish America struggled: when French botanist Joseph Dombey landed his imports at Cadiz in southwestern Spain in 1785 they were impounded and left to die in warehouses. Officials refused permission even to have seeds planted. Of the plants Dombey had assembled during eight years at Lima, his Lemon Verbena survived.

Palau y Verdera’s earliest recording was completely disregarded, and when the plant became popular throughout southern Spain as Yerba Luisa it was connected, even in print, with the more prominent personage Maria Luisa, Queen of Spain.

King Charles IV, Queen Maria Luisa, and family. The Queen decided Aloysia citrodora had been named in her honor.

Casimiro Gómez Ortega sent seeds and samples of the plant to Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle in Paris. From Paris John Sibthorpe, professor of Botany at Oxford, obtained the specimen that he introduced to British horticulture. By 1797 Lemon Verbena was common in greenhouses around London, and its popularity as essential in a fragrant bouquets, gathered in ladies handkerchiefs, and for medicinal purposes increased through the following century.

Coming next: The Victorians, Everyday Uses for Lemon Verbena

Dangling Delight

Muslim tasselmaker and his wife | AGRARIA

Muslim tassel maker and his wife, 16c.

From the highest ecclesiastical offices to the low prurience of a near-the-airport strip club, tassels are both a signifier of status and a visual point of whimsy.

In Deuteronomy 22:12 we read: “You must put four tassels on the hem of the cloak with which you cover yourself — on the front, back, and sides.” But we didn’t need the bible to tell us that tassels add a little something extra to almost anything decorative.

Camel with tassel harness | AGRARIA

Camel with tassel harness.

In early Egypt, Mesopotamia and throughout the Arab world, tassels were affixed to the hats and hoods of children to ward off evil spirits and demons.

Tassels, Fringe, and passementerie | AGRARIA

Tassels, fringe, and passementerie, oh my! Too much is never enough.

Tassel comes from the Latin word tasseau which means a clasp. The origin of the word “passementiers” has been lost to time, but it is French in origin, as are all things truly exquisite. Passementiers were fine craftsmen who created all sorts of trimmings and decorative bindings but especially the finest tassels. An apprenticeship of seven years was required to become a master in one of the subdivisions of the their guild.

Clarence House Tassels | AGRARIA

Clarence House tassels live up to the Victorian ideal.

Tassels and their associated forms changed style throughout the years, from the small and casual of Renaissance designs, through the medium sizes and more staid designs of the Empire period, and to the Victorian Era with the largest and most elaborate. Some of these designs are returning today from the European and American artisans who may charge a thousand dollars for a single hand-made tassel.

Chinese lanterns | AGRARIA

Chinese lanterns illuminate and protect.

Tassels have been widely used around the world, generally as ornaments. In ancient times, the Chinese  decorated lanterns, swords, clothing, and shoes with tassels.  In China and Japan their color signified rank among the swordsman, and their bright colors were used to distract the opponent. The beautiful knotted red tassels we often see interwoven with gold threads or gold bindings are a symbol of good fortune.  In Buddhism a tassel is regarded as being able to understand spirits and exorcise them to avoid any calamity.


Assorted Chinese tassels in the marketplace.

And today one of the most common signifiers is the tassel worn on the mortar board hat of a graduate. At the final ceremony of graduation the tassel is moved from one side of the square hat to the other to denote completion of schooling.

And of course, we have indulged in our own tassel whimsies.  In the early 90’s, we created an exclusive offering of tassel-decorated boxes of Bitter Orange Potpourri for Bergdorf Goodman.  They sold out almost immediately and when they reordered, we discovered we couldn’t get any more tassels from the man we bought them from in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  We were flabbergasted to learn they were originally souvenirs from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

Bergdorf's, as covered by The New York Times. | AGRARIA

Brunschwig & Fils, Inc., one of the finest makers of tassels has a witty take on a cocktail table.

Erte | Agraria

Art Deco artist Erté certainly knew his way around a decorative tassel.

Vivian Vavoom's School of Burlesque | AGRARIA

And finally, we could not resist. From Vivian Vavoom's School of Burlesque, a selection of artisanal pasties.