Edna Popperwell's life story, she bred and introduced 7 new types of scented pelargonium to the UK

(June 20, 2016)

Mrs Edna Popperwell
Respected UK Plantswoman and Pelargonium Enthusiast
Her Life and Hybridising History

Edna’s life story has been kindly supplied to us
by her daughter
Alison Popperwell

Edna Popperwell bred 7 new scented leaf pelargonium types - they are listed later in this article.
All are available to purchase via our website.

Relevant Dates:  born 1926 to 1st September 2015
Location:  South East England, United Kingdom

mrs popperwell and fairlop


ashby scented geranium
P. ashby


Edna Popperwell was born in Leyton, South East England, UK in 1926.
She left school at fifteen and worked in an office for several years. Her husband, Frederick, was an electrical engineer at the same company and they married in March 1949. Frederick was a keen sportsman playing football for Finchley in the Athenian League and cricket for Eaton Manor. Later on in life he played golf and played off a handicap of five.
Edna and Frederick had one daughter, Alison, who gained a degree in Biology from Sheffield University. Alison was the Director of Science and Head of Biology at a top comprehensive school in Essex where she worked for 31 years.
Edna Popperwell’s health has deteriorated during the past few years and due to this Alison has taken a very early retirement from her career to look after her Mother. 


NOTE FROM ANNIE www.scentedgeraniums.co.uk:

‘Although Alison is not a ‘natural’ gardener she does really admire the many horticultural achievements of her Mother and she is doing her utmost to ensure that ‘Mum’ will not be forgotten.  She is now the ‘custodian’ of all of Edna’s pelargonium and does her very best to keep them all in excellent health. 
It was very sad to hear from Alison that Edna can no longer understand that she was the one that bred such fine, outstanding scented geranium types. 
Alison says that her Mother does still admire the pretty flowers and plants from time to time but, unfortunately, she no longer has any awareness that they are all her introductions to the pelargonium fraternity. 


Edna does occasionally comment on how lovely all of the plants are, which does make Alison and her Father quite sad.

Alison came across our website earlier in 2013 and discovered that we had 5 of her Mother’s pelargonium introductions in our Collection; in total Edna Popperwell bred 7 different scented leaf geranium types and the names of these are listed below.  We were quite taken aback to hear direct from Alison and even more delighted when she asked if we would accept some cuttings of the 2 remaining scented pelargonium types that we did not have that had been bred by her Mother.  Needless to say, we were overwhelmed and cannot thank Alison enough for her generosity.  To hear Edna’s ‘life story’ first hand is also quite amazing for us and we do hope that we have done our little bit to share her with a lot of other pelargonium enthusiasts all around the world.

 Caring for Scented Geraniums article

'We do hope that everyone reading this article will be inspired by Mrs Popperwell to discover and grow scented geraniums for many years to come'.  Annie and Guy

3. edna popperwell with rhs trophy 2. edna popperwell rhs awards of merit

Edna Popperwell’s love of gardening probably started when she was quite young as her father had an allotment and grew both flowers and vegetables. Her first married life residence did not have a garden and she really missed this.  Eventually the family moved, initially to a bungalow with a 50 foot long garden and subsequently to a house with a 40 foot square garden.  Edna’s knowledge and passion of all things gardening grew simultaneously along with this very welcome additional outside space.

Edna had always had a small greenhouse to potter about in and when all the household chores were done, as was the way during these times she was wife and mother first, she would spend what ever time remained of the day in her garden and greenhouse.  Taking after her Father, Edna grew all of the many plants in the garden from seed, propagating seedlings in the greenhouse, nurturing them in to life prior to planting out, lovingly tending them day by day as they blossomed and grew.

 brunswick scented geranium 1P. brunswick

copthorne scented geranium 3
P. copthorne


fairlop 1P. fairlop

 With her love and knowledge of all things gardening increasing Edna subsequently caught the ‘hybridising bug’ from the many gardening related books that she constantly read and referred to.

NOTE FROM ANNIE:  ‘See below for when Edna met one of my all time favourite gardeners, Henry (Jim) Wood; he would have been my No.1 choice of gardener to meet – lucky Edna Popperwell.  Jim’s pelargonium books are brilliant and you can still buy these on Amazon.  Below there’s also a list of other useful pelargonium books that Edna often referred to.

