Garden Spaces: Grow a Cocktail Garden

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Click on the IMAGE GALLERY, then NEXT, for the planting key.
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Click on the IMAGE GALLERY, then NEXT, for the planting key.

Design Plans: Grow These Plants for a Cocktail Garden

Want some summer backyard fun? Create a cocktail garden around your patio to spread some cheer for a gathering of friends or for just relaxing after a hard day’s work. This is a garden to get creative with–grow your favorite herbal garnishes, mixes, ingredients for alcoholic beverages and even a liver-booster to help out if you overdo the festivities. This inviting little garden will also be a cocktail party conversation-starter, no question.

Throw in some silliness if you’d like. Whisky barrels and half barrels are irresistibly appropriate containers for some of the tender plants in our cocktail collection. Use wine corks for mulch if you have a ready supply. Do you collect beautiful bottles? I’ve been known to sometimes choose a wine simply for the shape or color of the bottle to add to my collection. Display them here, where they can line a pathway or sit prettily among the plants to twinkle in the sunlight. String some lights or hang some lanterns to create a party atmosphere for the cocktail hour.

Herbs for Cocktails

There are quite a few herbs that play starring roles in mixed drinks. Probably the most familiar are the mints that are mulled for a mint julep and the popular mojito; that strong minty flavor is an essential ingredient to the character of these festive drinks. Are you interested in brewing your own beer? Whether you are or not, you can plant some fast-growing hops along a fence line. Lemon balm is an easy garnish for a summer wine cooler (or tea for the teetotalers).

For the legion of fans of Bloody Marys, the perfect morning-after pick-me-up and headliner of the Sunday brunch, grow some tomatoes for juicing and some lovage, since its hollow stems and celery taste make it part garnish, part straw. Add a slice of lime from your patio lime tree, and how perfect is that?

Depending on your climate and your willingness to overwinter pots indoors, citrus trees can fit in perfectly here. Many cocktails and highballs demand a wedge of lime or a sliver of lemon peel (James Bond’s martini, for example). Over the years, citrus plants, including dwarf varieties that lend themselves to pots, have become popular and are often available in garden centers. While they take some nurturing because of their tender nature, they can become pets and even give back fruit in agreeable conditions.

A handsome, stately blue agave in a container claims a place here, but largely a symbolic one (as nobody I know knows how or has the equipment to make tequila at home). Don’t forget the milk thistle, whose seeds yield the best liver boost in the natural world. It has been used for thousands of years for its protective, cleansing effects; you can make a simple decoction from the seeds.

Care and Containers

This little garden, placed on or surrounding a patio, will be so close by that you won’t forget to water and feed the plants, especially if it becomes a place you hang out in at the end of the day.

Get to know your plants and their needs, including water requirements, fertilizer needs, cold hardiness and light requirements. Some of these suggested plants need overwintering indoors, so be sure that you know the average first and last freeze dates in your area; if you don’t, a quick online search or phone call to the county extension office will give you that information.

Row cover, an inexpensive lightweight fabric that lets in sunlight and moisture but gives some cold protection, is helpful to have on hand for sudden cold snaps. A good garden center can turn up some useful plant trays with wheels on them, to make transporting a large pot easier. Garden centers also have other helpful pot-lifting aids. 

Contributing Editor Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer and editor living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.

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