By Wayne L. Handlos PhD

I have been intrigued by plants with scented leaves for many years. If you grew up on a farm the scent of drying hay is unforgettable. Sweet clover really is sweet smelling. Remember pine needles on your uncle's lakeside resort. Later on, I learned about geraniums with scented leaves. The first acquisition, of course, was a rose-scented geranium. Then the search was on.

Since moving to Central Coast California, I have acquired many more varieties/cultivars of scented leaf geraniums. This area has a Mediterranean climate not unlike that of the Cape of South of Africa where most of our scented leaf geraniums come from. Several of these have proved to be large enough and sturdy enough to survive in my garden. On top of that, some even have attractive flowers.

The list of scents includes rose, mint, lemon, lime, ginger, apple, nutmeg, fruit, pineapple, coconut, peach, strawberry and pungent. Umm, what's that last one? Well, if it isn't really nice, but not totally repugnant, then it's pungent.

For a mixed border planting, I would choose the various cultivars of rose, mint, lime, ginger, and pungent. Most of these produce plants in the range of two to three foot tall. Most are freely branching so make nice mounding plants. They all do well in my very sandy soil. Nutrients do not seem to be a concern and the only soil addition was well-rotted compost. They do require some supplemental water during the dry season to look their best.

The leaf shape varies from variety/cultivar to variety/cultivar. Most of the rose-scented types have deeply divided/lobed leaves, which are very attractive in themselves. Some of the mint-scented types are very similar to the rose-scented types and may be distinguishable only on the basis of scent. There is one species, Pelargonium tomentosum, which is softly furry, strongly mint scented with leaves that are only toothed and not lobed at all. Unlike most of the other scented geraniums, it does best in a shady location. The nutmeg, apple, apple-cider, coconut, peach, strawberry and some of the lemon types have small leaves and generally remain as small plants, under a foot in height. Except for the lemon geraniums, the others produce small white or pale lavender flowers. Nothing to get excited about. The coconut geranium has brighter purple flowers, very tiny but plentiful.

One of the most attractive "pungent-scented" geraniums is the cultivar 'Wildwood'. This very vigorous plant grows to four feet tall in my garden and produces bright lavender-purple flowers. Blooming is most profuse in spring and summer but some flowers may be found almost any month. The leaves are lobed, dark green with a dark brown splotch in the center. Quite attractive. Old branches can be removed in the spring to make way for new growth. A few degrees of frost do not seem to damage the plant either. This is one of my favorites.


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