Scented Pelargoniums
( They are not Geraniums!)

    Gently brushing against the plants on the windowsill releases a sweet scent that encourages one to breathe deeply and take time to smell the roses.....or in this case, the leaves.  Sweetly scented geraniums, more correctly called pelargoniums, are a delight to have in the house and yard.  Scented pelargoniums are a kaleidoscopic collection of shapes, sizes and colors, all sharing highly aromatic foliage.  They are members of the family Geraniacea which also includes the genus Geranium and the genus Erodium.  The genus Pelargonium includes many species,  some scented and others scentless. For example, the common zonal geranium, often used as a bedding plant, is a relatively scentless pelargonium, P. xhortorum.  Scented pelargoniums were first brought from South Africa to Holland and England in the early 1600s and have been lovingly cultivated ever since.

    Although commonly called geraniums, pelargoniums are easily recognized by their blossom structure.  Like geraniums, each flower will have five petals, but in pelargoniums the petals are arranged with two upper petals and three lower.  The upper two are often larger and more richly colored.  In geraniums the five petals are evenly formed and regularly spaced.  Although many have charming flowers, scented pes are mainly grown for their aromatic foliage.

    Scented pelargoniums are fun to grow in Austin, Texas.  They may be planted in containers that can easily be brought inside when temperatures dip to freezing.  Pelargoniums will also do well as annuals planted in the ground and may even survive an occasional winter if mulched.  The large leaf rose types have proven to be the most cold hardy and have come back after temperatures as low as 20 degrees F.

    Pelargoniums should be placed in a well draining soil in a location where they will be shaded from scorching afternoon sun.  Liberal pruning will encourage dense growth.  The smaller leafed varieties, in particular, have a tendency to become "leggy".  The plants benefit from an occasional feeding with fish emulsion or other fertilizer.  There is a tendency to over water pelargoniums, check potted plants daily during the summer and water only when the soil is dry.

    As autumn approaches, many gardeners take cuttings from the plants they are unable to bring inside.  A variety of techniques exist and some individuals even have success rooting the plants in a glass of water, but Ann Marie has had the highest rate of success by taking cuttings about six inches long, removing the lower two or three sets of leaves and immediately sticking them in a well draining soil less potting mixture and kept damp.  When new growth starts the cuttings are gently tugged to determine the extent of root growth.  If there is resistance, the plants are removed from the rooting container and given new homes of their own.

    Scented pelargoniums are more than delightful ornamentals.  Their leaves can be dried and used in potpourris or placed in sachets.  They also may be added to tea, for example, a ginger scented leaf will put zing in lemon balm tea.  Pound cake made with rose scented pelargonium leaves is a classic.  To do this, place leaves in the bottom of your prepared cake pan and pour the batter over the leaves, then bake as usual.  For a more earthy appearance and stronger flavor grind 6 leaves with each cup of sugar in your pound cake recipe and then prepare are usual, without placing leaves in the bottom of the pan.  Some herbal cooks keep a canister of rose pelargonium scented sugar on the counter to use in desserts.  Simply layer fresh leaves with your sugar, remove the leaves after two weeks and enjoy.  One can even whirl a leaf with sugar in a blender to get instant flavor.  Scented pelargonium jelly makes a special gift.  Make an apple jelly and place a rose (or ginger, or nutmeg, or...) scented pelargonium leaf in the jelly before sealing.

    After three centuries of hybridization there is a vast array of forms and fragrances available for the scented pelargonium fancier.  Many are named for their similarity to other smells, but the perceptions are individual and one person's sweet apricot scented plant may be anothers sour milk.  There are many ways to categorize Pelargoniums, but the most logical seems to be to organize them by aroma.  The following are a very small sample of scented pelargoniums available from nurseries.  (Nomenclature for scented pelargoniums is confusing with little documentation and many nursery created names)

