Cocktails in the Garden: How to Plant a Happy Hour
Plant and grow the ingredients you need to make a fresh summer drink.
Jazz up your summer cocktails with a trio of fresh ingredients that are easy to plant and grow in a container near your back door. Here’s what you’ll need:
· A sunny spot — six to eight hours of sun per day is best.
· A good-sized pot or container, 18 inches wide at the top at least. Make sure it has a drainage hole at the bottom.
· Good-quality potting soil.
· Hot pepper plant of your choice (jalapeno and chile are good options), spearmint plant and lemon verbena plant (not lemon balm).
Fill the container with potting soil so it is within an inch or two of the top. Remove the first plant from its pot and gently tease the roots apart a little with your fingers. Scoop the soil in the container aside with your hand and place the plant in the hole. Push the soil over the roots and gently firm into place.
Repeat with the other two plants, arranging the plants in a triangle in the container. Top up the soil if needed until it is an inch or two below the rim.
Set the pot where it will receive plenty of sun, then water well to settle the plants and soil. Top up any low spots with more soil if necessary.
Growing and harvesting
Water the plants when the soil feels dry one inch below the surface (stick your finger in the soil to monitor moisture).
Harvest the peppers when ripe by snipping from the plants with scissors. You actually can start harvesting leaves and sprigs of the spearmint and lemon verbena a couple weeks after planting.
Warning: spearmint is aggressive and will take over the pot if left to its own devices; keep it in check by snipping sprigs regularly.
Use your fresh ingredients in drinks and as a garnish. Make simple syrups from the mint and verbena leaves, or rub them on the rim of a cocktail glass (you can do this with hot peppers too).
Make a simple hot pepper sauce to use in cocktails and food. Here are just a few drink suggestions, but there are a ton of recipes online!
Hot peppers: Bloody Mary, garden paloma, spicy margarita, michelada.
Spearmint: Mojito, mint julep, southside fizz, vodka lemonade, whiskey smash.
Lemon verbena: Gimlet, lemon drop martini, whiskey sour, daiquiri.
When fall comes…
Pepper and lemon verbena plants are not hardy in our climate. Spearmint is hardy, but may not survive in a pot. You can plant it in the ground but beware of its invasive tendencies. Your best bet is to discard the pepper plant. Harvest and dry leaves from the mint and lemon verbena — they make wonderful tea — then discard the plants.
Martha Swiss is a Pittsburgh-based garden writer and designer. Visit her at plantsomejoy.com.