entertainingflowersFood & Drinkstudio choowe like it wild

we like it wild: scented geraniums

by Amy Azzarito

We’re suckers for a bit of fragrance. We’ve been patiently awaiting the return of one of our favorite farms to the local markets, but we were lucky enough last week to visit the farm in person and preview this season’s selection of scented geraniums! We first met Marie Susa of Susa farms at the Palo Alto, CA farmer’s market last spring and purchased lime and coconut geranium plants (that ended up being some of our favorites in the garden all through the summer). Though Susa Farms also grows and sells amazing herbs, tomatoes and other perennials, their scented geraniums are real standouts amidst the rest of the farmer’s market fare.

What makes these geraniums more amazing than other garden variety potted plants, you ask? To begin with, the flowers and leaves come in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors, while the scented geranium line-up reads like the menu at 31 Flavors. Varieties include rose, mint, apple nutmeg, apricot, oak, peach, and ginger. Instead of fragrant flowers, scented geraniums actually have oily leaves that release strong scents when the heat gets cranked up or you brush against them. Marie suggests planting a few next to a walkway or door so a bit of scent is released when you brush past them. They also hold up well as cut greens (clipping them is good because it prevents them from getting too leggy) and add beautiful texture to arrangements.

Geranium oils can be strong and long lasting; oil from the rose scented geranium is often used in place of rose oil when making perfume. (Our favorite scented geranium use: wash and dry some clipped leaves, cover with an inch of sugar and let it sit for a week and you’ll have your own fragrant sugar to use in baking and beverages.) Scented geraniums are also fun and super easy to propagate by clipping a stem right above the first node from the bottom and sticking it in some moist soil. With the right amount of sun, water, and tlc you will have your own tiny plant started in just a few weeks.

CLICK HERE for more scented geraniums from Studio Choo

Marie was kind enough to give us a tour of her greenhouses on the 50 acres of land she runs with her husband, John, and a herd of feral cats on our recent field trip to Half Moon Bay. Although she started out selling eggs and cut flowers from the farm at local farmers’ markets, it was when she started growing herbs that Marie really found her niche. What began as a growing experiment inside an unused rabbit hutch quickly bloomed. Two greenhouses later, Susa Farms is now well-known for growing a variety of sweet smelling goods including varieties of eucalyptus, fragrant herbs, and Marie’s scented geraniums. (We tried not to be too jealous of these happy kitties, warming themselves in the sun amongst all the sweet smells. See if you have any luck.)

One of the things we enjoy most about writing this column is the opportunity to meet and talk to other small business owners who are really passionate about what they are doing. We talked a bit with Marie about how her farm is surviving the current economy and against gigantic garden center competitors and found an answer we’ve heard from many small businesses; carry/create unique products, be good to your customers, and do what you love. Susa farms specializes in unique varieties that you don’t see on every supermarket/chain store shelf and each is planted and cared for by Marie and John (and the greenhouse kitties).

If you would like to sample Susa Farms’ geranium menu (and you really should), you can visit them for opening day this Saturday at the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market (8am-12pm, May-Dec) and Sundays at the Burlingame Farmers’ Market (8am-12pm, April-Dec).

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  • Great post. I’m quite a fan of scented geraniums. I’m also a big fan of the Parks Bio-dome Sponge seed starter (pictured).

  • Thanks for the lovely post on some of my favorite plants. scented geraniums. Gardening in SoCal, I need plants that are drought tolerant, and my scented geraniums are the best! I have found rose g. to be hardy and a great herb garden companion bush. It has taken well to hot, sunny areas, and can fill in spaces nicely (not to mention how well it ‘self roots’ along the way). But worth it all is getting out of my car and brushing against the bushes that line my driveway–ummm good!

  • I love my geraniums, especially during the long leafless New York winters, but the only downer is they have no scent…SCENTED geraniums?!? Where have I been and how do I get them if I’m all the way in NY??

  • lovely post! Do geraniums attract birds and butterflies?

    Also, how do cats at Susa farm interact with the flowers? My cat kept chewing on my plants. I had to ban her from the living room until it was warm enough to put the plants outside.

  • I’ve recently visited the Jardin des 5 Sens in Yvoire, France (bording the Leman Lake, not far from Switzerland) and there were many many scented pelargonium. We loved discovering them, especially the … pineapple and the mint ones!!

  • Oh boy, if this blog is going to start using “we” instead of “i” like Apartment Therapy does, I’m going to have to stop reading it. So, so annoying.

  • coconut flowers? wonderful!

    (and i think Jennifer M may be missing the fact that Studio Choo is actually two people, hence the *we*.)

    i love *we* like it wild. keep em comin’! ;)

  • Bottle the scent? You could try Sweet Geranium jelly – really good with cold meat or cheese. There’s a River Cottage recipe. But it’s basically any apple jelly then chuck in lots of leaves from your sweet geranium. They’re also good snipped up in long cocktails or fruit salads. Best thing is flooding the house with the smell of roses as you stew up the jelly mixture.

  • Great post. I love a fragrant garden. I’m still waiting for my husband to finish one of our fences so I can trestle some jasmine on it. Will need to look into these geraniums!

  • I have been crushing on scented geraniums all spring! I took a jam-making workshop with June Taylor in Berkeley and she uses a lot of rose geranium infusions in her jams, jellies and syrups. It adds such a beautiful scent without being overpowering.

    Thanks for more inspiration, as always!

  • Oh, I’ve always wanted a collection of scented geraniums (and a collection of different mint varieties)! I bet if one cannot find them in his or her local area, mail order is an option. :) I’ll have to start a “file” of places to visit when in the bay area next, me thinks.

  • Geraniums are *so* French, to be found on all the balconies from the tiniest vllages here in the south to the big cities–in part because they are so hardy. You wouldn’t believe the range of geraniums in all the local greenhouses these spring days! I went home with two that smell like orange and mint. Beyond the scent and ease of maintenance, aren’t the shapes of the leaves just sweet? hmm, where’s my camera…

  • I own one of the ‘rose’ varieties. I picked one of the leaves that came through a fence in the neighborhood, put it in a pot and it is growing very well.

  • “(and i think Jennifer M may be missing the fact that Studio Choo is actually two people, hence the *we*.) ”

    Uh huh. And they don’t have their own separate opinions? They both have the same favorites and the same opinions about everything? That way of speaking drives me nuts.

    • jennifer

      studio choo used we in this post because their column is written by three girls, not one. i don’t think it’s the same thing as the “we” used on AT. i only use the word “we” when i’m actually referencing something we did as a team on the site. i, and all the other editors, say “i” when we write. studio choo is a little different because they’re a team within a team.

      hope that they’re being a team that would like to write with a unified voice won’t drive you a nuts.


  • Maybe it’ll just drive her geraniums.

    I’ll look in my area for scented geraniums, and if I don’t find any…mail order (thanks Summer).