Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reggie Recommends: Agraria's Bitter Orange Potpourri

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 rarified 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 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 can be found here.

Please note: Reggie has received nothing from Agraria for making this recommendation, nor does he expect to do so.  He is recommending Bitter Orange potpourri to his readers for the sole purpose of providing them with pleasure, his goal in writing this blog.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick


  1. Thanks for this recommendation, Reggie. I'm adding it to my wish list. It looks gorgeous in your Chinese export bowls.

  2. Reggie Darling

    Thank you for this information. I will check it out.

    My best
    Helen xx

  3. Loving AGRARIA for decades as well...the incense was burnt daily in my shop in the 80's while Enigma played in the background- ecclesiastical...loved his teeny shop on Nob Hill, still have the Silver containers of potpourri if you can believe.

    Of course, now for many years - AEDES DE VENUSTAS in NYC is simply MY HEAVEN for ALL scents of the highest order...THANK YOU Robert!

  4. I have brought this post with my mind as I have been thinking about you all week, dearest one, and our love for this enchanting aroma.

    You see, I was at the local TJ Maxx a couple of weeks ago, here in the middle of Nowhere USA and what would I find in the back of a shelf (behind all the fake peachy stuff) but a box of Agraria Bitter Orange potpourri! I almost fainted with emotion. Really, I was overwhelmed. You'd think I'd found a diamond in the rough. The luckiest day since my children were born, no joke, it was that deep...and all I kept thinking was... Wait 'til Reggie hears about this!!!!!

    I kept going back every couple of days or so(where there's smoke there's fire, right?) and eventually also found 2 boxes of the Essence (the bottle with the sticks) and the tassel in different odors, one in Bitter Orange. Said tassels are not worth it..stuck one in the door of the guest closet and can hardly smell a thing. But I am delighted with the rest of my loot.

    So this Christmas, Reggie D. and Lindaraxa will be nursing their addiction over very dry martinis and the smell of Bitter Orange permeating their respective drawing rooms.

  5. I know what you mean about bad potpourri - there are a number of the shops you describe in Britain which as well as selling that, also combine the experience with weirdly scented soaps etc. My brother recounted how he had recently walked past one such shop with a friend and had rather loudly, (but innocently) exclaimed to the friend, "What's that horrendous smell?", a cry heard clearly and audibly by the shop's owner, who was obviously not amused. But I am intrigued by your favoured potpourri; the difficulty is knowing exactly what it smells like, and whether I would like it. One's man's potpourri is another man's version of a tart's boudoir. I hasten to add, I suspect not, in your case!

  6. You mentioned the potpourri in a post last year and I ordered some for I like a good potpourri or none at all. The bitter orange was just the BEST and I can't imagine winter without it now! I will keep my eye out at Maxx for I usually don't root through their potporri.

  7. Oh, no! Reggie have you switched over to mobile format, or did Blogger automatically do it? I usually read your blog on my iPhone, but much prefer the web version. Thankfully, readers have the option, but I feel I do not get the Full Reggie with the mobile version.

  8. Thank you, I'm going to pop over there now!

  9. I stopped buying potpurri (this same one!) because I felt it got dusty in a few days (DC is so dirty) but Christmas in my first house I rented in Arlington I splurged because, like you, I HAD to have it! As you say -no one has been able to match it.

  10. I too, have never been a fan- most potpourri that I have tried should have had names like"I didn't know you had a cat."or "When did you paint" Good to know about this one-

  11. Thank you Reggie for this reminder. I've just ordered enough boxes of Bitter Orange to make Buckhead smell like Park Avenue :-) I am beyond excited to now have finished all my Christmas shopping!

  12. I've always LOVED Agraria--it's a classic.
    To the person who noted that potpourri can get dusty: empty it into a bag with about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, give it a few brisk shakes, and return it to the bowl or vessel.Instant revival.

  13. If you visit the Agraria website blog, they are offering a discount coupon worth $25 for your order of $100. Just type CANDLES in the coupon code box on the order page. It's valid till Dec 24.

  14. Hey! I can get that at Draeger's! Just my local market! I will certainly stop by. Reggie rules, after all.

  15. Wow, your post, along with Lindaraxa's and the comments of others, have spurred my interest enough that I am placing an order all the from up here in Toronto, Canada. So, I'm willing to pay the extra duties just to get my hands on this stuff! I'm not a fan of potpourri as I do associate it to those musty smells that I remember from my younger years back in the '80s, but I do LOVE scented candles. I think I'll give the potpourri a chance and order some of the candles to go with it.

    Thanks, Reggie, I love your blog! Your posts always inspire me to aspire to a better life through quality, luxury and enjoying all the little things as you do. BTW, I loved your restaurant posts. — Alexandra in Toronto, Canada

  16. BTW, have any of you had any luck with using potpourri by placing them inside those covered jars with open "perforations" in the lid? Perhaps that would keep it from getting dusty. Alexandra

  17. Reggie I went to the Agraria site and am making my choices right now!! Your description makes it a must for the holidays!


    Art by Karena

  18. You owe me fifty-five dollars. I just ordered up a batch of that Park Avenue smelly thang. It's gonna be kinda like a Gabor-Green Acres dynamic over here at my trailer. Bam!

  19. I love to hear about products that I am unfamiliar with and may like. This sounds like it is right up my alley. I ordered the cologne because they suggested spritzing a room with it. I am fragrance fickle and would like to spray a pillow or throw and change things around every so often. I can't wait to receive it.

  20. I chanced upon a box of Bitter Orange last week at a shop in Atlanta and was delighted to discover that it is the same potpourri my grandmother always had out this time of year. Thanks for a recommendation that brought floods of good memories!

  21. I've had a box of this lovely stuff for twenty years, and it stills gives off a wonderful fragrance! xo xo


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