There are all sorts of gardens you can grow. And we’re big fans of all kinds of gardens here. But when we heard about the cocktail garden concept, we got very excited.
To find out more about the cocktail garden concept, we interviewed one of the minds behind the idea: Sara Jenkins-Sutton. In addition to Jenkins-Sutton’s role as the cocktail garden expert, she’s also the vice president and co-founder of Topiarius, a full-service landscape design, build, and maintenance firm that provides high-end services to customers in Chicago’s urban environment.
EcoSalon: What made you think up the cocktail garden concept?
Sara Jenkins-Sutton: We like a great cocktail. And it’s even better when we can use herbs that we’ve grown ourselves. The taste is that much better and fresher.
ES: What types of plants and herbs should people start with?
SJS: When using herbs for drinks, most of us are only looking for one or two plants, so mass plantings are not necessary. Purchasing a plant start from a local nursery, grocery store, or box store should not limit your options or break the bank. And with plant starts, you can start using them almost immediately and they will continue to grow as they are used.
ES: What are the most popular herbs used in drinks?
SJS: Basil, rosemary, lavender, mint, and thyme are the most popular herbs to add to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink recipes.
EcoSalon: How should people prepare herbs before they place them in drinks?
SJS: Nothing too special. Once clipped, give them a quick rinse with cold water and either shake dry or towel dry, and they’re ready to go.
EcoSalon: Any secrets to using them in drinks?
SJS: I’m a big fan of muddling mint, basil, and thyme into drinks. Pressing down lightly on the leaves to intensify the flavor of the herbs.
EcoSalon: How can people care for their gardens?
SJS: Once past your location’s freeze date, it’s time to get started outside. Here’s what to do:
1. Herbs need lightweight, well-draining soil.
2. Some herbs can be quite invasive in the garden, so we recommend that herbs be planted in containers. Make sure that the container has proper drainage holes and a way to keep the holes from getting clogged (we use a 2” layer of clean rocks with landscape fabric over them) as herbs do not like to have “wet feet.”
3. Make sure they are in a location that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun each day. Keep an eye on the soil moisture level, especially as the temperatures rise. You do not want to let the soil become completely dry. Basil, thyme, and mint like continuously moist soil. Rosemary and lavender like to dry out between watering.
4. Keep the soil clean. Be very cautious about choosing to use fertilizers since you will be ingesting the herbs. We like organic fertilizers and homemade compost.
5. Pick leaves or cut stems regularly to encourage growth. (Always make a clean cut with a clean, sharp blade.)
6. Pinch off the flowers as they grow to keep the plant growing. The first frost will take its toll on the plants, so make sure to enjoy them as much as possible beforehand.
ES: What are some of your favorite drinks containing items from your cocktail garden this summer?
SJS: On a hot summer day, lavender lemonade is super refreshing and delicious with or without alcohol. I also love to take other fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden and add them to drinks, whether it is a strawberry mojito or a fresh Bloody Mary with basil and thyme.
Mix it up with this mojito recipe and enjoy!
Organic Strawberry Mojito (inspired by this recipe)
Makes one mojito
3 fresh organic strawberries
3-5 fresh organic basil leaves
2 oz of homemade organic simple syrup (for a simple recipe, check here, but use organic ingredients)
2 oz of organic rum
Slice strawberries and place at the bottom of a tall glass along with basil leaves. Pour in simple syrup and muddle the mixture. Stir in rum and top with crushed ice. Top with club soda and garnish with strawberry slices.
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Image of strawberry mojito from Shutterstock