Richelle Stafne, assistant director and senior curator of The Crosby Arboretum-Mississippi State University, along with Eric Stafne, assistant extension professor and fruit crops specialist at Mississippi State University, have been preparing and enjoying fresh garden cocktails for many years. Cheers!

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Shaken or Stirred?
by Richelle Stafne and Eric Stafne       #Edibles   #Recipes   #Themed Gardens

Themed gardens remain a popular way of motivating or inspiring gardeners to design a garden with specific intent. Several years ago, I wrote an article about growing a salsa garden; a cocktail garden is similar. With the end product in mind – in this case, a cocktail – you have a plan for what you can do with your harvest. This can be a fun way to put a “spring” in your step, especially for new gardeners, those looking for creative ways to be inspired, or those who admittedly have no green thumb.

Most often, one thinks of vegetables, fruits and herbs as food products, but they can also be used in drinks. Therefore, planning your own cocktail garden will give you access to the best, freshest ingredients. In recent years, the art of making handcrafted cocktails has made a comeback. For mixologists, handcrafted cocktails use the freshest and finest ingredients possible, and where better to get fresh ingredients than from your own garden or local market? Using locally sourced food and other products is gaining in popularity. With more farmers’ markets, CSAs (community-supported agriculture), cooperatives and community gardens popping up every year, it is easier than ever to have fresh, local ingredients at your fingertips.

Gulf Coast Margarita

4-5 pepper slices (serrano, jalapeno, habanero, etc.), seeded – optional for desired heat
Small handful fresh cilantro
1 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
Juice from 2 satsuma oranges, freshly squeezed
2-3 tablespoons agave nectar
2 ounces tequila
Soda water (or margarita mix)
Salt or sugar
Jalapeno and satsuma slices

Add pepper, cilantro, lime, orange juice, agave nectar and tequila to cocktail shaker. Muddle together. Add ice and shake mixture thoroughly. Strain into salt or sugar-rimmed margarita or highball glass. Top with soda water or margarita mix. Garnish with pepper and/or orange slice.

Is there anything better after a long day of weeding, watering, pruning, mulching and harvesting than to relax in your hammock or patio chair with a fresh, homemade cocktail? Shaken or stirred, the products of this themed garden can be served with or without alcohol.

The main components of a cocktail garden will depend on your beverage preferences, but herbs, vegetables and various fruits will surely be included. One must consider the limitations of one’s growing environment and be realistic about what is and what is not possible. Some things, such as tomatoes, can be grown in most areas; however, others, such as citrus, are limited to Zone 8 and farther south.


Left: Blueberries are a healthy way to add color to cocktails. The different species of blueberries are grown in acidic soils in Zones 3-11. Middle: Kumquat (Fortunella margarita), one of the most cold-hardy members of the citrus family (Rutaceae), is restricted to Zone 8 and above. However, they can be grown in containers to extend their range. Right: Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) has a distinctive flavor reminiscent of childhood candies and adds a licorice or anise-like taste to cocktails.

Growing one’s own cocktail garden satisfies the mixologist in all of us – the freshest possible products result in the best flavors. A good way to begin is to peruse your favorite recipe book, website or bartender’s guide to gather ideas for your ingredients. Take notes on what will grow in your area or can be purchased locally. Choosing perennials or hardy trees or shrubs will ensure a continuous supply year after year. Experiment and have fun!

While you may not have a choice about where to locate your cocktail garden, planting near a deck or patio where beverages are enjoyed can create an inviting ambience for you and your guests. This will also make it easier to harvest leaves and fruits for a quick beverage. Likewise, if your garden is far removed from your home, consider creating a relaxing area to lounge with cocktails within the garden.

Once you have mixed a few of your own cocktails, why not invite a few friends over, and better yet, ask friends to bring a few fresh ingredients from their own gardens? You could even swap plant-starts and seeds so everyone can grow their own cocktail garden.

Red, White and Blue Mojito

8-12 fresh mint leaves
1 ounce simple syrup
3-4 blueberries
3-4 strawberries
3-4 raspberries
1 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
Ice, crushed
2 ounces light white rum
Soda water
Mint sprigs and/or sugarcane to garnish

Muddle mint, syrup, berries and juice in cocktail shaker. Add ice and rum. Shake well until ice reduces by one-third in size. Add more ice, stirring until shaker begins to frost. Pour into pint glass. Add splash of soda water and stir once more. Add mint and/or sugarcane garnish. Sugarcane makes a great stirrer.

For kumquat mojito, substitute berries with 3-5 halved kumquats

Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar (some prefer demerara sugar)
1 cup water

Bring sugar and water just to boil, reduce heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove, bottle, cool and refrigerate. Demerara sugar may alter the color of your cocktail. Some prefer sweeter syrup, using  2 cups sugar to 1 cup water.


Fun and interesting glassware will enhance your home cocktail presentation. Some cocktails are traditionally served in specific types of glassware.

• When using whole ice cubes for cocktails, freeze appropriate herb leaves or fruit pieces in ice cube trays filled with water or juice ahead of time. Added to a cocktail, they will add flavor and visual pizazz.

• Garnish with edible flowers such as nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), strawberry flowers (Fragaria x ananassa or F. virginiana) and okra flowers (Abelmoschus esculentus).

• Flavor your own liquors by adding ingredients from your garden; examples include spicy vodka or tequila, mint-infused rum, and kumquat and ginger-infused vodka.

• If you are lucky enough to have chickens in your garden or farm, make haste to collect some farm-fresh eggs. Homegrown egg whites in a properly shaken Ramos gin fizz can make this classic cocktail smooth and frothy.

• Learn to muddle! Commonly made of wood, a muddler looks similar to a pestle used to mix spices or herbs in a mortar. Techniques vary, but muddling usually consists of pushing and twisting ingredients into the bottom of a cocktail glass, usually before the liquor is added, to extract fragrant and tasty oils from the leaves or skins of fruits and herbs.

• Make use of local honey for cocktails by heating 1 cup of honey and 1 cup of distilled water to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat, thicken, remove from heat, bottle, cool, cap with tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.

The Gardener’s Reward Bloody Mary



Blend vegetables and sugar in a blender, juicer or food processer until smooth. Strain the mixture through a colander to remove solids. Transfer to pitcher. Add horseradish, juices, sauces and peppers. Stir. Add salt or salt substitute to taste. Prepare each drink separately. Fill cocktail shaker with mixture. Add vodka, tequila or gin. Shake. Pour into tall glass filled with ice. Garnish with dried oregano, pickled okra, pickles, hot peppers, celery, pickled green beans or olives to taste. A meal in itself, chock full of wholesome garden goodness!


Garden-harvested veggies (be creative):
4-5 pounds ripe tomatoes to make 1 quart of juice
1 large Vidalia onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper
2-3 carrots
3 stalks celery
4 fresh hot peppers (seeded optional, depending on heat desired)
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons horseradish
⅓ cup lemon juice
⅓ cup lime juice
1½ teaspoons hot pepper sauce (or to heat preference)
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1½ teaspoons dried cayenne pepper or habanero (to heat preference)
1 tablespoon salt or salt substitute
1½ -2 ounces vodka, gin or tequila (optional)
1 tablespoon dried oregano (optional)
Celery stalks, cucumbers, pickled green beans and okra, etc. for garnish (optional)


A version of this article appeared in a May 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Richelle Stafne and ©


Posted: 06/02/17   RSS | Print


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