How to Grow and Use Scented Geraniums

Here's one way to bring variety, color and a whole spectrum of fragrances into your life.

| July/August 1984

Apricot, apple, lemon, mint, strawberry, yum! It sounds like a list of delicious flavorings, jellies, or fancy soaps, doesn't it? However, these five names represent only a fraction of the wonderful pelargoniums—better known as scented geraniums—that are available to the collector of charming and unusual flowering plants.

Despite their common name, scented geraniums are unrelated to the true geranium (Geranium maculatum), or cranesbill, whose lovely rose pink flowers are often found growing wild in temperate woodlands. They are, rather, members of the Pelargonium genus, which includes the beloved garden geranium that's cultivated in window boxes and ornamental gardens throughout the country. Semi-woody and tender, these perennials are native to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and, if left outdoors, rarely survive the rigorous winters typical of most of the United States.

While the garden geranium is well-known for its bright flowers and occasionally variegated leaves, scented geraniums are noted for their aromatic foliage that—after centuries of hybridization—comes in a wide assortment of fragrances. The leaves of different varieties also display a range of shapes, sizes, and colors ... from the tiny, bright green, crinkled, lemon-scented leaves of Pelargonium crispum types to the large, grayish green, velvety, peppermint-scented leaves of Pelargonium tomentosum. The flowers are less showy, on the whole, than the blooms of the familiar ornamental, but they're attractive (if rather small) and may be white, pink, red, lavender, or—in at least one case—yellow. Versatile as well as varied, scented geraniums can be tucked into the garden between the herbs and flowers, grown in hanging baskets, trained as standards (tree-like forms), or simply planted in pretty pots to grace a sunny kitchen window or—during the warmer months—to occupy a spot near an entryway, inviting the touch of passersby.

Common Scents

Fragrant pelargoniums are divided into six or seven major categories (depending on which authority you follow) according to their predominant scents and growth habits. Here are the seven groups and some of their best-known varieties:

Rose: Old-fashioned Rose, Dr. Livingston, Logee's Snowflake, Attar of Roses, and Grey Lady Plymouth.

Lemon: Prince Rupert, Lemon-scented, Mable Grey, Lemon Balm, and Rose Bengal.

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