Hartley Magazine

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Scented Pelargoniums

Wet, wet, wet is one way to describe June 2016. Thank goodness for the greenhouse. It shelters not just the plants nestled on the benches from the wind and rain, but also the adventurous gardener who chooses to ignore the weather and potter around under glass.

Most gardeners become hooked on one plant group or another. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for fuchsias, but even the hardy varieties need to be pretty tough cookies to survive where I live, even with the greenhouse protection.

Image 1 - July 2016
Scented Pelargoniums on sale at Hampton Court in the Floral Marquee, by Penberth Plants

My current burgeoning fascination has spanned a few years really. I had a lemon-scented pelargonium as a houseplant as a teenager. I loved the fruity lemon fragrance of its leaves. I can’t actually remember what happened to that plant but I have a feeling it met its end in a crusty bedsit I lived in when I took my first job at a garden centre in Surrey. The less said about that life chapter the better.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016 and the greenhouse is home to a few of these little beauties. I’ve tried and failed a few times to keep my favourite Pelargonium sidoides going for more than a couple of years. I just love its rich loganberry red purple petals and its soft, silky silvery leaves. The plant I currently have is a cutting from a friend and it survived the winter in my unheated greenhouse. It’s doing OK, it hasn’t flowered yet, but here’s hoping.

Starting a collection

This summer I’ve added a few more to the ‘collection’. It’s not a collection yet, but I can see it becoming one. I bought a Pelargonium tomentosum at the Highgrove Garden Show. The plant I chose and paid for was a corker, but when I came back to collect it, it had been ‘replaced’ with a much weedier specimen; apparently I had inadvertently bought a stock plant being used for a demo. Rather wished I’d taken the plant when I bought it, rather than leaving it to pick up later, lesson there somewhere. Anyway, I’ve since taken a few cuttings of my weedy plant and shared them with friends. It’s got a strong, peppermint scent and can be used for making peppermint tea; I’ve not tried it yet, but will report back. After that I got a bit carried away. I bought a couple of unnamed varieties at Beth Chatto’s garden when I visited last month. One is a lemon-scented variety, which reminds me of my original plant. The other I’m not sure. One thing I do know is that while researching more about these amazing plants I have found a whole website dedicated to them and offering more than a hundred different named types for sale. Wow. http://www.scentedgeraniums.co.uk. I think it’s time to indulge my latest passion. With plug plants starting at just £2.99 it would be rude not to. Watch this space.

Culinary delights

Greengage, Damson & Almond tart with Rose Geranium Icecream
Greengage, Damson & Almond tart with Rose Geranium Icecream

Scented leaved pelargoniums have been used in the cosmetic and perfume industry for years and some are grown for Geranium oil, a valuable aromatic oil. The fragrant leaves and plants are not just wonderful for freshening rooms: You can even use them as air fresheners. But they can also add a whole new dimension to recipes and menus.

These plants are classified as herbs and though I would recommend eating them, the leaves can be used to add flavour to all sorts of dishes. I was first introduced to this idea at Petersham Nurseries (https://petershamnurseries.com/) in Richmond, where I was treated to lunch last summer and we finished with a frozen copper pan filled with Pellie Ice-cream. The delicious concoction had been made with cream steeped with rose scented geranium leaves and then frozen in the pan. We ate it with a delectable greengage and almond tart and the combination was simply divine. I found all sorts of recipes here and I think, as the collection grows I will start experimenting. What could possibly go wrong?