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New This Week

April 15, 2024

Plant of the Week: Scented Geraniums


In our ‘Plant of the Week’ we often do a brief feature on a plant or species that we are particularly excited about. This week we want to introduce you to an herb that may be unfamiliar to many, the Scented Geranium.

Scented geraniums, or pelargoniums, are not actually geraniums at all. True geraniums (according to their genus), are comprised of assorted beautiful, hardy perennials - many of which make lovely part-shade groundcovers. While pelargoniums are native to temperate and tropical regions where they are green year-round, and include the annual geraniums you buy in hanging baskets to brighten your porches as well as the scented geraniums in this feature. The delicate clusters of pale pink blooms and intricate foliage of scented geraniums can be very reminiscent of the foliage and blooms of the hardy perennials, but they are completely unrelated. In North Carolina the scented geranium is typically grown as an annual herb, with some varieties able to be classified as tender perennials under the right conditions. 

Fragrant and easy to grow, these herbs are not typically grown for their flowers but rather prized for their aromatic leaves. Fragrances such as fruits, flowers, and spices are released by brushing their textured foliage, so they are perfect for growing anywhere you can enjoy their scents. In the Victorian Era when pelargoniums were highly popular, scented geraniums were strategically placed so that their scents would be released when brushed by the skirts of passing ladies. 

But they are not just great to smell! 

There is a long history of using this herb in cooking and baking. In early America, without easy access to spices, pelargoniums were a useful substitution for flavor profiles. Scroll down for a Scented Geranium Syrup recipe, and find more fun recipes at Pelargoniums: An Herb Society of America Guide . Additionally, the essential oils can provide therapeutic benefits including reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. And the same strong essential oils can also be an effective way to deter pests. Their aroma masks other plant smells in the garden and thus can make it harder for pests to find their preferred hosts. Also, some varieties like citronella scented geranium can be known to repel mosquitoes.

Scented geraniums are well-suited to container growing. Terra cotta pots are often recommended because they promote water evaporation and prevent excess moisture. Their delicate blooms, mostly in pale pink or white, have a long flowering period and their attractive, textured leaves will add gorgeous artful foliage to your garden space. Note that you should prevent pets from munching on them, as the same essential oils that we may enjoy smelling or ingesting are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses (most pets do not find them appealing, so this is typically not an issue).

Check out the six cultivars available at Painters for Herb Fest 2024!

Available in 6" pots for $6.00

Note: that while our plants are not yet in bloom and just beginning to bud, the photos below show the gorgeous intricate and tactile foliage - just asking to be touched!

Attar of Roses Scented Geranium

Pelargonium capitatum 'Attar of Roses' 

  • Annual, full sun, 12-18'' tall and wide

  • Foliage emits a rose scent when brushed or crushed; best situated where its fragrance can be regularly enjoyed

  • Soft, velvety leaves; early and abundant pale pink blooms

  • Appreciates a bit of afternoon shade in hot summers

Variegated Citronella Scented Geranium

Pelargonium citrosum 'Variegated'

  • Annual, full-part sun, 2-3' tall and wide

  • Beautiful variegated leaves have a sharp citronella scent

  • Invigorating and highly ornamental; excellent for summer porch pots

Pink Champagne Scented Geranium

Pelargonium 'Pink Champagne' 

  • Annual (tender perennial z10-11) full sun, 1-3' tall and wide

  • Crinkly, deep green leaves have a zesty citrus scent, can be used for flavoring or garnish

  • Showy bright pink flowers in spring, larger than those of most scented geraniums

  • Thrives in rich, moist, well-drained soil with protection from afternoon sun in hot summers

  • Suitable for container growing; can be overwintered indoors

Oakleaf Scented Geranium

Pelargonium quercifolium 

  • Annual (tender perennial z9-11) full sun, 1-3' tall and wide

  • Stunning foliage resembles oak leaves and has a pleasant resinous, balsam fragrance

  • Beautiful splotched pink flowers bloom season-long

  • Thrives in rich, moist, well-drained soil

  • Suitable for containers; can be overwintered indoors

Nutmeg Scented Geranium

Pelargonium fragrans 

  • Annual, full sun, 1-2' tall and wide

  • A long-time favorite hybrid, dating back to the late 1700s

  • Particularly intense, nutmeg-scented foliage; dainty white blooms

  • Thrives in evenly moist, well-drained soil

  • Best situated where its fragrance can be enjoyed regularly

Peppermint Scented Geranium

Pelargonium tomentosum 

  • Annual (tender perennial z9-11) full sun, 2-3' tall and wide

  • Large, soft leaves have a pure mint fragrance and can be used for flavoring sweets and jellies; sprays of dainty white flowers make for a beautiful aromatic garnish

  • Thrives in rich, well-drained soil with protection from afternoon sun in hot summers

  • Suitable for container growing; can be overwintered indoors



Herb syrups are wonderful flavor essences that are good on all kinds of fruits and used in beverages. They can be added in place of the liquid in cakes, pie filling, and sorbet. Brush the syrups on over baked fruit, in pound cakes, cupcakes, muffins, or breads just out of the oven. Some of the scented geraniums best suited for making flavored syrups are rose, lemon, nutmeg, and spice—but try any of your favorites! When in bloom, I use the flowers too. 

Makes about 2 cups 

  • 1½ cups water 

  • 1½ cups sugar 

  • About 12 to 15 scented geranium leaves and/or flowers

To make an herb syrup, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan; add the herbs, bruising the leaves against the side of the pan with a spoon. Place over moderate heat and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes. Remove the leaves and squeeze them into the syrup to extract their flavor. Pour into a clean bottle or jar and label. This syrup can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about 4 weeks. If you want to keep the syrups for a long period of time, pour them into jars or bottles leaving at least an inch of headspace, place on the lid or cap, and label. Freeze them for up to 1 year. Remove from freezer the night before using and allow to thaw, or place the bottle in a bowl of warm (not hot) water to thaw more quickly. Use as needed and re-freeze immediately. 

This recipe is excerpted from Not Just Desserts--Sweet Herbal Recipes by Susan Belsinger, © 2005. 

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