My garden is just about to pop, with tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and other vegetables about to make their move from garden to table. I love the vegetable garden, and the hours spent tending to the crops are a summer-long pleasure. Still, I won’t pretend it isn’t work. So after a hot afternoon of pulling weeds and otherwise tending to the back forty, there is a second garden waiting for me when it’s time to kick back on the deck with a refreshing beverage at the end of the day. This year I’m growing a cocktail garden.
A couple of planter boxes and a hodge podge of pots of varying sizes, it requires less attention than the vegetable garden, produces all summer (and indeed all year) long and houses the most versatile of crops. I may not be distilling my own spirits, but selecting the right herbs to grow this year has transformed cocktail hour into an irresistible exercise in crop management as selected herbs make their way from planter box to martini, collins or rocks glass.
Whether you are a gardener who enjoys a cocktail now and then or a mixologist tired of spending money on ingredients with an all-too-short shelf life, growing your own herbs for use in your favorite mixed drinks is fun, easy, and approved by hipster and hippie alike. Here are five of my favorite cocktail-friendly herbs to get you started.
Flavor: Cool and refreshing. Depending on what type you grow, some have citrus tones, other are floral or spicy. Kentucky Colonel or Mojito mint are good choices for growing in a cocktail garden.
How to use it: Mint is probably the most commonly used fresh herb for cocktails. Mojitos and juleps are well known for using mint, but this refreshing leaf brightens flavor wherever it is used. Muddled or used as a garnish or infusion, mint is a winning choice for the gardener’s cocktail.
How to grow it: Mint grows like a weed. Plant in containers or in the yard (if you are prepared to have a lot of it).
Flavor: Rosemary looks like clippings from a pine tree with a taste to match.
How to use it: The rich, woody flavor of rosemary can be added whole or muddled as a featured player in gin or vodka or to add pronounced depth to bourbon. Try adding a sprig to your next gin and tonic or whiskey sour.
How to grow it: Start from cuttings in a pot placed in a sunny spot. Rosemary stands up well in drought conditions, which may come in handy this year.
Flavor: Currently a fashionable herb in the cocktail scene, varieties of the complex, aromatic herb can lean sweet, peppery or citrus-y with clove overtones.
How to use it: Like mint, basil is a great all-purpose herb, adding great flavor to gin, tequila or rum drinks among others. Muddle, use as a garnish or use in simple syrup to use in cocktails as a change of pace from the same old cocktail.
How to grow it: Make sure basil plants get plenty of water and sunlight. Harvest leaves from the top a few at a time so the plant will have continued healthy growth throughout the summer and beyond.
Flavor: Earthy, woody and vaguely peppery, sage has a wonderful and distinctive flavor, but should be used sparingly.
How to use it: Muddled, infused into spirits or prepared in a simple syrup, sage adds savory complexity to mixed drinks, but the flavor can be overpowering for some. add some sage to your next gin fizz for a summer drink with unmistakable garden taste.
How to grow it: Requires little care and is tolerant of different soil types and conditions, but soil should be well-drained.
Flavor: Floral and woody with undertones similar to mint and rosemary, lavender is wonderfully distinctive, but a little goes a long way.
How to use it: Perhaps best prepared in a simple syrup, lavender is the taste of springtime in front porch drinks featuring vodka, gin or even lemonade for the non-drinker.
How to grow it: A great container plant. Water deeply, but make sure it has good drainage and gets plenty of sunlight. Harvest as blossoms begin to open.