Drinks made with just-picked herbs, fruit and vegetables as flavorings and garnishes are the toast of the summer party season, whether you pair them with alcohol or not. As cocktail gardeners have grown more adventurous, the happy-hour repertoire has expanded well beyond just a sprig of mint in a julep or mojito. Modern cocktails are garnished with everything from petals to marigolds and simple syrups are crafted from carrots, beets and jalapenos.
The most important aspect of a cocktail garden is that it’s in a pretty and comfortable spot. Which is to say, that garden doesn’t even need to be in the ground. Consider a planter on top of your picnic table so friends and family can mix their own drinks with whatever garnish they fancy. All you need is a sunny location and a large container to get started. Once you’ve picked and planted your herbs, enhance your container with cocktail-themed accents like wine cork mulch and little signs to label each plant.
These are our top cocktail garden picks:
Chives: We know what you’re thinking — how in the world do chives mix with a summer cocktail? Well, they pair nicely with anything savory, like a Bloody Mary. Chive foliage has a grassy texture, so the herb will look beautiful in your container garden. Pro-tip: Save the purple blooms in your freezer for soup and crockpot dishes later in the year.
Basil: Almost every cocktail menu features a drink with basil due to its lean, sweet, peppery and citrus overtones. Like mint, basil is a great all-purpose herb that adds flavor to gin, tequila or rum drinks. Muddle, use as a garnish or create a simple syrup. Basil grows well in lots of sun with plenty of water. Harvest a few leaves from the top at a time for continued healthy growth through the summer and beyond.
Lavender: This herb is basically the equivalent of millennial pink — it’s everywhere. From essential oils to desserts and beer, lavender is becoming as universal of an herb as its twin, rosemary. The floral and woody undertones are wonderfully distinct and great when prepared as a simple syrup. A garnish of lavender on the cocktail glass will really up your mixologist game. The plant needs good drainage for drier soil and lots of sunlight. Harvest as the blooms begin to open.
Rosemary: The twin herb to lavender, rosemary features similar flavor profiles. Best when used as a simple syrup or garnish, it needs plenty of sunlight and dry soil in order to prosper. Rosemary syrup pairs well with gin and lime juice for a simple cocktail that doesn’t require much preparation.
Sage: Don’t use all your sage for cleansing the house! Save some for a savory cocktail as well. The earthy, woody and vaguely peppery flavor of sage pairs amazingly well with gin and tonics. The flavor can be overpowering for some, however, so use sparingly to start. Sage requires little care and is very tolerant of different soil types and weather conditions — great for Michigan summers.
Mint: We can’t forget the king of the cocktail. Mint’s unique flavor makes it a versatile addition to almost any liquor. And the special variants of mint (commonly found at your local farmers market) like chocolate and pineapple mint add a fresh take on this classic cocktail staple.