Edna Popperwell was a Member of the British Pelargonium and Geranium Society (PAGS), The British and European Geranium Society and The Royal Horticultural Society. She received regular publications from these societies over many years and was always especially delighted when a reference was made to any of her new pelargonium introductions.

hemley scented geranium P. hemley


orsett scented geraniumP. orsett

 Edna gained inspiration from visiting well known gardens such as Wisley, Kew, Syon Park, Hyde Hall and many others. She also regularly visited the Chelsea Flower Show and numerous local flower shows.  It was at one such event that she met Percy Thrower and throughout her gardening years she would always quote the advice Percy told her with regards to growing geraniums.  Edna asked why her geraniums had a lot of top foliage, yet had hardly any blooms?  He asked Edna if she fed the plants and when hearing the answer “oh yes regularly” he replied you are being too kind to them, ‘don’t over feed and keep them in relatively small pots until they outgrow these and then repot’. Following Percy’s advice Edna always had superb, showy plants full of bloom that seemed to last forever!

NOTE FROM ANNIEWhilst Percy Thrower’s advice is relevant in many respects, the Reader should be aware that Edna was an experienced grower of most types of plants and would have been aware that plants do require a feeding regime in relation to what they are.  How to feed plants does come with experience and investing in some good books will provide a lot of tips on how to achieve the best from any plant.  Scented geraniums are quite heavy feeders and do require a well balanced feed.  One has to consider that in Percy’s day there wasn’t any such thing as a slow release granular feed; from our personal experience this type of plant food makes pelargonium very healthy, achieves luscious foliage and masses of blooms over many months.  It is a reliable balanced form of feeding pelargonium and saves a lot of time and prevents plants being starved of the necessary nutritiments both for the leaves and the blooms.’

We recommend our 3 in 1 Care Pack Solution for
Healthy Scented Geraniums
(also applies to lots of other plants too)

Click the link to read the full details
perlite, slow release plant food, epson salts



 welling scented geranium 1P. welling


HYBRIDISATION – the skill of crossing different plants to produce a new type

Edna Popperwell began hybridising pelargonium in the 1970’s when she was in her fifties. As a keen gardener she loved nothing more than pottering about amongst her plants in her eight-by-six-foot greenhouse.  After reading several interesting and captivating articles relating to hybridising, she thought it was worth ‘having a go’ at this herself.  


Her first experiments of ‘cross breeding’ began with zonal pelargonium types (common bedding geranium).  In 1980 two of her new seedling crosses, namely P. alison jill (named after her daughter) and P. something special both gained Award of Merit Certificates at the British Pelargonium and Geranium Society’s show in London’s Westminster Hall.  In addition, Edna was presented with a trophy which she was allowed to keep for one year. These successes were closely followed by another Award of Merit in 1981 for her latest successful cross P. pink delight.

 p. something special zonal geraniumP. something special
zonal pelargonium bred by Mrs E Popperwell
(sorry we do not grow zonals but if you do a Google search you should find a UK nursery who offers this type)
1. alison jil zonal pelargonium bred by edna popperwellP. alison jill
zonal pelargonium bred by Mrs E Popperwell
5. pink delight zonal pelargonium bred by edna popperwellP. pink delight
zonal pelargonium bred by Mrs E Popperwell


quercifolium scented pelargonium 1P. quercifolium
species scented leaf pelargonium
available to purchase on our website

Edna Popperwell frequently used this scented geranium species as the main Parent when she was experimenting with compatible crosses.


From her experimentation with zonal pelargonium her thoughts turned towards the scented leaf pelargonium group, of which she was a big admirer.  She used one scented geranium type, in particular, as the pollinating Parent, P. quercifolium: species, characteristics being large growing at maturity, deeply incised and serrated leaves, woodsy type of scent.  P. quercifolium is also known as P. oak leaf, being as the leaf is similar in style to that of the oak tree.  During the ensuing years Edna continued to cross P. quercifolium with numerous types of regal pelargonium; large, showy geraniums with masses of beautiful blooms over many months.  With two large growing Parent plants, the successful crosses must have been extremely exciting for Edna.  All of the 7 scented leaf pelargonium types that she bred are absolute stunners!


Edna assigned names to her new scented leaf pelargonium by using the names of roads and towns in England, where she had lived over her lifetime.

