Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pelargonium tomentosum, Peppermint scented Geranium

Peppermint Geranium
 Pelargonium tomentosum
The first sign of cooler days to come always shows up on the peppermint geranium as its soft velvety leaves get a fine covering of dew early in the morning. I have grown this robust spreading ground cover plant on and off for years and when I took a batch to the plant market today eagle-eyed Jane spotted them and immediately remarked how big her own plant had grown and what a huge area of ground it was covering. She also reminded me what a great affinity the leaves have with chocolate cake. Baking one that is, as the leaves when placed at the bottom of the cake tin leave an imprint of their shape as well as imparting a subtle flavour.
The plant itself has been known in horticulture since 1774 and even gets a mention by famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll: describing it as 'thick as a fairy's blanket, soft as a Vicuna robe.'
The small clusters of white flowers it produces, which one garden writer called melancholy are unusual as the three lower petals are longer and narrower than the two upper ones. In other words the flower is ensuring that a big fat bee has a comfortable landing strip.
There are a few hybrids and variants from the type including one called 'Dark Lady' which has a chocolate marking in the centre of the leaf. This is recorded as being available in New South Wales in 1960. Anyone come across it? There is also a hybrid, cross species with P graveolens, from the US called 'Joy Lucille' which was introduced in 1940.
Cuttings of the plant strike well if you use semi mature wood and keep the cuttings a little on the dry side as they easily rot and turn black when too wet. If you have sandy garden soil, pieces of stem can be stuck directly into the ground with great success. I would include Peppermint geranium in my top fifty all time favourite garden plants.

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