Never mind the garden bar, we’re all about the bar garden. By Janice Marriott.
If you start a cocktail garden this spring, after the fear of frosts has gone, you’ll save money and drink your own home-grown cocktails all summer. Start out with the basic herbs and fruits that make great drink mates: mint, basil, chillies, lemons and limes, strawberries and maybe raspberries. All of these can thrive in pots in a sunny courtyard, or will grow in a raised bed.
This is a tropical plant but a big pot in a warm spot inside can provide you with fresh ginger. If your guests stroke the leaves they release a lovely ginger scent into the room. Garden centre varieties are usually decorative rather than culinary so beg a root off someone who grows it. This is the right time to do this. You can try supermarket ginger. Some have growth retardant on them but a soak overnight will fix that. Fertilise regularly. The best time to harvest ginger is after the leaves have died down, about nine months after you’ve planted it.
Lemon and Limes
Look for the dwarf varieties of lemon and lime trees in your garden centre. I have a yellow Mexican lime for stuffing into my Corona bottle neck, and a green Tahitian lime for everything else. They look great in pots. A shiny tree full of fruit beams a welcome at the door before you’ve even served that Singapore sling. Limes don’t like frost so a bit of a cuddle and some shelter on a frosty night will be necessary. Meyer lemons produce fruit from winter through to summer. The plants are resilient but they need rich soil to keep them cropping. Citrus fertiliser solves the problem.
Sorry but mint is almost too easy. Spring is the best time to plant. You need to trap its roots in a pot as feral mint left to its own devices will take over your garden – a bit like some people at cocktail parties. All mint needs is sun and a big pot, big because you will love the taste and use a lot. The best mint for mint juleps and mojitos is spearmint.
One chilli plant will give you plenty of colourful chillies to pick in summer. Plant seeds inside in August. Transfer the plants outdoors when the soil’s warmer. Your jalapenos could end up infused in tequila or, if you want to be dangerous, add raw cocoa to this for a (hot) chocolate tequila.
Garden centres have lots of strawberry plants right now and although they make an attractive ground cover, they are just as happy dangling from a basket. Just make sure you water them well and often. Try something different such as a blackberry and mint julep, or a raspberry daiquiri. Both blackberries and raspberries are cold-country plants so if you get frosts, these are for you. Just make sure you choose the thornless hybrid blackberries, not the rampant wild ones. The best time to plant blackberries is autumn into winter when plants are dormant. Most berries prefer slightly acidic soil, with lots of compost. This is where the morning after coffee grounds are useful.
- Raid your flower borders. Borage flowers look beautiful floating on a margarita.
- Use fresh basil for your bloody marys.
- Gin, lavendar and a squeeze of citrus go together (try adding a few stalks of lavendar to a bottle of gin and leaving it to infuse), as do rosemary, rhubarb and gin. Start mixing!
*Janice Marriott is a columnist for House and Garden and co-author of several books on keeping a city garden, including Common Ground and Common Table.
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