Cocktails in the garden

  • Pat Leuchtman admires Wendy Sibbison’s delphiniums, peonies and red lilies — with a cocktail in hand. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pat and husband Henry toast another beautiful day in the garden. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Contributed photo/Pat Leuchtman—

  • Contributed photo/Pat Leuchtman—

  • Contributed photo/Pat Leuchtman—

  • Pat Leuchtman Staff image/Andy Castillo

Published: 7/6/2019 8:00:11 AM

Gardening in the summer can be hot and dirty; a reprieve is a reward. It’s time to put away our tools and wash up. It’s time for a tranquil cocktail hour in the garden. Time to sit with a spouse, and time to sit with a friend in the midst of your garden beauty. The ideal place for the cocktail hour is in the shade with birds chirping, and floral fragrances carried by the breeze. 

When I was browsing my bookshelves the other day, I noticed that I had three books that inspired me to think more about the delights of a cocktail hour.

C.L. Fornari’s book “The Cocktail Hour Garden” covers just about every aspect of making that hour delicious. She suggests ways of creating evening landscapes for relaxation and entertaining. She describes the way the late afternoon sun provides backlighting through her foliage. That same sun can throw artistic shadows of well-placed perennials. 

Like all of us, she welcomes the birds and butterflies into her garden with feeding and watering places. She also suggests the kinds of flowers that can provide food for them and beauty for you at the same time. Fornari provides great information about the birds and the bees with generous lists and descriptions of appropriate plants like asters, coreopsis, liatris, Joe Pye weed and more.

She also reminds us that the sound of moving water is soothing and calming. It also attracts birds — the perfect music for the end of the day.

If your cocktail hour begins or extends into the night, she touches on the white flowers like phlox David, white zinnias and Star Cluster coreopsis that will add a soft glimmer.

Amy Stewart has written several fascinating books about plants, including “Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.” Perhaps to provide a balance, she also wrote “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks.” There are recipes for fermented and distilled drinks from margaritas to Moscow Mule to Blushing Mary.

There are recipes for syrups, infusions and garnishes, from prickly pear syrup to limoncello. She even gives a template with suggestions on making up your own cocktails.

Stewart’s book is a delight because she is not just a knowledgeable bartender. She also knows a lot about botany, the plants that are used in these libations. For example, her recipe for Royal Tannenbaum gets its name because of the pine liqueur that is added to London dry gin with a sprig of rosemary. Did you know there are eight distinct gins, or that there is a liqueur made from the arola stone pine resin?

Nor did I.

Stewart is a great researcher.  She talks about many of the plants most commonly used in alcoholic drinks. In addition, she adds historical and medical notes. She includes fascinating bits of information about physicians and scientists who 400 years ago and more discovered and used birch sap in making medicines — and a good addition to ale.

After reading a few pages of “The Drunken Botanist” you’ll be able to regale your cocktail hour companions with intriguing stories from agave to wormwood.

The third book on my shelf that inspired my view of the cocktail hour is “Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants” by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis. The book, with its beautiful photographs, is arranged by season: spring, summer and fall.

I always have rhubarb in my garden. It has beautiful foliage, and I will need it for my rhubarb-strawberry pie filling. Bittner and Harampolis begin their book with a recipe for rhubarb quick pickles. The pickling liquid includes peppercorns, chilies and apple cider vinegar. It takes only 48 hours to pickle. The ladies suggest it as an addition to a cheese plate. You can also use a piece of rhubarb as a swizzle stick for your drink.

Some recipes use familiar ingredients like poppy seeds, feverfew, oregano and lemon balm for eating and drinking. Others are for tinctures or other medicines. For instance, yarrow flowers and leaves can be transformed, with the help of brandy, into a tincture to be taken by mouth or on your skin. Tinctures are very strong so only a bit is used at a time.

I thought the recipe for a pomegranate margarita would be a good suggestion for the cocktail hour.

The pomegranate margarita is a beautiful pink drink that requires tequila and triple sec as well as pomegranate juice. Maybe even some pomegranate seeds.

Of course, some of us may have a few aches at the end of a day in the garden. Bittner and Harampolis have the recipe for a colorful calendula infused essential oil for a massage, or for dry skin. 

Last week, my neighbor Wendy Sibbison invited my husband and me to join her for a cocktail at the end of the day. She followed up with grilled chicken, homemade bread, and, as it happened, a delicious mango sorbet.  All I had to do was bring the salad. We sipped her special gin and tonic, ate everything on the table, and enjoyed the cooling breeze as we admired her climbing roses and clematis. 

Are there garden cocktail hours on your schedule this summer?

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:

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