Fragrant Pelargoniums or Scented Geraniums have been grown in herb gardens for centuries. Scented Geraniums are very easy to grow and come in a wide range of fragrances from fruity to spicy. The scented pelargoniums were new to me when I first began working at an herb nursery in college. I've always been fond of fragrant plants and these were so amazing! I've been an avid collector ever since.
Scented Geraniums are original to South Africa and were first brought to cultivation by European sailors in the 1600's. They were widely grown in European herb gardens and were extremely popular with the Victorians. The pelargoniums were brought to America during the colonial days. Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener and many were grown at Monticello. Some of the varieties can be used in the kitchen. Victorians used the rose scented geranium to flavor tea, jelly, and sugar.
Each geranium variety has a unique fragrance, leaf shape, and blossom. Some of the varieties do flower more than others. I mainly grow them for the fragrant foliage and they have ornamental value even with little blooms. The Peppermint has always been my particular favorite. I love the fuzzy foliage and strong minty aroma. I snip leaves off and add them to small informal flower arrangements.
Scented Geraniums are easy to grow in containers or in the garden. Each variety has a slightly different growth habit and some are more suited to container gardens. The rose varieties can take on a large rambling habit and grow up to 2-3 feet in one season. I like to plant these along the path to my potting shed where I can brush against them to release the fragrance. Many people use the citronella varieties in pots around patios to keep mosquito away. I'm a little skeptical as to how much this really helps to keep the bugs away although people do report great success with this method. I will say some the varieties do require a little imagination to pinpoint the fragrance. I enjoy the chocolate mint for the fuzzy foliage and deep maroon petal markings but the fragrance is not as true as the peppermint.
Fragrant Geraniums, like many herbs, will grow best in full sun and well drained soil. If you are gardening in less than ideal soil conditions you many want to start by growing them in pots. Plant in a high quality, well draining potting soil. Allow the pots to dry out between waterings.
In my zone 6 garden I grow scented geraniums as annuals. Every once in a while one in the garden will survive a mild winter but I don't count on it. These make very good house plants in the winter in a south facing window. I propagate tip cuttings in the fall to over winter and maintain my collection. The fresh fragrance is great during the dull winter months.