Garden Party: Planting The Ultimate Cocktail Garden

Photo by Honestly Yum
Photo by Honestly Yum

Besides sparkly clean glassware and a few choice bottles, fresh ingredients are perhaps the most important components of a perfect cocktail. Adding a sprig of rosemary to a drink might not seem worth the $2.49 you'll pay at the grocery store, but the deliciousness it adds is priceless -- and nearly free if you grow it yourself. I've compiled my favorite garden-fresh cocktail components you can grow yourself, and my favorite ways to showcase them.

Blackberries: If you're interested in planting blackberries, DIY Network has a thorough tutorial, but it seems like I usually hear about people battling their blackberries rather than having to encourage them. Braving the brambles will be totally worth it once you've turned the juicy jewels into 101 Cookbook's Chile Blackberry Syrup and/or Blackberry Limeade. The limeade is conveniently virgin, making it easy to substitute Prosecco for the called-for ginger ale.

Basil & Strawberries: Of the pressés presented by KCET earlier this summer, the one that sounds the most irresistible to me is the Paradise Pressé, made with fresh strawberry juice and garnished with strawberry slices and basil.

Tomatoes & Basil: I drank an Early Girl (named after an heirloom tomato) cocktail at San Francisco's NoPa one summer evening five years ago, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. I even made a batch for a friend's birthday party one year using NoPa bartender Neyah White's recipe. The results were spot-on, but the price of grocery store tomatoes made each cocktail about the same price we would have paid at the restaurant. But if you grow your own Early Girls...

Thai Basil: Last summer's garden presented me with my first unlimited access to Thai basil, an experience I'm hoping to repeat. It was an essential component of near-daily stir-fries, spruced up my Cucumber Gimlets, and made even ice water more exciting, but this year I'd like to showcase it in the New York Times' Thai Basil Bliss.

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Cucumbers: In the right conditions -- warm but not hot weather, plenty of water and sun, raised beds, and rich, well-weeded soil, according to Organic Gardening -- cucumbers can grow like mad. After you've put up your first batch of pickles, celebrate with a Cucumber Gimlet like this one from They Might Be Giants(!). They recommend using a high-powered juicer, but I've thrown all of the ingredients into a regular old blender, with fantastic results.

Lavender: I'm a huge fan of the gin-based cocktail The Bee's Knees, as well as its mezcal counterpoint, The Killer Bee. For a little something special, gather lavender from your garden (or grab some that you dried last year) and shake up a few of Honestly Yum's Lavender Bee's Knees (shown above).

Lemon Verbena: A little lemon verbena in the garden can go a long way. I like to add sprigs of it to sparkling water, but after that I'm stumped. If you have a surplus, I highly recommend making Heidi Swanson's Lemon Verbena Drop, which utilizes house-infused vodka.

Rose: If you like floral flavors (I don't, but some of my best friends do) the Raspberry Rose Fizz from Honestly Yum is for you. Pluck some rose petals (and some raspberries?) from your garden for the prettiest pink drink around.

Rosemary: If you're lucky enough to have one of those monstrous rosemary bushes, making a batch of Food 52's Rosemary Gin Cocktails won't even put a dent in it.

Blood Orange: Warm, sunny days and cool nights are the perfect conditions for the blood oranges that grow so beautifully in California. They'll brighten up your winter garden and your Blood Orange Gin Sparklers.

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