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Delight your senses with potpourri, get involved at Rutgers Gardens

Tucked away off Ryders Lane with no walking path, or bus route, or clear GPS directions, Rutgers Gardens can seem like some kind of urban legend for a lot of would-be visitors who give up trying to find the hidden Eden of florals and farm markets.

Though hard to find the first time, there’s a good reason most people keep coming back: It’s the most badass garden in town.

For those who have yet to hear of the elusive Gardens, perhaps the pictures of fellow students sitting in big green chairs that appear on Instagram feeds will spark some kind of recognition. But those famously oversized seats are not even the beginning of what Rutgers Gardens has to offer.

The Gardens are staffed by a small number of seasoned personnel and the ephemeral volunteers and interns that come and go like many of the plants growing there. That being said, one would think that the gardens are being maintained 24/7 by an army of little gnomes with nothing better to do than cultivate an overwhelmingly gorgeous Oz of community gardens and bamboo forests and shrubbery — oh my!

If all that weren’t enough, (mostly free!) tours and activities are also offered at the Gardens during the growing seasons. This past Saturday, Inside Beat tagged along on staff member MaryAnne McMillian’s potpourri tour, in which the lovely and knowledgeable horticultural therapist led us to the best plants and flowers for making a bowl full’o pretty smells.

Armed with an aromatic tote bag and clippers, McMillian bravely walked her tour through the gardens in search of the necessary ingredients for potpourri: scented flowers, fragrant woods, dried herbs, geraniums and, if you’re feeling adventurous, peels and cinnamon sticks from the kitchen.

Dry the flower petals, leaves and other items on a paper towel, cookie sheet or box lid. Make sure they are spread out and not piled on each other so they dry faster and do not mold. Keep everything in a dark, dry area to maintain the vibrant color of the flowers. Wait until everything is completely dried, as this can take anywhere from a few days to weeks.

Once dried, mix the items in a large bowl, plastic storage container or large zip lock bag. Add desiccant packets, those little white packets you find in shoe boxes, to keep additional moisture out. Display your potpourri in a small bowl, open jar or pack in sachets. You can refresh your potpourri by adding a couple drops of essential oils when it starts to lose its scent.

“At this time of year, the Gardens are starting to go down, and that means there’s a lot of stuff to make potpourri with,” McMillian said. “Last year, my special needs individuals made 300 containers of potpourri for the state house.”

After taking us to the most fragrant parts of the Gardens, McMillian led us to the Holly House patio to make our very own potpourri to take home, and man was it freaking relaxing. There’s something about ripping up perfumey leaves while listening to MaryAnne McMillian spout off potpourri fun facts that really takes the edge off.

“The history of potpourri is in the Victorian times, or even before that. When people didn’t have deodorant, they would put potpourri in their foyers, so at least you could smell something nice when you walked in the house,” she said, making everyone glad to live in an era of antiperspirant.

If potpourri isn’t your thing, don’t worry, there are plenty of other excuses to pay a visit this fall. Each Friday until December, an array of fresh produce grown at the Gardens can be purchased at the weekly “Farm Market.” The “Walk and Talk” tour is offered every Saturday through Nov. 7, with a different topic each week depending on what’s going on around the Gardens.

During October, the Gardens are the place to be for fall fun, especially if you’re not a football fan and want something to do while your friends are busy boozing it up at the games. Be sure to head over to the premier “Fall Festival” for festive games, tours and pumpkin painting on Oct. 11 if you’re a true fall fan.

Check out their website to find out more about the Gardens’ events and programs.

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