Fragrant geraniums are a feast for senses

Potted plants offer so much to Christmas celebrations.

Geraniums have a distinct leaf fragrance. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Geraniums have a distinct leaf fragrance. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

It’s traditional to have poinsettia, cyclamen and azalea creating a visual wow factor, but what about the other senses? Touch, smell, even taste can play an important part, and that comes with the introduction of geraniums to the equation.

Scented-leaf pelargoniums, aka indoor geraniums, remain on display in our conservatory, despite some of their blooms fading weeks ago. They’re there on merit, with a little extra to offer than the aroma normally released when a leaf is rubbed between finger and thumb or the whole plant is brushed past.

Wonderful fragrances mingle with those of scented candles and a natural tree.

In late spring you’ll find at least one scented pelargonium variety amongst the plant plugs on display at the garden centre. Rub the leaf gently and if the fragrance suits, you’ll be buying a single rooted cutting that will give rise to many offspring.

After it’s potted up and grown on for a while, pinch-out the growing tip to encourage new shoots and a bushy plant. They, in turn, will provide stem cuttings, and the cycle continues.

Rooting them could not be easier as it requires no special facilities. They don’t like the moist enclosed confines of a propagating case, where they’re likely to rot.

Stand the cuttings in a glass of water on the kitchen windowsill until roots appear, then transfer to a small, compost-filled pot, or plant three or so around the inner side of a pot filled with gritty rooting medium. Water the compost once, then stand them in the light and warmth without cover.

If you want a dense, bushy plant to make a big fragrant statement in an entrance hall, plant five cuttings into a pot. When they’ve rooted, don’t separate them, transfer en bloc in stages until the size you desire is reached.

We’ve always bought the occasional scented geranium and propagated from it, and the citrus-lemon type seem most prevalent.

Graveolens is by far the easiest variety to grow, and most popular. Best described as spicy-scented, it’s the one from which ‘oil of geranium’ is extracted and is useful as an air freshening plant.

Lady Plymouth is the variegated version of Graveolens, with large green and yellow leaves with a strong citrus scent. It makes a worthy entry at summer flower shows in the pot plant section, and my mother used a few leaves when making sandwich cakes. They were placed in a baking tin before the mixture and peeled away from the base afterwards.

But don’t try this with the sticky, balsam-scented leaves of Filicifolium. They are poisonous.