Rose Scented Pelargoniums
The large leaf rose scented pelargoniums will tolerate full sun in Texas but may acquire a "bleached" appearance during the summer heat.  Grow them in full moring sun and dappled afternoon shade to prevent this problem.  As a group these are also the most likely to survive temperatures in the 20's (F.), and will often come back from the roots after an Austin freeze.   However, sports may reverte to their parent form so always keep your favorites in pots to bring inside during hard freezes.
Rober's Lemon Rose
A large pelargonium with soft, gray green, two inch leaves.  The leaves are deeply lobed and feature a strong lemony rose scent.  It can grow as large as 3 feet in height and 4 feet in width under ideal conditions.  The flowers are medium pink.  When frozen to the ground a plant that appears to be 'Old Fashioned Rose' (Rosé) grows from the roots.
Snowflake                                                                                                    AMWPhoto141k
This variegated form of 'Round Leaf Rose' is a large, showy plant which may spread to 4 ft in width and several feet in height.  The fuzzy leaves are round with striking green and white variegation.  The flowers are a lovely pink, more noticeable than most scented pelargonium blooms.  The rose scent is pleasant, a good plant to use for making pound cake and scented sugar.  This plant reverts to 'Round Leaf Rose' when growing back after a hard freeze.
Little Gem
This compact rose scented pelargonium has 1 inch lobed leaves and rose pink flowers.  The gray green leaves are soft and have a sweet aroma, some specimens have been reported as being "musky" or "slightly pungent".
Cinnamon Rose                                                                                                         AMWPhoto141k
A medium sized plant whose lobed leaves have a rose aroma mixed with what some describe as cinnamon.  It has pink flowers and tends to be a lanky grower if not pruned regularly.
Dr. Livingston
Also called 'Skeleton Leaf Rose', this hybrid has deeply cut leaves with a rough texture and rose scent.  It is a tall growing plant that is also sometimes called the "large form of crowfoot".
Attar of Roses                                                                                         AMWPhoto60k
A strongly rose scented plant with a sprawling growth form and large, lobed leaves.  It has pale lavender flowers in the spring.
Chicago Rose                                                                                          AMWPhoto34k
This rose scented pelargonium has large, five lobed, ruffled leaves with a brown splotch in the center.  The flowers are a deep rose color with dark markings on the upper two petals.  Easy to grow, it has a sprawling, predominately horizontal growth habit.

Mint Scented Pelargoniums
The mint scented pelargoniums are a delight to grow.  Many have a soft, velvetly texture that invites touching.  The flavor is mint, but has other flavor overtones so use true mints (Mentha) for best results in cooking.  As a group, the mint scented pelargoniums tend to require protection from the hot Texas sun.  Grow them where they will receive afternoon shade so avoid browning edges and a "bleached" coloration.
Joy Lucille                                                                                                   AMWPhoto40k
This strongly mint scented pelargonium features large, soft leaves and loose, rangy growth.  It may grow several feet both in height and width.  Joy Lucille has pink flowers with red markings on the upper petals.
Godfrey's Pride
Godfrey's Pride is a large, rambling plant with lobed green leaves splashed with streaks of yellow.  It has a pungent mint scent and pink flowers.
Ocean Wave
A large, slightly mint scented plant with soft, three lobed leaves.
Chocolate Mint
Although some claim this plant has a chocolate scent, the name is a reference to the brown splotch found in the center of its large, three lobed leaves.  The rough textured leaves have a scent that is  minty with a hint of pungency.  It is a large, vigorous grower with lavender flowers and loses its variegation when grown in low light.

