Nothing brings me joy like being surrounded by plants. In the summer, I love to bring people into the green cocoon that is my patio garden under the wisteria arbour and host small (given my Vancouver patio is only eight feet wide!) garden parties. Here, my guests will find a spread straight from the garden that surrounds them of seasonal fruit and veg: tomatoes, cucumbers, mulberries, arctic kiwis, pineapple guavas, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, figs. It feels so good to share what I have grown in this little pocket of paradise. But the cherry on top? Toasting each other with a garden to glass cocktail or mocktail to kick off the pleasure of a summer garden evening spent together.
The first sip brings the story of garden to glass into frame and sets the stage for the seasonal evening to come. Something as simple as an edible flower garnish delights the eyes and signifies this is a botanical cocktail. Quickly followed by the distinct taste of an herb-infused simple syrup on the tongue and heady scent on the nose brings you straight into the experience.
Cocktail Garden Herbs
Surprisingly, the complexity of this sensory experience belies its simplicity to achieve. The basis for many garden cocktails is an herb-infused simple syrup, which is as easy to make as it sounds. Simply, use a 1-to-1 ratio of cane sugar to water, bring it to a boil, add a few sprigs of aromatics and simmer until viscous. Then strain and cool, before serving with soda or juice, and add spirits or non-alcoholic spirits if desired. The herbal flavour provides such a welcome balance to the sweetness of a classic summer concoction. Cin-cin!
Which aromatics, you might ask? Well, the possibilities are endless, but my favourites are the Mediterranean herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and tarragon. When you give these plants what they need, they don’t ask for much more. And what they need is also simple: full sun, well-drained soil (whether in-ground or in a container at least 12” in diameter and depth), and infrequent, but deep, watering.
The key in keeping these plants healthy is how you harvest. Mediterranean herbs form woody stems with new seasonal growth concentrated on the tips, which are green and pliable. Rather than taking a leaf here or there, we can keep the plant producing new growth by harvesting the entire pliable tip often, taking care not to cut into the lower woody parts of the stem. This keeps new growth coming. If we cut into the woody base, we can damage the branch, or the entire plant, leading to unsightly dead sections or entire loss. So, remember, if you can bend it, you can take it. Harvesting in this manner keeps the woody base at the bottom compact, leading to a more beautiful and productive plant. It also means you will likely have more herbs than you can use! Another great reason to begin your garden to glass journey.
Of course, the use of herbs in garden cocktails is not limited to infused syrups. Muddled herbs such as mint might be the most familiar to many of us. We can use this technique with other green herbs such basil, or fruit such as berries to form the basis of our drinks. Another method of infusion is through shrubs, which introduces vinegar, fruit and sugar to perfectly balance sweet with sour in the glass.
Cocktail Garden Fruits
Once you start to see success with your herbs, both in the garden and the glass, you might choose to expand your cocktail garden repertoire and introduce fruit. Some of my favourite fruits to grow in our temperate climate in Vancouver is the Yuzu lemon and the Finger Lime, which have much of the same growing requirements of the Mediterranean herbs. What could be more summery than citrus trees? If you’re in a colder climate in Canada, raspberries, strawberries, elderberry (for the flowers), or Arctic Kiwi are some great fruity additions.
Cocktail Garden Flowers
Finally, the pièce de résistance: the floral garnish. They say we eat with our eyes, so why not drink in the delight of garden to glass as it is presented? Dainty edible flowers such as borage can be floated on the top of a delicate coupe glass, or you can balance a solid rocks glass with an aromatic lavender stir stick, or create a kids mocktail with violas frozen within ice cubes. No matter what method you choose as garnish, the key is to use small flowers like violas over pansies, or a petal or two of larger flowers like calendula, to avoid a mouthful of foliage. For a real party trick, you can even grow the tropical butterfly pea as a floral dye which morphs from vibrant blue to violet and then hot pink when acidity is introduced.
These are just a few ideas to get the juices flowing, but possibilities for your garden to glass concoctions are endless. You can find more inspiration in my full Garden to Glass Guide with recipes free for download on my website www.seedandnourish.com. I encourage you to get creative and experiment with flavour combinations to create your own signature botanical cocktails while you soak up all the senses of summer.
Carissa Kasper works in marketing for West Coast Seeds, and is a writer, speaker, designer, and founder of Seed & Nourish.
Carissa helps transform space and self through the power of the kitchen garden. She has appeared in print and onstage in such places as the Lonely Planet Travel Anthology, Asparagus Magazine, Humans Who Grow Food, Metro UK, Vancouver Sun and the BC Home and Garden Show.
Through Seed & Nourish, Carissa has created and managed private and public kitchen gardens alike, including the Fairmont Waterfront chef’s garden.
Follow Carissa @seedandnourish on Instagram.