Pelargonium ‘Lady Scarborough’ is grown for its pink flowers and the mysterious strawberry fragrance of the foliage.
Subtlety has its place, but plants that have a knockout scent will always have a home in our garden. Though our greenhouses are cramped and crowded, we simply can’t resist adding more scented pelargoniums, also known as scented geraniums. Pelargoniums have been collected since Europeans discovered them in the 1600s. Of the 250 species, only about 20 have scented foliage, but breeding of these has led to hundreds of cultivars.
The scent is contained in small beads of oil produced in the leaves. Bruising or brushing the leaves releases the oils into the air and onto your hands. Water evaporating from the leaves will also waft the fragrance throughout a room.
There are several classic categories of pelargonium scent: rose, mint, citrus, fruit, nut, and the ever-indefinable catchall category, pungent. These are arbitrary classifications and are often very subjective. You will not always agree with someone else’s description. For instance, coconut pelargonium (Pelargonium grossularioides) is sweetly scented, but we have never detected any hint of coconut in the fragrance.
We have never sniffed a scented pelargonium that didn’t appeal to us in some way, but we do, of course, have our favorites. We love the strong fragrance of the rose-scented pelargonium (P. ‘Graveolens’). Another old standby we can’t resist touching whenever we walk by it is peppermint pelargonium (P. tomentosum). Its broad, velvety leaves make it our grandchildren’s favorite as well. We also find it necessary to have the crisp citrus-scented pelargoniums (P. citronellum), including ‘Mabel Gray’ and other cultivars like ‘Frensham’, ‘Lemonaire’, and ‘Bitter Lemon’ in our collection.