Scented Leaf Pelargonium - often referred to as scented geraniums

  • Copthorne 1984 (Parents: Aztec x P. quercifolium)
    cent/aroma:  sweet cedar
  • Fairlop (Year during the 1990’s - Parents: Fruhling x P. quercifolium)
    scent/aroma: spicy, spearmint
  • Brunswick(Year during the 1990’s - Parents:  not recorded)
    scent/aroma:  sweet cedar
  • Welling 1994  (Parents:  not recorded)
    scent/aroma:  classified as being pleasant, aromatic
  • Hemley 1994  (Parents:  not recorded)
    scent/aroma:  classified as being pleasant, aromatic
  • Ashby 1999  (Parents: Aldwyck x P. quercifolium)
    scent/aroma:  rose
  • Orsett 1994  (Parents:  not recorded)
    scent/aroma: classified as being pleasant, aromatic
Edna Popperwell would have been the first to admit that her hybridization methods were totally home grown; trial and error.  She waited for the blooms to open and kept them away from flying insects by netting the greenhouse door and window. She selected her plants carefully looking for ripe pollen on P. quercifolium.  On the recipient plant she looked for a glistening bulbous stigma with a sugary solution on the tip.  The stamens were removed from P. quercifolium and dusted over the stigma of the other selected ‘parent’, from which the stamens had been removed to prevent self pollination.  Edna would undertake several such crosses at a time with a diverse range of recipient pelargonium.  Each individual cross was coded by wrapping coloured thread around the stem of the plant and meticulously labelled with all of the relevant details; i.e. date and parentage.  She would then enclose the structures, whilst still on the plant, in a breathable cellophane material so that the seeds would not be catapulted away from the parent plant and lost forever.  Species pelargonium, in particular, are very prone to this happening.  Edna then waited patiently for Nature to take its course.  When a successful cross had taken place the petals would fall off and the seed pod would swell.  As soon as the swelling became advanced and the seeds were clearly visible Edna would remove the developed structure from the Parent plant.  The seeds were carefully emptied out, soaked in water in an egg cup overnight and sown without delay the next day.


A pelargonium cross will produce a maximum of five minute dust like seeds per stigma; sometimes all five would have developed sometimes fewer.   With her tender loving care many of the seeds germinated and it was with great anticipation that Edna tended each and every single plantlet whilst the fledgling matured and eventually bloomed.  Only at this point was Edna able to truly assess whether her endeavours had been successful and she had indeed bred a distinctly different new types of scented pelargonium.  Often she was disappointed as the cross was not any different to many other types of scented geraniums already available in the UK.  However, she persevered over many years and continued her hybridization passion for the sheer thrill and anticipation that one day she would produce some new pelargonium types that were really special.
This Edna Popperwell achieved several times over, both zonal and scented leaf pelargonium types.   All 7 scented leaf pelargonium listed below are accredited to Edna Popperwell by the RHS – it our privilege and honour to have all 7 scented geraniums in our Collection.

NOTE FROM ANNIE:  as our speciality is the growing of scented leaf pelargonium (aka scented geraniums) we cannot cover the zonals that Edna bred in this article


Edna did not have a favourite pelargonium
each and every single one was special and lovely to her.

Annie says:  'I know exactly why it would be impossible to pick a favourite!!  Trust me I really do have to hold back in sourcing any more types, being as we now have well over 100+ in our Collection.
Scented Geraniums are totally addictive!

 Surrounded by so many beautiful geraniums Edna’s thoughts turned to how she could possibly bring these to the attention of the general public and share her plants with them; this would also ensure their continuity in the future.  Edna contacted a couple of large general plant nurseries (garden centres these days) in the Berkshire area and was delighted that they agreed to stock and sell her ‘new’ geranium types.
It was not long before Edna’s stunning scented geraniums came to the attention of a large specialist pelargonium nursery in Sweden.  They too were taken with Edna’s new pelargonium introductions and went on to write an article about her hybridisation work and several years later they continue to stock her plants.

Over many years Mrs Edna Popperwell has received numerous mentions in a variety of publications such as; Garden News, RHS - The Garden, The British Pelargonium and Geranium Society’s Journal, Amateur Gardening, Garden Answers, to name but a few.

All have commented very favourably of all of Mrs Popperwell’s pelargonium introductions and, indeed, many have offered high praise of her hybridising skills and dedication of many years to the scented leaf pelargonium group.  Mrs Edna Popperwell really has truly earned the title of respected plants woman and will always be remembered by pelargonium enthusiasts throughout the World.


