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Garden-Variety Gifts From the Heart

Holidays * Creating potpourri, herbal vinegars and more makes recipients feel special.

November 18, 2000|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every holiday season, Judith Goffin of Yorba Linda creates potpourri from her garden and gives it to friends and family.

During the spring and summer months, she gathers rose petals and blossoms from her 30 rose bushes, and after enjoying them fresh, she dries and stores the flowers in her garage.

Come Thanksgiving weekend, she's ready to make and bag her potpourri, which she calls Rose Fantasy.

"Everyone tells me that they really look forward to receiving my potpourri," Goffin said. "I think they like it so much because it's a gift that isn't commercial but has been prepared with love, and that makes people feel really special."

People appreciate the time and thought that goes into making gifts from the garden, said Sherrie Priebe Crow, who is teaching a class, Gifts From the Garden, at the Fullerton Arboretum at 10 a.m. today.

"It means a lot to the recipients to know that you grew the items and then took the time to prepare something like a potpourri or herbal vinegar," Crow said.

Crow will demonstrate how to make a variety of items from the garden, including herbal vinegar, cranberry liqueur, botanical candles and garden wreaths.

If the gift is organic, people like it even more, said Villa Park's Geri Cibellis, a member of the Orange County Organic Gardening Club. "Friends and family love to get my dried herbs because the flavor is exceptional, and they know I haven't used any pesticides."

Here are ideas for quick and easy gifts to cull from the garden.

Potpourri

A potpourri made from flowers and flower petals can make a pretty, fragrant gift. You will need dried rose flower heads and petals, rose essential oil (available in craft stores) and a container for the potpourri. If desired, also collect and add other decorative items such as rose hips and small pine cones.

Before making potpourri, thoroughly dry the roses. Entire roses can be hung upside down or dried standing straight up. Rose petals can be dried by pulling the flower apart and laying the petals on newspaper.

The flowers will retain the most color if dried in a dark location.

Once flowers and other materials are dry, place everything in a bowl and add a few drops of rose essential oil. Mix gently, but well. Add more essential oil, if desired.

Package the potpourri in a decorative jar or plastic packet.

Dried Herbs

Drying herbs is fun and easy. Simply harvest the herbs, rinse them well, pat dry and lay them on paper towels or newspaper. Place in a dry, semi-dark area.

In about a week, the herbs will be very dry and should crush easily in your fingers. At this time, package them in small containers and label.

Cibellis, of the Orange County Organic Garden Club, saves small jars throughout the year for this purpose. To remove stubborn labels, she uses a blow drier or applies a little WD-40.

You can crush the herbs before putting them in the jars or leave them whole, which is often suggested because it helps preserve their essential oils.

Good herbs for air-drying include basil, bay, chives, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary, sage, sweet marjoram, tarragon and thyme.

Herbal Vinegar

To make herbal vinegar, you will need a good quality wine or cider vinegar, an attractive container and fresh herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, sweet marjoram, tarragon or thyme.

Sterilize a container by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit for five minutes. Throw out the water, fill the container with vinegar and add herbs that have been rinsed thoroughly. Place in a cool, dark place for a month. Replace the herbs with new ones and your gift is ready.

Herbal Honey

Heat the honey almost to boiling and turn off the stove. Add well-washed herbs such as basil, lavender and lemon verbena, and pour the mixture into a sterilized jar or decorative container.

Cover and let the herbs sit in the honey two weeks to flavor it and then remove them.

Herbal Oil

Though some herb-infused oil recipes call for cooking the oil, Goffin finds it easier to fill an attractive bottle with olive oil, put peppercorns at the bottom and float herbs in the oil. She seals the oil with melted paraffin. The herbs should flavor the oil within two weeks to a month.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit makes a great gift, said Orange gardener Fran Stalker, a member of the Orange County chapter of the Rare Fruit Growers.

She dries a variety of produce from her garden, including persimmons, strawberries, figs, apples, pears, mangoes and papayas.

Though Stalker uses a high-end produce drier, which has a fan, there are inexpensive models that do an adequate job.

Most fruit should be cut about a quarter-inch thick before drying. There are some exceptions, such as figs, which should be cut into quarters and then stretched so they are an even thickness. Remove dried fruit when it is almost as dry as you want, as it will continue to dry slightly before cooling. Package in a decorative tin.

If you have more than one fruit type, keep the flavors from mixing by separating each with plastic bags. Refrigerate.

Class Schedule

* Gifts From the Garden is being held today at the Fullerton Arboretum, 1900 Associated Road. The class is free to members of the Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum and $7 per household to non-members. No reservations required. Call (714) 278-3579 for more information.

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