Geranium Notes: The Other Rose of Perfume

What do Elizabeth Bennett and geranium share in common? Elisa explains.

I’ve never heard anyone call geranium their favorite flower. Compared to the more photogenic blooms found in bouquets and floral arrangements, geranium might seem like a workaday houseplant.

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Cheery sidewalk geraniums

If rose and geranium were sisters in a Jane Austen novel, rose would be known as the pretty one and geranium as the sensible one. But geranium, like Elizabeth Bennett, has her own beauty, and is indispensable in rose fragrances!

When we refer to geranium notes, we’re usually talking about the oil of the pelargonium graveolens, also known as the rose geranium. Rose geranium oil contains over 50 organic compounds, but primarily consists of geraniol, nerol, and citronellol. Nerol, so named because it was originally isolated from neroli oil, has a fresh rosy scent and can be found in lemongrass and hops. Citronellol is the familiar pungent citrus smell often found in insect repellants – but it’s also important for creating realistic rose accords. Geraniol, one of the primary components in rose oil, smells – you guessed it – rosy and is also commonly used in fruit flavorings. (I’ve noticed that adding clove to a fruity rose can conjure up a raspberry note.)

Geranium in itself doesn’t smell identical to rose, though it is rosy – the oil smells greener and more lemony. Whereas roses smell naturally sweet, even honeyed, geranium has a sharp, aromatic quality, similar to lavender, making it smell more “masculine” to some noses.

Although there are a few geranium soliflores, the material is much more common in perfumes categorized as roses – and some of my favorite roses have a pronounced geranium note. The geranium acts almost like the acid in a vinaigrette, adding tang and brightness to what otherwise might feel heavy and flat. If you ever think of smells in terms of frequencies, as I do, you’ll find that geranium-centric roses are higher pitched, more soprano than alto.

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Geranium close-up

Geranium soliflores

My favorite geranium, Miller Harris Geranium Bourbon, doesn’t add so much adornment to its namesake material that you lose the basic note, but it’s deepened by a woody patchouli base, creating a burgundy impression rather than the red-orange poppy color of typical geraniums. It’s dark but polished – a handsome rose. Despite the name, La Parfumerie Moderne No Sport comes off as a sportier version of a geranium soliflore – it’s green, crisp, and aromatic, with an outdoorsy note of hay.

For a troubling few seconds, Diptyque Geranium Odorata smells overly sharp, giving me flashbacks of Demeter Naturals Geranium, which I briefly considered using as a cleaning product before throwing the bottle in the trash (avoid at all costs). But it quickly smooths out into a pretty, sheer, especially citrusy geranium, almost like a cologne version of a rose. (That said, it’s quite expensive for what it is; the above versions have more complexity, and if you want a sheer citrus rose, I’d recommend Marni instead.)

Geranium-forward roses

Many rose perfumes rely heavily on geranium for their effect. Agent Provocateur is an updated rose chypre that trades traditional bergamot or galbanum in the top notes for saffron, and traditional oakmoss in the base for musk and patchouli; a geranium note keeps it feeling quite dry and almost bitter throughout, a nice change from the “modern chypres” that draw more from the fruitchouli genre than anything else.

Another updated chypre, Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Chypree (which I consider a masterpiece) relies in part on geranium to create an effect that’s both timeless and genderless – an androgynous floral that’s as ambery as it is mossy.

The reissue of Robert Piguet Calypso is one of those transparent dry roses I think of as papery. Geranium, suede-like iris and an unsweetened patchouli note would make this wonderful on a man. I could say the same for Tom Ford’s Oud Fleur – rose and oud are a familiar-verging-on-cliché combination, but I’m fond of this one because the rose accord is quite geranium-heavy, making it feel unusually bright and crisp.

Geranium also shows up in a lot of fruity-florals: Annick Goutal Quel Amour! opens with a blast of sharp peony and a realistic pomegranate note (in that it’s a little medicinal, not merely sweet) and dries down to berry, geranium, and rose. (This may have been reformulated, but I can’t say I’m a big fan of the current version.) By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses manages to smell less straightforwardly pink by foregrounding the green facets of geranium as well as coconut and blackcurrant – it’s tart and unusually sophisticated. Another favorite, Parfums de Rosine Rose Praline veers closer to a full-on gourmand, and though the notes advertise chocolate, amber, sandalwood and other dark materials, to me it feels (with the help of crisp geranium) bright and cheerful, like apple-scented tobacco smoke from a hookah.

