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Pelargonium with fragrant leafby Filippo Figuera (Vivaio Malvarosa)
One of the fun aspects of my work as a nursery-collector is the opportunity to meet unusual and sometimes bizarre characters, but also normal people who tell me strange stories or who ask me questions and questions to which I honestly cannot answer. In particular, during the market exhibitions around Italy, there is the opportunity to make these meetings. A lady long ago asked me if it was true that milk is good for pelargoniums. In fact I don't have any experience in this regard but I suppose that in non excessive doses, it shouldn't hurt! I only wonder if the best method of administration is root or foliar. I imagine the cat of my curious client intent on cleaning up the saucers of their delicious contents.
Many questions do not concern the treatment we have to reserve for our geraniums but the usefulness we can derive from their cultivation. In fact, in recent years the interest in “ancient recipes” has become more and more widespread, as have the traditional and “natural” techniques that included the use, in all the houses, of herbs and products from the countryside. In many cases, only the ornamental value of the plants is no longer considered in imagining and designing their own green corner, but great importance is given to the possibility of inserting plants that can perform multiple functions: furnish, spread a pleasant smell in the environment, season the most original dishes, chase away unwanted insects, etc.
THE MOSQUITOES AND THE PELARGONIUMS
One of the most frequent questions concerns the repellent power of the leaf-like pelargoniums against mosquitoes. Usually I turn this question over to anyone who asked me and I almost always hear that despite the presence of odorous geraniums around the house the mosquitoes come anyway. In fact, I too have the same experience. In fact, not only do mosquitoes come into the house but they happily park in the nursery area where I keep the odorous geraniums.
So why are candles, sprays, ointments perfumed with geranium essence used? Is it a scam? Maybe a scam that is based on the "natural recipe" fashion? In fact it is not so, it is not a scam! From the pelargoniums (in particular from P. graveolens and from the horticultural varieties of this) an essential oil is extracted, the geraniol, which is used in the perfume industry and in the production of insect repellent substances. The effect that one or more plants placed next to the door of the house (which spread their smell to a gust of wind or to rubbing of clothes) can give cannot be comparable to that of a candle that emanates a mix of precise smells and definitely effective. So if we want to keep mosquitoes away without using insecticides and chemicals, we can also use geraniol-based products, but don't expect much help from the geraniums on our terrace.
There are several publications on the Pelargonium with leaf fragrance. A book that I like to re-read is "Scented Geraniums" by Jim Becker and Faye Brawner, two US collectors' nurserymen. In less than a hundred pages, excellent cultivation tips are presented, dozens of varieties and pleasant recipes. To accompany the text there are many photos but above all explanatory drawings (for example on pruning) that perfectly complete the description. We see that the authors are professionals and enthusiasts who live daily with their hands between the plants!
The Pelargonium with fragrant leaves: THE PLANT
Pelargonium tomentosum: In addition to being beautiful and with a good smell of
mint, this large bush can be a great refuge ...
From the reading of this text, and in particular of the descriptions of many varieties, much information can be obtained on the most well-known varieties of odorous geraniums and on the "kinships" between the different varieties. In fact, there are several groups of odorous pelargoniums that can be distinguished by their smell but also by the shape of their leaves or their color. Within these groups many varieties are somehow related, or because they are descendants of the same species or because of mutations of one another. "Lady Plymouth" is a variegated leaf variety of P. graveolens, also called "Old-Fashioned Rose" (this is known in southern Italy as "malvarosa"). Beautiful plant with divided leaves, light green and with cream-colored margins. There is also a "Gray Lady Plymouth", characterized by greener foliage and paler variegation. "Lady Plymouth" can be used in the kitchen to give a rose smell to dishes, but also to decorate our dishes with beautiful ornamental leaves.