Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reggie Recommends, Again: Agraria's Bitter Orange Potpourri

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.

Agraria's Bitter Orange potpourri benefits from
being decanted into a large bowl, so its
heavenly scent can waft through one's rooms

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

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

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.

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 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

38 comments:

  1. I too have loved Bitter Orange for years. Simply the best.

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  2. I just ordered a box of the Bitter Orange as a present to myself. The shipping to Canada is steep at $23.. but I suspect well worth the expense. I hope all is well with you, Boy and sweet Basil.

    Bonnie

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    1. Hello Bonnie, I am sure you will like it. It is expensive (and that shipping!), but justifiably so, given the care that goes into making it. Reggie

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  3. I might be able to find them in person!

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    1. Dear LPC, Agraria used to have a store on Nob Hill. Not sure if they still do... Thanks, Reggie

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  4. If the scent is as lovely as the potpourri is attractive, it is a winning combination.

    Speaking of people not being familiar with potpourri, it reminds me of well-meaning guests who wanted to help clean up at the end of a party at the apartment of a now-famous decorator. The 'helper' picked up empty glasses, canapé plates, and dumped hundreds of dollars of potpourri from export porcelain bowls.

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    1. Dear TDC -- Aaarrgh! That is one reason why one should never allow a "well meaning" guest to assist one at a party, as disasters often ensue! Thanks, Reggie

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  5. Well I couldn't resist! Thanks for this recommendation Reggie, I've often thought that potpourri really would be something I would like... in theory. There are many on the market which seem to make a mockery of the original intention, dusty concoctions with chemical odours.
    I've ordered the Bitter Orange as well as the Lavender Rosemary. Thank you Reggie.

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    1. Dear DaniBP, I am sure you will love it! RD

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  6. Many years since I smelled Bitter Orange, but still know it to be the best potpourri ever.

    If you toss the previous year's batch I would beg you to instead send it me. I would gladly be its retirement home...
    Love, Yr. Sister,
    Hermione

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    1. Hello Hermione, I remember that you liked Bitter Orange years ago and gave a box to MD, who for reasons unfathomable to me, wouldn't decant it into a bowl, but insisted on leaving it in its box! Reggie

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  7. Jonathan's shop in Baltimore, Halcyon House Antiques, stocks Agraria and it's just the most amazing scent! A quality product.

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    1. Hello Meg, Jonathan is such a nice person. He sent us the most gorgeous potted amaryllis I've ever seen! Reggie

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  8. Reggie, I will be ordering the Bitter Orange right away. The packaging and presentation are wonderful!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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    1. Hello Karena, I am confident you will find it a delightful addition to your house this winter. Everything about Bitter Orange is lovely, including--as you point out--the packaging!

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  9. I succumbed, Reggie, and ordered it! Just the ticket for winter in northern New Hampshire, can;t wait to get it, and thanks for passing on the tip.

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  10. This time of year, I enjoy Agraria's Balsam scent, but it isn't available as potpourri. Agraria recommends trying the two scents together. That might be interesting.

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  11. It's funny - it is the only one I use as well. I found it at Bergdorf's as a newlywed, and have used this one ever since.

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    1. Hello Stephanie, Bitter Orange soon started appearing at Bergdorf's after I first found it at Bendel's, and for years it was at Bergdorf's that I replenished my bowl of it. Now it is widely available I find. Thanks, Reggie

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  12. As usual I took the bait and placed my order for your wonderful potpourri. Thanks to you Reggie, I seem to have a far reaching internet shopping resume - all good of course except for the salad dressing you premiered several months ago. I love potpourri and found the Agraria website to have several intriguing fragrances. I also ordered a tassel which has the fragrance of cedar and damask rose - I'm overcome already. Merry Christmas, Reggie!