Geraniums for men

Geranium frequently crops up as a note in fougères, such as YSL’s Rive Gauche pour Homme, but it won’t necessarily stand out in the complexity of the structure. Frederic Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur on the other hand puts the material front and center. It’s a clean and simple geranium made as fresh as possible with a big mint note (don’t worry – it smells green and herbal, not toothpastey).

Lonestar Memories (another from Tauer) also has a strong minty geranium note, bolstered by menthol, and in the context of this strange, smoky leather, it reminds me of catching a toxic note of gasoline while riding a motorcycle through the desert.

Geranium soaps

For years, my favorite all-purpose cleaning product has been Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Concentrate in the geranium scent. Reminiscent of the Miller Harris perfume I love so much, it’s a rich and deep true geranium that will make your bathroom or kitchen smell fantastic. (In my mind, if the bathroom smells like Mrs. Meyer’s geranium, then it’s clean!)

Do you have favorite geranium scents or products? Please let me know in the comments!

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73 Comments

  • Sandra: I am adding Mrs Meyers Clean Day to my grocery list-hope I can find it July 25, 2016 at 7:08am Reply

    • Elisa: It is pretty easy to find! I hope you enjoy it. July 25, 2016 at 9:01am Reply

      • zephyr: I’m going to look for it too! July 25, 2016 at 10:46am Reply

    • Floragal: Fairway has it 😉 July 25, 2016 at 8:32pm Reply

  • Anka: Thank you, Elisa, that’s such an informative post! I love the green and lemony aspect of geranium (wearing Marni today which is perfect during these hot summer days!) and I, too, consider Une Rose Chypree a masterpiece and definitely have to try Lonestar Memories, soon! July 25, 2016 at 7:34am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks, Anka! I sprayed Lonestar Memories on a paper blotter recently, then left town, and when I got back, got to experience the far drydown — a really beautiful, rich, ambery leather. What a complex scent. July 25, 2016 at 9:02am Reply

  • WJ: I too love the scent of geranium, forever hunting for more soliflores (only have Miller Harris, Diptyque and yes – Demeter). Thank you for listing the additional ones to try. I use Lonestar Memories myself (I didn’t realize it was meant for men), but didn’t really smell that much geranium in it. July 25, 2016 at 10:00am Reply

    • Elisa: I think all Tauer’s scents are essentially unisex, though if I mapped them on a spectrum I’d put LM closer to the masculine side. It’s definitely not a geranium-centric scent — I mainly notice it in the top notes. I wish he would do a full-on geranium — maybe Geranium Flash? July 25, 2016 at 10:03am Reply

      • WJ: that would be plain wonderful – do you have connections? July 25, 2016 at 10:12am Reply

        • Elisa: I should email him a suggestion 🙂 July 25, 2016 at 10:16am Reply

  • Maya: I am wearing Diptyque’s geranium odorata in honor of your post. I understand your criticism of it but I happen to love that initial astringency that I liken to the tannin effect in red wine. It almost seems able to cut through the heat. Also following your recommendation, ordered Mrs. Meyer’s geranium cleaner on Amazon. I’m sure I’ll like it. July 25, 2016 at 10:02am Reply

    • Elisa: I think the Diptyque is lovely and if I came into some I’d wear it! It’s just not a must-buy for me….and yes, I’m sure you’ll like the cleaner too! July 25, 2016 at 10:05am Reply

  • Austenfan: It’s a lovely and interesting post. Hardy geraniums (not pelargoniums) are my favourite garden plants. The flowers don’t have a strong smell but the leaves and stems give off that pungent geranium smell that they share with their pelargonium cousins. My favourite geranium fragrance is L’Eau Chic, and I remember really enjoying the Malle when I tried it.
    And I can totally see why you associate cleanliness with geranium oil. July 25, 2016 at 10:12am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you! L’Eau Chic just raced to the top of my sample list. I love PdN’s l’eaus! July 25, 2016 at 10:17am Reply

      • Austenfan: It’s probably the most unusual and she was inspired by a geranium soap to make it. It’s good, very refreshing and elegant. July 25, 2016 at 10:35am Reply

        • Elisa: I just read that on Lucky Scent and I am duly enticed! July 25, 2016 at 10:36am Reply

        • Morelle: I certainly have to try this scent! I recently bought a geranium soap from Savons de Marseille, and it’s lovely. July 26, 2016 at 7:38pm Reply

