The Case of the Absented Scented Geranium

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake on the cutting board - 9/1/12

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake on the cutting board – 9/1/12

Scented geraniums–I knew when I first heard of them that I wanted some. Back then the closest place I could find that had them was Shady Hill Gardens in Batavia, Illinois. (They have since shut down that location.) I made the trek out there with a friend and came back with several deliciously scented plants. They smelled good enough to eat, and they were good enough to eat. If grown organically, their flowers are edible–I just LOVE edible flowers! However, they don’t actually bloom much, so it is more often their leaves that are used in cooking and decorating various dishes.

My favorite one, the one that smelled and tasted the best, is the lemon rose geranium. Fortunately for me, that turned out to be the hardiest. I would bring it in every winter, and it would grow out into big scraggly plant. Then I would take several cuttings from it and start a bunch of nice new little lemon rose geraniums. I often gave my extra lemon rose geraniums to friends and shared my favorite recipe for using them, too. (Don’t worry–I’ll include it for you at the end of this post.)

I did not have as much success with propagating the other scented geraniums I got, and they eventually died. Whenever I see scented geraniums among the herbs at Ted’s and other nurseries, I have to scratch and sniff their leaves to see if any are good enough to buy and bring home. I’ve never found one that smelled and tasted as good as the lemon rose.

Citronella Scented Geranium Cuttings - 4/10/12

Citronella Scented Geranium Cuttings – 4/10/12

I did, however, find one that was as hardy: the citronella. Several years ago a non-gardener friend gave me hers at the end of the summer because she had no intention of overwintering it. I found it to be very easy, like my lemon rose geranium, to keep alive and to propagate by cuttings. I began giving those away to friends, too, whenever I had extras.

I have been happy with growing, propagating, and sharing just these two kinds of scented geraniums for the last several years. Last year, however, I failed to label them when I brought them inside for the winter. Later when I was taking cuttings, I tried to figure out which plant was which by smelling the plants and comparing the shapes of their leaves. I thought that I had half a dozen cuttings each of both types of geranium. I continued to think that until later in the summer after the cuttings had grown into fuller sized plants. It became clear to me that they were all the same variety–citronella. My favorite, the lemon rose geranium, was gone! Lost. Absent.

The Last Lemon Rose Geranium - 1/9/15

The Last Lemon Rose Geranium – 1/9/15

Alas!  I had never seen this variety for sale anywhere else since my long ago journey to Batavia. What could I do? Well, I began asking among my friends to find who still was growing lemon rose geranium from a plant I had given them. My friend April came to the rescue! She had one, she said, still in the little pot I had planted it in. I got the plant from her right before Thanksgiving. And then came Thanksgiving, of course, and then Christmas and Christmas and Christmas (we do a lot of Christmas at Chez Rea), and then New Years Day. Finally, last week–the day after I’d begun seed starting, in fact–I started a few cuttings from it.

Propagating from Stem Cuttings


Here are the materials.

Above are the materials. This is how I do it:

  1. First, label each pot with the name of the plant that will be started in it. NOTE: It’s important to know the name of the plant the cuttings are coming from–especially if it is very similar to other plants you are propagating.
  2. Fill small pots with clean potting mix, pack it down, and make a hole for inserting the cutting stem.
  3. Cut stem pieces that have several leaves at the top and 2-3 inches of stem below that. Snip off any leaves on each stem portion. Cut off or cut in half any leaves at the top which are too big. (Remember these plants are not beginning with a root system sufficient for absorbing enough nutrients for all those leaves.)
  4. Dip each stem in water and then dip it in rooting hormone that has been taken out of its container. Do not dip it into the original container of powder because you want to keep the remainder of the powder clean. (The picture above shows the empty container of the rooting hormone I’ve used in the past. I’m using a different rooting powder now because it was the one available at the store for which I had a 20%-off garden center coupon.)
  5. Place the powdered stem in the pre made hole and pack the soil mix around it.

Let the cutting absorb water from the bottom of the pots.

6.  Put the pots in a shallow container of water to water the cuttings from the bottom.


Cover the cutting with clear plastic domes.

8.  Remove the pots from the water to a tray or saucer and cover them with a clear dome or loose plastic bag. I like to use rotisserie chicken containers and the nice big boxes that come from buying 1 lb. portions of organic lettuce. For taller cuttings, I put two of the boxes together with tape at the ends.

Place in bright light.


I put two lettuce boxes together for taller cuttings.




_9. Place in bright light but not direct sun. The clear plastic cover helps to keep moisture in and protects the cuttings as their roots are developing. Once they have some roots, take their covers off.

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake

This is my favorite recipe for using the lemon rose geranium leaves. I have had it for over ten years. I believe it was published in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine as “Lemon Geranium Poundcake,” and I realized immediately that I could use my lemon rose geranium. I was thrilled and have made this recipe many times since. For larger parties, I double the recipe and make it in a bundt pan.

August 2012 008

A slice of lemon rose geranium pound cake topped with a lemon rose geranium leaf and an edible flower, Bachelor’s Button


  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 20 whole fresh lemon rose geranium leaves [The original recipe called for lemon, rose, or ginger geranium leaves.]
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon peel, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon geranium leaves, optional
  • Lavendar gelato, fruit ice cream or sorbet, or fresh berries, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Generously butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; line the bottom with whole geranium leaves. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Beat in lemon juice. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each egg. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed until combined. Stir in lemon peel and snipped geranium leaves.
  3. Carefully pour batter atop leaves in pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.
  4. Serve with lavender gelato, or any fruit-based ice cream, sorbet, or fresh summer berries and whipped cream. Makes 12 to 14 servings.

About A Well Watered Garden

Rea is my last name, and Chez Rea is what we call our home and family. That’s French for the Rea House, and it rhymes. Say “shay ray” and you’re pronouncing it right.
This entry was posted in Garden to Table Recipes, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Case of the Absented Scented Geranium

  1. April W says:

    Love your blog! Easy to read, very informative, and down-to-earth (no pun intended).


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