Thursday, July 12, 2012

Nutmeg Geranium, Pelargonium fragrans

Pelargonium fragrans, Nutmeg Geranium has tiny dainty white flowers marked with carmine stripes on the upper petals;
and here is displaying its grey-green ruffled and lobed velvety leaves.
This small sprawling plant which made its way from South Africa to Europe sometime in the late 18th Century, is on my list of 100 plants I can't live without. The crushed leaves not only release a warm odour of nutmeg and spice but also have undertones of pine and eucalyptus. It is an easy plant to grow and is happy in a small pot where it is not fussy about watering or fertilizer. More tricky to keep alive is the variegated form called 'Snowy Nutmeg" which I have had and lost on a number of occasions though it may have succumbed to too much watering and care than not enough.
When it comes to scented leaf Pelargoniums, it is the encounter with them related by the great American garden writer and horticulturist Louise Beebe Wilder (1878-1938) in her book The Fragrant Path (1932 Macmillan, New York) which I like the most. Wilder grew up in Baltimore, before marrying Walter Wilder in 1902 and moving to Rockland County, New York and later to Bronxville where she gardened, wrote books and set up the Working Gardener's Club which is still going strong today. Her passion for gardening must surely have come from her father as she relates here: 'One of the pleasantest recollections of my childhood is of setting forth with my father on winter Sunday afternoons from the commodious old stone house where we dwelt, just beyond the then city limits of Baltimore, and making our way across the frozen fields and along a narrow lane to a small commercial greenhouse owned by an apple-cheeked old Englishman whose name was Unwin. What bought us to Mr Unwin's was to see and discuss his very fine collection of sweet leaved Geraniums, or to speak more exactly, Pelargoniums.....left to my own devices, I would snip as I went, a leaf here, a leaf there, until finally with my hands and pockets full of aromatic leaves I would subside on an upturned tub in a corner to sniff and compare the different scents to my heart's content...' And her favourite one? Not nutmeg but lemon as it had 'the charm of lemon drops, acid and sweet, and always made my mouth water ecstatically.'

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