    • zephyr: Totally agree with you, Austenfan, about hardy geraniums. They do very well in my somewhat shady south-facing front garden bed here in Chicago. Almost too well – they were a bit wild last week and I trimmed out the dry bits, cleaned them up. And I noticed that wonderful geranium scent while I was doing it! Now I really want to look for the Mrs. Meyers (‘s?) product; I’d love that scent in my kitchen! July 25, 2016 at 10:52am Reply

  • Qwendy: I love Geranium in perfume too …. I have no idea what I did with my Miller Harris, but I found myself addicted to it during a particularly trying time as my “feel good” fragrance, I sprayed it everywhere! Of course Geranium Essential Oil is just that, a mood lifter, I keep it next to my bathtub. Happy to have the other recs, will explore toute de suite! Xxx July 25, 2016 at 11:32am Reply

    • Elisa: The MH is very addictive stuff! I especially love it in fall. July 25, 2016 at 11:33am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Informative post! I also love Une Rose Chyprée, a masterpiece indeed, but to my nose it is more geranium than rose. No problem, geranium smells good, but sometimes i add some Arpège to have more rose. July 25, 2016 at 12:02pm Reply

    • Elisa: His roses tend to have a lot of geranium! No complaints here… July 25, 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Lynn LaMar: Geranium seems to be “my scent.” Discovered it in its’ pure form when I became a soap maker. I can pick it out of anything now and it’s in a lot of everything! Love it… July 25, 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Elisa: Hi Lynn, any favorites that I missed?? I could always use more geranium in my life! July 25, 2016 at 12:04pm Reply

      • Lynn LaMar: Hi Elisa! I was so impressed with this Geranium posting! I thought I was the only lover of geranium!! lol
        I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that there is a touch of Geranium in Murphy’s Oil Soap. I had an all wood home in Maine and would dive into the bottle every time I cleaned!! Now I have ordered the Mrs.Meyers and found 4 oz of essential oil on sale for $30, so there will be a batch of new soap! I would be happy to send you a bar. It will be six weeks until it’s cured! July 26, 2016 at 12:26pm Reply

        • Elisa: Oh gosh, what a wonderful offer!! July 26, 2016 at 12:32pm Reply

          • Lynn LaMar: My pleasure. You will love my soap…;-) July 26, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Natalie: I love to smell the real flowers and herbs used in perfumes if I have a chance. The first picture you show is of pelargonium, which people confuse for scented geraniums but they actually aren’t. If you are at a garden center and want to smell scented geraniums look for names with the scent in the name, i.e. “apple geranium”, “rose geranium”, etc. and they are sometimes kept in the section with herbs. Or look for the name cranesbill which is its other name. July 25, 2016 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Elisa: I believe pelargonium is a large genus that contains hundreds of species of plants. But yes, the most common ones you see at nurseries, etc. are not necessarily the most fragrant! July 25, 2016 at 1:23pm Reply

  • elisa p: Very informative post. Thanks! I did buy the Diptyque rollerball and find it really refreshing, but ever since my husband said it smells like Deep Woods Off! I’ve been reluctant to wear it to work. It probably does repel mosquitoes, lol. I’ll have to experiment.
    Rossy de Palma has a nice rose-geranium combo. Also MCG Rrose Selavy smells of geranium to me. It’s green and aromatic up top. A lot of people seem to smell camphor or a medicinal edge, which I personally like, but wonder if that’s from geranium? Or maybe it’s just straight up camphor. July 25, 2016 at 2:00pm Reply

    • Elisa: Ha! It definitely has some citronellol in there.

      Agree on RdP, I love its geranium note.

      I tried the Rose Selavy recently, but along with about 30 scents in an hour so I can’t remember it in detail! July 25, 2016 at 2:02pm Reply

  • Aurora: A great post, Elisa on the hard working, unsung geranium. I have some flowering right now on my balcony and they give me much joy.
    Like you I love Rose Praline which I find more sophisticated than the usual gourmand fare, and there is a distinct note of geranium in vintage Dioressence (a very beautiful fragrance traduced in the reformulation) which I have spritzed this evening in honour of your article. And being in the UK I will try and get acquainted with Geranium Bourbon. July 25, 2016 at 3:04pm Reply

    • Elisa: I’m wearing Rose Praline today, actually! I love the tartness of the fruity rose against the gourmand accord. July 25, 2016 at 3:33pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: Great and edcuational article and lovely photo’s! I love hardy geraniums in my garden, and although I love pelargoniums as well at the moment I keep plants in pots limited. Maybe next year when there is hopefully a bit more time.
    I really like Quel Amour! a lot, it is maybe not sophisticated but it is such a happy scent to my nose. I wore L’Eau Chic a lot last summer, will do again soon. I ordered a sample of Une Rose Chypree together with the fabulous body oil. So lots of geranium to look forward to! July 25, 2016 at 3:21pm Reply

    • Elisa: I’m not sure why I didn’t get on with Quel Amour, but I suspect vintage has to do with it. I’m normally all over a fruity rose!

