The thing about Mount Stewart is that the house and garden are closely entwined, and inside the mansion you will find lovely flower arrangements and an intriguing collection of beautiful bowls full of sweet smelling pot pourri. However, when researching Pot Pourri for this week’s blog, I was rather disconcerted to discover that a literal translation from the French is Rotten Pot. I would rather have the definition that lists ingredients like dried rose petals, herbs and spices, so that the stew that has gone a bit off becomes a more appealing melange of fragrant blossoms, essential perfume oils and spices displayed in a pierced or open container.
Certainly pleasantly scented surroundings, both outside and in, are what made a stay at Mount Stewart special for Lady Edith’s many summer guests. Her Ladyship had her own special recipe for the mixture, and Lady Rose tells us of constantly searching for the absolutely correct essence of vetiver oil used by her grandmother in order to recreate the pot pourri of those days when the house was full of visitors.
In Lady Edith’s little drying room tucked away off the black and white stone hall we can see a very practical pair of wellington boots, a walking stick, measuring jugs, baskets and trugs, and the drying racks that were used to process the petals. Best picked when the dew has evaporated, the petals, or whole buds as used by Lady Edith, should be dried until papery and then tossed with other fragrant ingredients like lavender, orris root, rose oil, or vetiver oil. Little organza sachets wait to be filled and given as gifts or sold in support of Lady Edith’s many charities.
Lady Edith used whole stalks of delphiniums and small rosebuds; according to her notes once collecting over 300 rose blooms in a day.
They may have been similar to today’s pink free-flowering Rosa Raubritter, or the double blooms of the white Dundee Rambler, and most importantly, they had to be fragrant. Our current project in the gardens is to reinstate the rose garden as it was when Lady Edith was collecting petals and buds for her mixture.
Huge decorative ceramic bowls full of the recipe were placed all around the house to the delight of guests, many of whom remarked on the fragrance of the Mount Stewart rooms in their thank you letters.
Lavender was a key ingredient in the pot pourri recipe. Lady Rose continues the tradition with this lovely little blue-themed basket, combining dried lavender with delphinium petals, perfect for a bathroom.
This little note on the reverse of a photograph of Queen Mary and Princess Alexandra refers to the “delicious” gift of pot pourri. Hope it didn’t end up in the palace casserole.