Garden-Fresh Cocktails

The thought occurred to me while I spent yet another Saturday morning in Homeowner Land, pulling weeds from among my patio philodendrons. Sure, the ornamental plants lend a certain tropical aesthetic to my surroundings. I enjoy them. But wouldn’t I enjoy the fruits of my labor more if I could eat them? Like actual fruit?

The thought had also occurred to millions more would-be hipsters and sustainable lifestyle enthusiasts, enough to support in our town at least one landscaping company that specialized in edible plants: Tangerines, peaches, spinach, sage, flora that looks and tastes good.

As I was perusing the list of possible additions to my garden, another thought occurred to me:

Hibiscus, lavender, sugar cane, mint.


My husband looked puzzled.

“Oooh, fresh mint and sugar cane,” I said.  “I could cut off a piece of cane and use it as a swizzle stick, and then when I’m finished with my drink, I can chew on it.”


“Maybe I could even distill rum from the sugar cane.”

“I think you need a permit to do that. I think that’s called moonshine.”

But I was too far gone.

“And mint juleps! I can make mint juleps!”

The raw materials of a mojito
Sugar cane: The raw material of a mojito

Most people plant herb and vegetable gardens for, shockingly, the purpose of consuming fresh herbs and vegetables. They tend to eat them with little adornment, to enjoy the earthy organic taste, to revel in the achievement of stepping out the front door to fetch an ingredient they’ve cultivated from seed with careful watering and feeding.

They tend not to build elaborate projects around their simple plants.

Not I.

Normally I look for the easy way out in home-improvement projects; if it’ll take me half a day to build something myself, I’ll hire a professional. The cold calculus of time and money applies to artwork as well — you’ll find me shopping the weekend craft fair rather than making jewelry myself.

But the cocktail garden sent me right down the path to perdition. It sent me to Pinterest.

I enjoy a fine wine or microbrew as much as anyone else, but I’ll never be a connoisseur. I appreciate the artistry behind the grape fermentation process, but I can’t see it play out before my eyes. Not like a cocktail. A cocktail requires a different type of talent, performance artistry, on the part of the bartender. The cocktail artist must first select the right ingredients, in the right proportions. Those are the basics, the meat of the artwork.

The rest is flourish. The selection of the glass. The theatrical tossing of the shaker. The pour over ice, or alone. The wedge of lime, orange, lemon. At the beach, a paper umbrella and a twirly straw.

I do not discriminate among cocktails. I am not like James Bond with his martini, shaken not stirred, or Carrie Bradshaw with her cosmopolitan. I love all cocktails equally. I seek out the new and unexpected, the specials on the drink menu. Cocktails taste like liquid candy.

cranberry hibiscus
Cranberry hibiscus: The raw material of a failed Pinterest project

The minute my cranberry hibiscus sprouted buds, I plucked them off the stem and positioned them in yet-unused crystal champagne flutes. Pinterest promised me the buds would open when submerged in bubbly, a classy and beautiful parlor trick of a drink.

Two hours later, the buds remained sealed. I tried holding them down at the bottom of the flute with a pair of chopsticks. No luck. They bobbed in the champagne like dead leaves. Because that’s what they were.

Pinterest had turned cocktail hour into a crappy art and garden project all rolled in to one.

I cursed the internet.

Distilling my own spirits proved a short-lived idea; “garden-fresh” rum is the opposite of what you want in a nice, aged drink, and potentially fatal. Eying the abundance of tangerines ripening to a deep orange on my trees, I haven’t ruled out a home infusion of tangerine vodka.

I had better luck with mint juleps. That’s the thing about cocktails. No matter how badly they go against expectations, unlike art projects, if you aren’t stingy with the booze, everyone loves them in the end.

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