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    1. Hello Anon, I assure you that you will like the Bitter Orange potpourri. I know that the Pine Club's jarred salad drssing isn't for everyone, so sorry you didn't care for it. Thanks for trying it! Best regards, Reggie

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  13. Yes Reggie, Agraria is definitely the Prince of Potpourris-a true classic.
    Happy Holidays to you both! xxSP

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    1. Thank you Lady Slim. I shall always think of your lovely gift of dried orange slices as the very spirit of Christmas! Best wishes to you and yours, Reggie

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  14. I'm going to order some of this after Christmas, The website is already bookmarked on my computer. Thanks for the tip.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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  15. Your recommendation was irresistible and so I have ordered some Bitter Orange to put out for our New Year's Day party. I am also a fan of Santa Maria Novella's potpourri, although I know many people feel it smells too medicinal. On a side note, I love your Federal period country house. I used to work at the Otis House in Boston and you have really captured the feel of the period. Happy holidays to your family including, of course, Basil.

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    1. Hello DSG -- thank you for your kind comment. I am truly honored that you approve of our house, given your association with the Otis House, one of the greatest houses of the period and an inspiration to a number of the decorative things we've done at Darlington. Specifically, to place a small bust in the pediment of our drawing room doorway... Thanks, Reggie

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  16. Oh, yes please!

    The only great potpourri I've ever found is mixed by the wonderful Angel, of Tobias and the Angel, of cloves, cinnamon sticks, lavendar, dried orange peel, dried rosebuds, and other glorious things. I buy it at Christmas (when she makes the annual batch) and then give it a good stir every time I sit near it. Bliss.

    What I am missing, however, is a bowl of that beauty (mine is currently held in a hand-turned wooden bowl, made by my grandfather. It has sentimental appeal but not quite those aesthetics ...!)

    http://www.tobiasandtheangel.com/group.php?topPage=christmas&pl=45&pn=Christmas&sl=144&sn=Candles,%20Cakes,%20Pot%20Pourri

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  17. As you think of me with the Rib Roast and Yorkshire Pudding on Xmas Eve, I think of you with the Bitter Orange! How fortunate for you to get a fresh box every year. This year I ordered the refresher which is less expensive. Let's see how it works.

    Have a Merry Xmas dear friend and give Boy and Basil a big kiss for me.

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    1. You are a dear friend, Roxie. I shall always be grateful that we met each other here in the blogsphere! Reggie

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  18. Have you noticed how many of your links to past posts are dead? I wanted to follow links to posts to prior years' trees and wreaths and they're returning a very civilized 401. It's very disappointing. Has anyone else mentioned this? I suppose it could be me.

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    1. Hello Allison, thank you for your comment. Yes, I am aware that many of my older posts come up as no longer available. I took them down when our house was waiting to appear in Architectural Digest. When I put them back up, however this notice appears when one clicks on the link. But they are up! I know it is a bother, but if you'd like to read them it requires searching by the date, and up they come. Thanks, Reggie

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  19. I love a great potpourri. Mine came to me walking through a store in Soho in the 90's. I smelled Santa Maria Novella potpourri and have used it ever since. Some scents just speak to you.

    I've been working on making something on my own with an 18th c recipe... Peau d'Espagne –– a scent poured over leather. Mine is maturing as I write. I'm putting it on high end leather sample pieces. It has many of the same ingredients as your potpourri but without the bowl –– these get tucked away not displayed. I LOVE potpourri in old bowls... a match made in heaven.

    Here's wishing you a happy holiday. I know it will be well scented.

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  20. I received a box I purchased on Ebay earlier this week...the smell is wonderful unlike those horrid cinnamon scented pine cones (shouldn't pine cones smell like, you know - pine?).
    I added a few dried orange slices (which were left over when I decorated my Inge fruit and vegetable ornament theme tree in my dining room) to the antique glass compote that is holding the potpourri - simply delightful.

    Happy Christmas!

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  21. The only Agraria bitter orange I could find locally was the perfume sticks. It has an under current of "hippie musk" that I often find in incense sticks and less orange than I was expecting. Do you know if the sticks have the same fragrance as the potpourri? I don't hate it but I don't love it either.

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