      I want to try that new body oil myself. July 25, 2016 at 3:40pm Reply

  • carole: Oh wow-
    I am a fan of the geranium. Geranium pour Monsieur is so crisp. And there is a reference to rose geranium soap, in the Cammomile Lawn, by Mary Wesly-I reread her novels every summer. Mariyn Monroe wore Floris rose geranium. And to hear Calypso written about-i just love that scent. I love the black bottle, with its chic lettering. It’s a soft scent, and really unique. When I wear it, I catch the scent and i wonder what smells so good-and it’s me 🙂 So thank you for letting me rave about my favorites, and I highly recommend geraniums in any fragrance. And in literature 🙂
    Best regards,
    Carole July 25, 2016 at 4:13pm Reply

    • Elisa: Nice to hear that you like Calypso! I really don’t hear it mentioned much. It sounds like it would be some kind of tropical pineapple scent from the name, which is not at all what it’s like! July 25, 2016 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Floragal: Curious about Floris Rose Geranium. July 25, 2016 at 8:38pm Reply

  • rainboweyes: I like the smell of geranium but I can’t think of any scent in my wardrobe having a geranium note. I’ve bought a geranium-scented deodorant stick recently, though, and I absolutely love it!
    And of course there are geranium hydrosols with their wonderfully uplifting effect… July 25, 2016 at 5:08pm Reply

  • Joy: Very interesting article today, Elisa. I have very much enjoyed the Diptique Geranium, but only had a decant of it. I will find my little empty bottle and see if there is any scent remaining. It is the only geranium scented perfume that I have, at least where I can distinguish the geranium. There are many suggestions for me to try now. I find the geranium as the leaves/stems of the plant very refreshing.
    Thank you. July 25, 2016 at 7:08pm Reply

    • Elisa: I find that one very refreshing too, a perfect morning scent. July 25, 2016 at 7:43pm Reply

  • Ariadne: I never realized I am captured by the geranium accent before this post! Thank you!! I wear Agent P. Quite often and am just obsessed with Liaisons Dangereuses. Just HAD to order some Calypso before the cold weather comes again. (Which looks to be far off) July 25, 2016 at 8:24pm Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you for reading! Liaisons Dangereuses is so good and so unusual. July 25, 2016 at 9:22pm Reply

  • Floragal: Really interesting article and enjoy reading about other geranium-loved scents. I’ve got a few here I can try! July 25, 2016 at 8:39pm Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks, Floragal! July 25, 2016 at 9:22pm Reply

  • spe: Hermes has the new Equipage Geranium. Saw it but didn’t sniff yet. The Malle I liked instantly. Wore it off and on for years, but some note got too persistent for me. Not the mint or geranium notes, something else. I wonder if there is Iso E super in the Malle? Anyway, I think I love geranium scent! Forgot about the M. Monroe story about Floris Geranium Rose! It was ordered under her secretary’s name. Many bottles of it. July 26, 2016 at 9:16am Reply

    • Elisa: That may be, a lot of the Malles had woody amber materials at their base.

      I like to think of Marilyn wearing geranium because it contrasts with her sultry image! July 26, 2016 at 9:26am Reply

      • spe: Yes – so fresh and…unisex! For the world’s most famous sex symbol….I agree that’s interesting. July 27, 2016 at 1:30am Reply

  • Laura: Creed’s Vetiver Geranium is my favorite geranium. The vetiver, geranium, rose combo is gorgeous. I’d been pining for a bottle for almost two years and finally bought one at an online discount site. Crushed when I received it and found that it had turned. July 26, 2016 at 10:43am Reply

    • Elisa: What a disappointment! I hope there is a possibility for returning it. Is that scent still in production in the line? It sounds lovely, I will look for it next time I pass a Creed counter. July 26, 2016 at 11:24am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Inspired by your post, I tried Quel Amour! today. And I could not resist that bottle. There is a geranium, but I fell in love with the peach note. That perfume gave me a boost, so I may well thank you! July 26, 2016 at 11:50am Reply