In 1996-1997 Copthorne and Orsett were entered into The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) trials at its garden at Wisley.  The two trials were assessed by twenty four knowledgeable Members of the RHS Floral Trials subcommittee and by additional UK renowned pelargonium specialists.  In total Copthorne and Orsett were visited on eight different occasions from May to August and each was individually assessed for; (1) foliage scent, being a major consideration (2) uniformity within the type  (3) growing characteristics and (4) flower formation.
Both Copthorne and Orsett were awarded the coveted RHS’s Award of Garden Merit.

NOTE FROM ANNIEquite rightly so, they are at home with the Kings and Queens of the scented leaf pelargonium group.

edna popperwell and henry jim wood

NOTE FROM ANNIE:  I could not agree more with Edna – out of all of the pelargonium books that I too possess Jim Wood’s books are no-nonsense, written in a way that is very easy to read and follow, full of old fashioned tried and tested growing tips that work.

Henry (Jim) Wood – acclaimed UK pelargonium grower and author during the 20th Century
Edna met Jim at one of the British Pelargonium and Geranium Society’s shows in London’s Westminster Hall.  Edna had always admired Jim Wood and was thrilled to have a chat with him.  Jim kindly autographed one of his books for Edna and this was probably one of her most favourite of gardening books out of the many that she possessed.  Edna treasured this book and always said that she learnt a great deal from Jim Wood.

Here are some other gardening books that Edna often referred to:

  • Hardy Geraniums. Peter F. Yeo
  • Pelargoniums. David Clark
  • The Pelargonium Guide. David Clark
  • Scented Geraniaceae .Peter Abbott
  • Geraniums - A Grower’s Guide .Monica Bennett
  • Pelargoniums and Geraniums. Henry J. Wood
  • Pelargoniums. Henry J. Wood
  • International Pelargoniums or Geraniums of the World. Henry J. Wood
  • Geraniums and Pelargoniums. H.G. Withan-Fogg
  • Pelargoniums including the popular Geranium. Derek Clifford
  • The Complete Geranium. Susan Conder
  • Growing and Showing Geraniums. Alan Shellard
  • Ornamental Foliaged Pelargoniums. The British Pelargonium and Geranium Society

Note from Annie:
When I first became really interested in the scented leaf pelargonium genre there was very little information available on the internet and they rarely received a mention in the majority of available pelargonium books.  I am talking prior to being able to do a Google search!  However, this has substantially changed over several years and if you dig deep enough on the internet there is now a wealth of information available from many countries around the World; the scented pelargonium following is global.
Word of warning: always purchase scented geraniums from a reputable Specialist Nursery - never from online auction sites, general plant suppliers or garden centres.  You could never be confident that you are buying a genuine recognised named type.  I have become aware that some people are purely in it for the money and have no regard for naming types correctly.  Even worse still names are being fabricated and claimed as new introductions.

My advice is to always do your 'homework' thoroughly, read up on this stunning group of plants and understand how to grow them.

If you are reading this you are most likely quite internet 'savvy' and you do have an amazing tool at your fingertips - Google your questions!
alternatively you are always welcome to
Contact Us


Sadly, Mrs Popperwell developed dementia in 2009 and this has been devastating for her husband and her daughter Alison.  For the past few years she has not been able to continue with her passion for hands on hybridization and growing her pelargonium.  Thankfully she appears to be unaware of her loss and does remain relatively happy in her own world with the support of her family.  She does still enjoy seeing beautiful plants around her but cannot remember her past successes that she had with her ‘hobby’.   Her daughter Alison, a non gardener by the way but doing her best, does attempt to ensure that there are always plenty of scented geraniums in bloom in her Mother’s greenhouse and in their conservatory.  Mrs Edna Popperwell is still able to admire all of the pelargonium that she was responsible for introducing for their naïve and intense beauty.

It is as if Edna's pelargonium are attempting to bring joy and pleasure to her as a thank you for all of the years of dedication that she languished on them.

This article is dedicated to
(with extra special thanks and best wishes to her daughter Alison for contacting us)

each and every day is precious, make the most of each day whilst we can’

Authors: Annie and Guy of

 © 2013
this article and its contents may not be republished anywhere without our prior consent


If you have grown any of Mrs Edna Popperwell’s scented leaf pelargonium, or if you remember meeting her, would you like to email us a tribute to her work and plants?  
We’ll include your comments at the end of this article.
Please email us via the Contact Us page and provide your name, location in the World and what you would like to say - if you have any photos we would really appreciate these too.


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