July 23 2020
At the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle, I attended a class given by C.L. Fornari, author of ‘The Cocktail Hour Garden’ and I was smitten. I immediately pictured myself in my porch swing with a tall cool drink surrounded by all the plants I could use to make drinks. I pictured the garden with walls around it to keep out the wind, trees for shade, semi-tropical plants in colorful pots, maybe a trickling water feature, a bistro table and chairs, a stone floor, some lights and candles for evenings, and the all important swing. It would preferably have an opening or a window with a view. In a perfect world it should have a little garden house next to it with a comfy bed for resting, some books and magazines for reading and maybe a small desk for writing or drawing. Did I neglect to mention that I am a dreamer? My husband has a troublesome practical view of the world, but I always ask, “can’t or won’t”?
OK, in all probability I won’t have all those things, but to accomplish anything, one must have a dream or plan if you’d rather call it that. Close counts, and of course it’s more about the plants than the hardscape.
Since I had long made my own teas from my herb garden, it was just a leap of imagination and a good book to let me see how to turn those teas into cocktails. It’s very simple and fun to come up with your own drinks and whether you choose to add alcohol or not is up to you. Yes, I know it’s not technically a cocktail without alcohol but the method is the same.
You start by making a strong herbal tea by simmering the herb in hot water, then straining the tea and adding honey or sugar to taste (the hot tea will dissolve the honey). Add sparkling water, ice and alcohol. There are plenty of recipes out there if you want specific proportions.
One of my favorite summer drinks is basil limeade. Fresh basil is best and it is easy to grow in a pot. It’s an annual that likes heat and comes in many types: lemon, Thai, ginger, cinnamon, lime and dark opal or purple ruffles which will turn your drink pink. I’m not sure I have a delicate enough palate to tell them apart in a drink, but it would be fun to make some of each and let your friends try. There is one cultivar called spicy globe or spicy bush that is adorable. It has tiny leaves and grows into a tiny tree without pruning. Basils are easy to start from seeds-keep them bushy by pinching off branch tips, flowers, and seeds. I prefer vodka in my basil limeade cocktail.
Any edible herb is worth investigating. I’m thinking lemon balm and tart cherry juice (both know to be calming-hmmm, medicinal cocktail?), hibiscus and lemonade (with rum?), or maybe pineapple sage limeade. Why not?
As far as all those dreams of a perfect cocktail garden go, I’m doing pretty good. I have the windbreak fence, trees and shrubs, a gazebo with a swing, the little house, bistro table and chairs and plenty of herbs around to gather for drinks.
Basil, Ocimum basilicum, annual
Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, perennial, zones 8-10
Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, perennial, best used fresh
Hibiscus, large varied family, semi-hardy to subtropical, easiest to buy dried flowers