Friday, February 14, 2014

Cocktail Container Garden - Designing Gardens #3

Want some summer backyard fun? Create a cocktail garden around your patio to spread some cheer for a gathering of friends or for just relaxing after a hard day's work. This is a garden to get creative with-grow your favorite herbal garnishes, mixes, ingredients for alcoholic beverages and even a liver-booster to help out if you overdo the festivities. This inviting little garden will also be a cocktail party conversation-starter, no question.

Throw in some silliness if you’d like. Whisky barrels and half barrels are irresistibly appropriate containers for some of the tender plants in our cocktail collection. Use wine corks for mulch if you have a ready supply. Do you collect beautiful bottles? I've been known to sometimes choose a wine simply for the shape or color of the bottle to add to my collection. Display them here, where they can line a pathway or sit prettily among the plants to twinkle in the sunlight. String some lights or hang some lanterns to create a party atmosphere for the cocktail hour. Or like this become the edging.

Herbs for Cocktails

There are quite a few herbs that play starring roles in mixed drinks. Probably the most familiar are the mints that are mulled for a mint julep and the popular mojito; that strong minty flavor is an essential ingredient to the character of these festive drinks. Are you interested in brewing your own beer?

Whether you are or not, you can plant some fast-growing hops along a fence line. Lemon balm is an easy garnish for a summer wine cooler (or tea for the teetotalers). For the legion of fans of Bloody Marys, the perfect morning-after pick-me-up and headliner of the Sunday brunch, grow some tomatoes for juicing and some lovage, since its hollow stems and celery taste make it part garnish, part straw. Add a slice of lime from your patio lime tree, and how perfect is that?

Don't forget the milk thistle, whose seeds yield the best liver boost in the natural world. It has been used for thousands of years for its protective, cleansing effects; you can make a simple decoction from the seeds.

Care and Containers

This little garden, placed on or surrounding a patio, will be so close by that you won't forget to water and feed the plants, especially if it becomes a place you hang out in at the end of the day. Get to know your plants and their needs, including water requirements, fertilizer needs, cold hardiness and light requirements. Some of these suggested plants need overwintering indoors, so be sure that you know the average first and last freeze dates in your area; if you don't, a quick online search or phone call to the county extension office will give you that information.

Row cover, an inexpensive lightweight fabric that lets in sunlight and moisture but gives some cold protection, is helpful to have on hand for sudden cold snaps. A good garden center can turn up some useful plant trays with wheels on them, to make transporting a large pot easier. Garden centers also have other helpful pot-lifting aids.

My example is to place all the herb plants and tomatoes in a single container or raised bed that is approximately 12 feet in diameter.  If it is done in two containers use one tall plant Milk Thistle or Lovage in the center and alternate between mints and tomatoes around the edge.  All these plants have a wide spread under ideal conditions so extra space between plants is always a great idea.

These plants are a great start for your very own cocktail garden. And all will help create a fabulous patio haven.

Tomato (T) (Solanum lycopersicum). Plant in a sunny spot, stake or cage it, and give it plenty of water and regular feeding. Any flavorful tomato produces a good tomato juice; some favorites for juicing include 'Porter', 'Rutgers', 'Ponderosa Pink', 'Better Boy' and many beefsteak varieties.

Milk thistle (MT) (Silybum marianum). With glossy, marbled leaves, this plant can reach 5 feet or so in bloom, with a purple thistle flower head. It can be annual or biennial, and is hardy to Zone 7.

Lovage(L) (Levisticum officinale ). This rock-hardy perennial, with its celery taste, can reach 5 feet by midsummer in sun or part shade. Propagate from seed or division.

Lemon balm (LB) (Melissa officinalis). A mint relative with a lemony fragrance, this hardy perennial is best grown in a pot; it can be aggressive in the garden. Easy to grow from seed, cutting or division.

Spearmint (SM) (Mentha spicata). This common garden mint, including such varieties as 'Kentucky Colonel', is easy to grow but a bit rambunctious, so it is best grown in a container. Start it from a cutting, a division from a friend, or a transplant from a garden center, as it does not set viable seed; adaptable, can grow in sun or part shade.

Mojito mint (MM) (Mentha xvilfosa), also called Cuban mint or yerba buena, is propagated by cutting or division. Keep your mints in separate containers, and harvest or prune regularly to continually force out new green growth and prevent flowering.
Mojito mint in the lemon verbena

For those with more space or living farther south than Zone 5, you may want to think about including these plants in your cocktail garden as well:

Blue agave (Agave tequilana). At 6 feet or taller, this large succulent, native to Mexico, can make a handsome smaller specimen plant in a container. It's drought-tolerant and it needs a sandy or gritty, fast-draining potting medium, a sunny location and winter protection. This is the plant they make tequila from, but growing it does not mean you can actually make the drink, as it is sort of complicated.

Lime and lemon trees (Citrus hybrids and varieties). These small trees thrive in warm landscapes
(Zones 8 and higher), although they are grown in other climates in pots on the patio and brought indoors for the winter, as most won't tolerate a freeze. Needs a sunny location. Dwarf citrus varieties are available, including a dwarf Meyer lemon; try Makrut lime (C. xhystrix) leaves, which are often used in Thai cuisine.

Depending on your climate and your willingness to overwinter pots indoors, citrus trees can fit in perfectly here. Many cocktails and highballs demand a wedge of lime or a sliver of lemon peel. Over the years, citrus plants, including dwarf varieties that lend themselves to pots, have become popular and are often available in garden centers. While they take some nurturing because of their tender nature, they can become pets and even give back fruit in agreeable conditions.

Hops (Humulus lupulus). A fast-growing, twining vine for a fence line, this is a perennial hardy to Zone 3. It needs a full-sun location and a deep, rich soil; start it from cuttings, suckers or purchased plants.  It grows very fast and needs space to grow on a fence or trellis.

I love growing this.  As a backdrop you can train it on a fence, it can cover a trellis in one season, and it had a very pretty look.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...