How To Grow A Cocktail Inspired Garden
There are all kinds of gardens. Rose gardens, butterfly gardens, dessert gardens…heck, even Busch Gardens. If you can name it, you can grow it…Thematically speaking. These specialized gardens aren’t just for ticketed admission either! They are getting more and more popular on the home front…and you don’t need an expansive piece of land to create something spectacular!
A few weeks ago, Elana (of Stir And Strain) invited me onto her IGTV for a live tour of my garden (which you can still watch over here) , there was SO MUCH interest in what to grow specifically with cocktails in mind.
So for this homesteading installment, we’re going to focus specifically on curating and growing a cocktail inspired garden! With summer in our sights, there is no better time to start thinking about fragrant, herbal and exotic additions that can be transformed into a refreshing beverage. Besides, you’ll want to reward yourself with a stunning sip after you’ve tended to your glorious creation! Bar tender - make that a double!
Who’s ready to get their hands dirty?
What to Grow - Think outside of the (herb) box
Yes, your run of the mill herb box is an amazing thing to have at home..but why not take this as an opportunity to add some unusual additions to mix - we’re making cocktails after all! First up, edible blooms… year round colors perfect for garnishing everything from tiki drinks to tonics. Here are a few fool-proof flowers to get you started:
BORAGE: Easy to grow in even hot clients, this plant is actually a thistle with gorgeous purple pointy blooms that taste like cucumber. These have become very popular in restaurant cuisine in recent years and produce high quantities of blooms per plant. Even better? They love poor soil and thrive on neglect, so water occasionally once established and watch your little jeweled stars sprout. Grab the seeds here!
NASTURTIUM: Another plant that’s incredibly easy to grow, these multi-colored flowers will return year after year if you allow their seeds to drop at the end of their cycle. All parts of this plant are edible: leaves, seed pods and flowers all with a spicy wasabi like flavor. Toss a few handfulls of seed around your yard or into a large container and watch the magic happen. Here are three heirloom colors that would be gorgeous on top of a cocktail: Ladybird Cream, Black Velvet & Salmon Blush.
CHRYSANTHEMUM: I have a new love affair with this particular flower. It is a rapid producer of the most perfect daisy-like sunshine blooms and have a delicious flavor when infused into teas and syrups. If you’d like the full scoop on these sunnies, I have an entire post dedicated to growing and using them here! Which also includes a syrup recipe which is perfect for…you guessed…COCKTAILS!
BACHELOR BUTTON: Sky’s the limit with these beautiful blooms (literally, make sure you have an area with enough height to grow a plant that can get as tall as corn). These flowers come in a spectrum of purple, pinks and white…even better, they are just as beautiful dried as they are fresh. Simply dehydrate extra blooms for year long use, they work wonders as an edible confetti when lightly torn over a dessert or drink. Grab a pack of multi colored blooms here!
GROWING NOTES: The key to success with any flower growing is to “dead head” blooms on the regular. By pinching off flowers you’ll allowing energy to flow back into the plant and will have maximum bloom production by doing so. Besides, you’re growing them to enjoy…so make sure you don’t let them all wilt on the stem (however, always leave a few blooms behind for the bees - these act as amazing pollinator attractors that will benefit your entire garden).
Heirloom herbs, exotic hybrids and plants with medicinal properties can be exciting additions to a cocktail garden as well. When thinking about what kinds of plants to grow, I always think about flavors I’d like to infuse - syrups, shrubs and muddling a number of unique edibles will have you quickly on your way to becoming a master backyard mixologist. These are a few different types of plants I’m loving right now that are perfect for cocktail making:
PINEAPPLE SAGE: This smells exactly like it’s named…tropical paradise. Not only are the edible blooms gorgeously ruby red, this herb is fantastically fresh as a muddle (hello new spin on a mojito). Get growing here!
COCONUT THYME: Another tropical hybrid, this one smells more like vacation than it tastes. Floral yet earthy, it can hold up delicately in a syrup or be the main star shaken and strained. Definitely a fun creeper plant that also provides tiny adorable blooms. (Ask your local nursery if they can special order this for you!)
PURPLE SHISO: Now this is a fun plant! A flavor combo that I can only describe as basil, mint and cinnamon - these can be used raw to infuse a number of spirit creations. Plus they make for a beautiful aromatic garnish - win, win! Sprinkle some love into a partly sunny space with these!
