Plants commonly known as scented geraniums are species and cultivars of the genus Pelargonium with especially fragrant leaves. Most pelargoniums have at least lightly aromatic leaves, but some are grown primarily for their fragrance. Minty, fruity, spicy, nutty, lemony, or other distinctive aromas are released when leaves are touched or bruised.
Pelargonium ‘Orsett’, with mint-scented leaves, cascades over rocks and walls
Scented geraniums are small, tender, fast-growing, semi-woody subshrubs native to summer-dry, winter-wet climates of southern Africa. They are easily grown where winters are mild and where, if summers are hot, some afternoon shade can be provided. Because of their strong fragrance, scented geraniums are generally avoided by deer.
While some scented geraniums bear showy flowers, most have small, delicate-looking flowers in shades of pale pink, lavender, or white. Leaves are hairy or smooth and highly variable in shape, from rounded to deeply lobed or finely cut and almost skeletal. Leaf color ranges from lime green to deep green to gray-green and variegated. Leaf textures alone are reason enough to grow them.
Pelargonium tomentosum, another mint-scented plant with small white flowers
Pelargonium tomentosum has large, lobed and scalloped, mint-scented leaves and small white flowers with purplish markings. P. crispum has small, wavy-edged leaves with a citrus fragrance and white to pinkish white flowers. P. denticulatum has finely divided, pine-scented leaves with toothed margins and small pinkish purple flowers. P. capitatum has small, hairy, dark green leaves that smell like roses and white, pink, or purple flowers. P. graveolens has deeply lobed, hairy, green leaves that smell like roses and small pink flowers. P. odoratissimum has small white flowers and lime green leaves with ruffled margins and the fragrance of green apples.
Pelargonium ‘Chocolate Mint’
There are hundreds of named selections and hybrids of scented pelargoniums with an enormous variety of leaf shapes and aromas. Leaves of the P. graveolens cultivar ‘Lady Plymouth’ are gray-green with creamy white margins and add a touch of lemon to the rosy scent of the species. ‘Orsett’ is a hybrid with large pink flowers with darker markings and pinnately lobed and serrated leaves with a spicy-mint scent. P. ‘Chocolate Mint’ has mint-scented mid-green leaves with dark purplish markings that follow the veins and pale lavender flowers with darker purplish markings.
Flowering all summer and into early fall, scented geraniums are good candidates for any spot where their leaf textures and aromas can be best appreciated. Plants are 1-3 feet tall and 1-6 feet wide. Some, such as ‘Lady Scarborough’, ‘Orsett’, and ‘Chocolate Mint’ are low and wide, especially effective draping over walls or in hanging baskets.
Most scented geraniums need a sunny spot with some afternoon shade, good drainage, and little to moderate summer water.