    • Elisa: I’m glad to hear it 🙂

      I’m generally in favor perfumes with exclamation points in the name July 26, 2016 at 12:33pm Reply

    • Hamamelis: My happiest scent! Great buy. July 27, 2016 at 1:00pm Reply

  • kayliz: Lovely post, thank you! I know so few of the perfumes you mention, and actually I’m not a big geranium fan, BUT… I think Rose de Taif by Perris Monte Carlo is very good, especially in the extrait, of which I have a decant I’d be more than happy to plunder if you don’t already know it.
    If you fancy a sample, it’s kaydothennsquigglyfreenetdotde. July 26, 2016 at 6:03pm Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you for the lovely offer! It looks like they carry the line at NM so I’ll try to sniff it on my own first. July 27, 2016 at 1:07pm Reply

      • kayliz: It might be an idea to leave your credit card at home;) July 27, 2016 at 1:24pm Reply

  • Andy: I spritzed from my sample of Geranium Odorata a few days ago, and found it more delightful than I’d remembered. Nonetheless, I agree with you completely, as I find the Diptyque take on geranium lovely but not quite remarkable enough. I’ve been long haunted by Geranium Pour Monsieur, though, which smells like the height of summer to me (that specific combination of mint and geranium conjures a memory of the mingling of these two scents). Beautiful post on a note I love! I’ve added some scents to my must-try list. July 27, 2016 at 6:36pm Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you Andy! You know, it’s funny, I think I like the Malles that are on the lighter side best — like this one and Vetiver Extraordinaire. But due to their light and quiet nature they’re the ones I’d be least likely to splash out that kind of money on. Alas. (But then there’s Carnal Flower….) July 27, 2016 at 10:34pm Reply

      • Andy: I know exactly what you mean. When I visited the Malle boutique to decide upon my three 10ml sprays, I was so torn, because I love Angeliques sous la Pluie, Geranium Pour Monsieur, Bois d’Orage, but the heavy hitters (or more like medium-heavy; I didn’t buy POAL or CF) won out over these three more subtle blends. July 28, 2016 at 11:08am Reply

        • Elisa: Yes, doesn’t it seem like you need to get getting something powerful if you’re spending a lot? I also really enjoy Eau de Magnolia, which is quite light. July 28, 2016 at 11:10am Reply

          • Andy: Ah yes, Eau de Magnolia is yet another. I see EdM as a sort of magnolia version of Bulgari Thé Vert, which means I could easily finish a huge bottle in months. Definitely not a sustainable habit! July 28, 2016 at 11:13am Reply

            • Elisa: Right! I drained a big sample in 2 or 3 wears because I wanted to spray lavishly July 28, 2016 at 11:19am Reply

  • Michael: I too enjoy Geranium Bourbon and wore it frequently a few years ago. I believe it’s been discontinued now. Fortunately I managed to stock up on a 100ml bottle before MH took it off the shelves.

    Diptyque’s Geranium Rosa scented candle is one of my favourite home fragrances too, it’s much fresher and lighter than, say, their Roses or Baies ones and perfect for both spring and summer. July 28, 2016 at 2:35am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like this Diptyque candle. Its scent is delicate and fresh, but the throw is impressive. July 28, 2016 at 10:26am Reply

    • Elisa: I still see it at discounters….I split a 100 ml bottle with a friend years ago and it’s pretty low, I’ll be sad if I’m not able to get more when I run out! July 28, 2016 at 10:30am Reply

  • Floramac: I’ll have to try some of these. Geranium has a certain stringency and a tender green smell with a hint of citrus that must make it refreshing on a hot day. I did take a leaf from a geranium plant grown primarily for its scent and put it in sugar. It’s an interesting scent, almost minty and very green. The sugar is delicious on raspberries. July 28, 2016 at 3:24pm Reply

    • Elisa: What an interesting idea! Certainly I can see it being similar to mint sugar but with a rosy overtone. Sounds delicious. July 28, 2016 at 8:53pm Reply

  • Triciajo: I missed this piece while I was on vacation, and I’m so glad I went back to look. Geranium is one of my all-time favorite perfume notes. Now, I have oodles of ideas for new samples to try. Thanks you! August 19, 2016 at 9:43pm Reply

    • Elisa: You’re welcome, I hope you find a new love! August 20, 2016 at 11:55am Reply

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