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November 10, 2015 > Scented Geraniums

Scented Geraniums

By Pat Kite

The heat having poached several fuchsias, I have now moved into Geraniums. On this path, I discovered scented geraniums, which, to be technical, are actually PelargoniumÕs. [To me, a geranium is a geranium, but if you research this, it is often listed under Pelargonium]. I had never thought of geraniums as other than a flowering something one plops in a sunny area where nothing else will thrive. However scented ones have a certain cachet. There are rose, lemon, pineapple, pink champagne, apple, apricot, orange, mint, nutmeg, cinnamon and chocolate- scented Pelargoniums among the 80 varieties offered.

While flower colors are pretty in pinks, reds, scarletÕs, lavenders and whites, the scented lure comes from the leaves. I bought some with white/green leaves, round and frilled leaves. I got ivy varieties and standards with a maximum height of three feet. Apparently the leaves can be dried and used in potpourri and sachet mixtures. Gourmet cooks can use them in puddings, syrups, jams and teas.

Scented PelargoniumÕs, like most regular geraniums [Geranium maculatum], require sun and are drought tolerant. A caution: they donÕt like soggy soil at all. The ancestry is South African. About the 1600s, Europe took notice. By 1652 the Dutch East India Trading Company added fragrant Pelargoniums to their merchandise list. The Dutch began hybridizing. Over 200 varieties circulated. By 1700, the perfume industry latched on. British landowners in Kenya began growing fields of fragrance. Not to be out done by mere scent, Victorian England folk used soaked scented leaves for assorted ailments.

For some folk, like myself, plants are exciting. Bringing them into todayÕs world from their home country is a leafy adventure. For example, in 1772, a Scottish botanist, Francis Masson, sent hundreds of ÒgeraniumsÓ from South Africa to England. As part of his adventures, he was chased by escaped convicts, captured by the military to fight the French, spent time in a difficult French prison, then was almost killed in a hurricane. On his way to North America after another plant collection trip, French pirates attacked the ship. He waited to be killed, but eventually was released.

Undeterred, he continued collecting plants. He did eventually make it to Canada, describing the harsh winters as bad for his health. Will you remember this when you look at a geranium/Pelargonium? The grandiose and adventurous journey to your garden.

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