Fruit and Spice Scented Pelargoniums
This group contains some varities that are frustrating and difficult to grow in Texas.  The ones with small, smooth leaves are quite sensitive to overwatering.  In the summer many pelargoniums go into a semi-dormancy.  If your plants show this summer slow down of growth be especially cautious and only water when the soil is dry.  The ones with fuzzy, grey leaves also should be watered with care.  All of the fruit and spice scented pelargoniums will look best when situated where they will receive morning sun and afternoon shade.
Lemon                               Pelargonium crispum                     AMWPhoto34k
A lovely plant growing to two feet in height and eighteen inches in width.  The strongly lemon scented leaves are small and crinkled.  The grow on stiff upright stems.  The plant has light pink to lavender flowers.  The variety called 'Finger Bowl' has small leaves and is a good selection for a topiary standard.  There are both 'Minor' and 'Major' forms of P. crispum that differ in leaf size.
Bitter Lemon                                                                             AMWPhoto60k
This is pelargoniums with a strong lemon scent and showy lavender flowers whose two upper petals have strong burgundy markings.  The coarse textured leaves are lobed.  This plant is sometimes found labeled as 'Angel' but should be called 'Bitter Lemon' to avoid confusion with the large flowering pelargoniums called Angel Hybrids.
Frensham Lemon
Believed to be a cross between P. citronellum and P. 'Prince of Orange', this is a personal favorite of Ann Marie's.  The rough, slightly lobed leaves have a strong, crisp lemon scent.  The flowers are lavender.
A lime scented plant similar in growth habit to lemon scented geranium.  It is sometimes found labeled as P. nervosum but there is no species by this name.
Known as 'Torento' in Europe, this plant is another of the upright growing pelargoniums with small crinkled leaves on stiff stems.  The scent of the leaves is strongly ginger.
Nutmeg                                                                                                AMWPhoto60k
A gray green, rambling plant growing to eighteen inches in height and spread.  The soft, fan shaped leaves are rounded and have a spicy aroma that some compare to nutmeg.  This charming plant is a prolific bloomer and is covered with dainty white blossoms in the spring.
Old Spice                                                                                             AMWPhoto141k
Derived from P. xfragrans, this compact growing plant has a delightful spicy scent.  It may grow to eighteen inches and has soft crinkled leaves.  The small leaves are gray green.
Apple                          Pelargonium odoratissimum
This lovely species pelargonium with a strong apple scent has small, round leaves and delightful white flowers.  The leaves are soft and slightly crinkled.  It is a low growing plant with a height of twelve inches and a spread of 24 inches.  It makes a nice basket plant and blooms prolifically throughout the year.
Apple Cider                                                                                    AMWPhoto141k
This is a variation of Apple Scented Pelargonium that has a slightly spicy undertone beneath the apple fragrance.  It is a more compact grower than the Apple cultivar, but very similar in appearance.
Lady Scarborough                                                                            AMWPhoto
A very attractive plant with lovely strawberry scented foliage.  The small three lobed leaves have "pinked" edges and a coarse texture.  The flowers are pink with dark markings on the upper two petals.  It is extremely sensitive to overwatering.
Gooseberry Leaf
This delightful little plant whose leaves are the shape of those of the gooseberry plant also goes by the name of 'Peach'.   The small, rounded leaves are soft to touch and have mottled green and white variegation.  The scent is a sweet, fruity aroma that might be considered "peachy".
Cocout                      Pelargonium grossularioides
This true species is reliably winter hardy in Austin, in fact, it may disappear during the summer heat and return when cooler temperatures arrive.  It forms a low growing rosette of deep green rounded leaves that become tinged with red during winter days.  It may freeze back to the ground during the hardest of freezes.  The plant has tiny magenta flowers on long, sprawling stems and reseeds easily.  The scent is pleasant although not everyone describes it as coconut.  It is a smooth muscle contractant and should never be consumed by pregnant women.

Pungent Scented Pelargoniums
This pelargonium has five lobed leaves resembling oak leaves.  The rough leaves are dark green and this particular cultivar has a brownish purple marking along the midrib.  The rose colored blossoms are fairly large and attractive.  The plant may grow from 2 to 4 ft in height under ideal conditions, but usually stays around eighteen inches tall.  The scent is a pungent balsam.  Be careful to avoid overwatering during the summer heat.
Sometimes sold as "the mosquito plant" this scented geranium has a citronella scent that some individuals believe repells pesky insects.  Personal experience does not show this to be true, but the plant is a nice addition to the garden.  It will grow up to eighteen inches in height and has bright green leaves with five lobes and serrated edges.  The pink flowers are fairly showy.

Citrus Scents
Fiesta Flavors placeholder
Winter Herbs
Monthly Garden
Tea Time
Herbs for 
Shady Spots
Savory Herbs
e-mail Ann Marie
Horsetail Haven
(Home Page)