BAY LEAF: Did you know that fresh bay leaf is one MILLION times better tasting than dried? You haven’t lived until you’ve plucked your own right off the stem. I think this is an underrated plant that needs to see more cocktail love…these greens are not just for soups people!!
LEMON GRASS: Another unique aromatic perfect for infusion. This would make for an amazing syrup, not to mention one punchy…punch! An easy to grow, low maintenance addition to your growing culinary arsenal.
SIZE DOESN’T MATTER: PLOT OR POT
Herbs are easy when it comes to smaller plots, but don’t be discouraged from trying to grow other vegetables that would make for amazing cocktails: Cucumbers for summer muddles, blueberries for a homemade shrub, strawberries for a jammy syrup…and guess what!? You can grow all of these in a container, even dwarf citrus trees will be fine in a pot. BAM - your mini cocktail farm awaits!
If you’re tight on space or budget, don’t feel limited to a raised bed or dedicated garden area. There are a number of affordable and compact solutions for you to start growing a number of things - here’s a combo that I love to maximize space: Wine Barrel + Growing Trellis. Always think up! You can take on much larger plants in a tighter area when growing vertically.
Grab yourself a container, some quality organic soil and start your upwards journey towards fresh delicious garden cocktails!
Tools of The Trade - Everything from Clippers to Cliffs Notes
(That’s a cheat sheet reference for those of you born after the 90s - Wait, do they even still publish those?! I digress...)
There’s nothing I love more than suiting up for a new hobby - arming yourself with the tools of the trade can really help your experience be a more positive one…or if you’re like me and just want any excuse for another pair of garden snips, go crazy! You have full permission from me.
Here are a few go-to’s that I use on the daily, hyper-linked for your shopping pleasure:
OPINEL HARVESTING KNIFE: Sharp bugger great for heartier steams and vegetable harvesting. Plus it folds in half so you don’t stab yourself while it’s in your pocket. A plus!
MULTI-PURPOSE PRUNING TOOL: This is the swiss army knife of the garden and always in my apron. I love that it not only has hefty clippers for weeding, but other useful gadgets…like a bottle opener.
BONSI SHEERS: Sharp and precise. My go-to snip for edible blooms.
JAPANESE HERB SNIPS: Sharp and you can get in really tight for small cuttings. Great for oregano, basil but strong enough to cut woody thyme.
FORAGING BASKET: Everyone needs a good basket. Everyone.
I have A LOT of books on gardening, but when you’re just getting started, don’t overwhelm yourself. These two are great resources to get you going and perfect when it comes to cocktail garden planing:
THE COOK’S HERB GARDEN: Not only does this book give you a rundown on growing all kinds of common and exotic herbs, it also provides suggestions on companion planting for the perfectly curated flavor-themed garden. This is a great resource for understanding what likes to grow next to each other: think grouping basil and mints who want more water and oregano and thyme who don’t. Grab a copy here!
THE GARDEN FORAGER: This book is a recent addition to my collection and I’ve very much enjoyed it so far! Think lilac for sugar infusions or Bee Balm for chutney. Unique ideas for plants that you may or may not have in your garden - explaining their culinary uses and a few recipes for inspo. I’ve found that this is a great resource for learning new ways to work with flavors. Order your own here!
THE FLAVOR THESAURUS: Speaking of flavors. I’ve championed this book for years and it’s still my number one in the kitchen when recipe developing. Hundreds of flavor combos for you to discover and experiment with…and a wonder for perfecting your signature drink. Grab one here and make sure it lives among your favorite cookbooks!
Okay. We’ve really only scratched the surface on what a cocktail garden could be. Let’s think of this as our summer starter kit and we can revisit each season to come.
Now that you’ve been armed with all the info you need to get started - it’s time to get to work! And what better motivation than a cocktail recipe to work towards?! Elana of Stir & Strain created an updated beauty on a classic with some coconut thyme she snipped from my garden, and I think it’s one to put down on your to-do list once you get growing! Grab the recipe for her Coconut Thyme Gin Old Fashion over here!
So how are we feeling? Inspired?! Overwhelmed. Hopefully excited either way! Feel free to leave any gardening questions below, or reach out on Instagram where I do garden Q&A in my stories on the regular (past sessions are saved in my highlights) - I’m here on the help line for you!
High Fives all around…and here’s to experimenting this summer with new flavors, colors and ideas in the garden!