Get a Whiff of This!

| December/January 2004

  • Native to South Africa, scented geraniums remain popular throughout the world.

If you’ve ever rubbed the fuzzy leaves of a peppermint scented geranium or built a bouquet skirted with the skeleton leaves of a rose scented geranium, you know the alluring fragrances and textures of some of this family of stalwart garden plants.

A pioneer nurserywoman named Mary Brooks touted fragrant-leaved geraniums as “unsurpassed for winter pot plants,” in 1881 in Kansas. Writing in her catalog, Price List of Greenhouse and Garden Plants Grown and For Sale at Oread Greenhouses, she listed her “full assortment,” which included rose, nutmeg, oak-leaved, rose-cut-leaved, lemon, variegated-leaved and apple.

Louise Beebe Wilder in The Fragrant Path, originally published in 1932, recommends collecting sweet scented geraniums, which are numerous and quite varied. “If we do not number a greenhouse among our possessions,” she writes demurely, “a few pots of sweet-leaved geraniums ranged along the window ledges of the living rooms will give pleasure. And if the taste is set down as Victorian, so is a good deal else that is comfortable and agreeable.”

Wilder always put a few rose geranium plants among her garden roses, too, and liked them in bouquets combined with roses or nasturtiums: “Tucked into the belt or through the buttonhole or carried in the hand on a warm day, it enlivens and refreshes one amazingly.”

Geraniums with large cut leaves make an effective “frill” for a bunch of sweet peas or stocks, or even a mixed bouquet. Other Wilder favorites included white pinks, lemon geranium and rose geranium, and mock orange.

Scented geraniums have held their popularity over many decades. In 1946, Helen Van Pelt Wilson wrote in her book Geraniums, Pelargoniums for Windows and Gardens, that “the scented-leaved geraniums are replete with charm. Not only have their admirers endowed many of them with particular meanings (in the language of flowers) but they are gracious in themselves with their modified leaf forms and tantalizing variety of scents.”

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