Garden party: grow your own cocktails

Grow our own vegetables, Gordon? Make mine a large one
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Should you fancy putting your garden plants to good use, take note: tequila is distilled from agaves; absinthe from artemisia; and gin from juniper.

If you’re still standing, you could make your own wine, too, provided you choose an appropriate grape, such as Madeleine Sylvaner, Russian hybrid Tereshkova, or, from Italy, Fragola, which carries the aroma of strawberries.

You can also steep damsons in sugar and gin, make cassis from blackcurrants bottled in brandy for weeks on end, or make a rocking eau-de-vie, Provence style, by steeping cherries, grapes or berries in vodka and castor sugar for at least 60 days.

Sensational summer drinks

More immediate, however, is to grow all kinds of ingredients that make summer drinks, from cordials to cocktails, sensational.

For sublime Strawberry champagne is easy, puree a few berries, drop into a champagne glass and add bubbly. Garden writer Sarah Raven includes a sugar lump, a dash of Angostura Bitters and some mushed-up alpine strawberries in each glass for her champagne cocktail.

Blue borage is easy to grow and is essential for Pimms
© Gap Photos/Rob Whitworth
Blue borage is easy to grow and is essential for Pimms
Pimms, of course, makes a grand excuse to throw in half the herbaceous border. Blue borage flowers are key — grow them from seed, along with super-smart white borage. Pull out the dark stamen and pistils in their centres and freeze the flowers in ice cubes to plop into all kinds of summer drinks.

Cucumbers are the other must-haves for Pimms. You don’t need a hothouse to grow masses of small, crunchy Passandra cucumbers; I buy them as young plants every spring from Suttons, plant them in the ground, and come July, masses of fruits are dangling from the trailing stems. Add a thin lengthways slice, along with a few sprigs of variegated fruity-scented pineapple mint and lemon balm, for Pimms with a plus.

Bellinis are best, of course, when made with fresh fruit. Crush fresh garden peaches — Peregrine is the white-fleshed variety that will happily grow in containers — and add Prosecco, the fizzy Italian wine.

Nigella’s more exotic version is Pomegranate Bellini: one part chilled pomegranate puree to three or four parts chilled Prosecco. The pomegranate tree, Punica granatum, with its dainty, burnished leaves and striking hot-orange flowers, makes a beautiful small tree for the London garden; if you doubt that it will fruit, take a look at the Chelsea Physic Garden’s ancient tree.

Sun-warmed peaches make superb Bellinis
© GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley
Sun-warmed peaches make superb Bellinis
Another equally exotic fruit that will thrive in a sunny spot against wall or fence is the kiwi and yes, naturally, Nigella has a cocktail for that, too: her Kiwitini is an eye-smarting mix of chilled vodka, dry Martini and kiwi fruit, all blended into a velvety green puree. Martini glass essential.

Imagine a Bloody Mary made from your own ingredients: blitzed dusky Black Krim tomato, a twist of thyme, plus a scraping of seeds from a high-voltage chilli pepper such as Demon Red. Instead of humdrum celery, garnish with a leaf of Mustard Osaka Purple, which tastes just like roast beef and horseradish, and a flower or two of spicy Nasturtium Black Velvet, a dark and sumptuous shade of claret.

Mint is a must; pineapple mint for Pimms, punches and Sangria, and garden or Moroccan mint for gimlets, vodka and lime cordial.

Use four sprigs for a long, cool glass of Southern Mint Julep, according to legendary Savoy bartender Harry Craddock, who wrote down the definitive recipe in The Savoy Cocktail Book, in the Thirties. You crush the mint leaves with half a tablespoon of icing sugar and add a glass of Bourbon Rye or Canadian Club whisky. Fill the glass with ice and stir until the glass is frosted, then top with three sprigs of mint.

I like Craddock’s Champagne Julep: add one sugar lump and two sprigs of mint to a long tumbler of champagne. Stir gently and decorate with fruit.

Nasturtium Black Velvet makes a sumptuous addition to Bloody Marys
© GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley
Nasturtium Black Velvet makes a sumptuous addition to Bloody Marys
Include a citrus bush or two in your cocktail garden, keeping it under glass over winter, and pulling it on to the patio in summer. Key Lime is the ideal variety for G & Ts as well as Carrie & Co’s Cosmopolitans (along with vodka, cranberry juice and Triple Sec).

Lemon trees Four Seasons, Genoa and Meyer will all flower and fruit through the year, and make superb home-made lemonade with the addition of sparkling water and castor sugar. Throw in a handful of freshly picked raspberries for pink lemonade.

Grow lemon grass, too, and you can make Sarah Raven’s lemon grass cordial from lemon grass sticks, three large lemons, sugar and fresh root ginger.

How fabulous to accompany your cocktails and cordials with home-grown olives. Many olive trees grown in sheltered London gardens bear fruit, but you then need to cure them, changing the water daily for several days, before marinading them in herbs and olive oil. The best things are worth waiting for.

Where to find cocktail garden staples

# Reads Nursery: for pomegranate trees, citrus, kiwi, peaches and grapevines (01508 548395;
# Jekka’s Herb Farm: for organic herbs, including Moroccan and pineapple mint, lemon grass and thyme, and for seeds of Nasturtium Black Velvet and borage (01454 418878;
# Suttons: for Passandra cucumber plants and Demon Red chilli pepper seeds (0844 922 0606;
# Sarah Raven: for Mustard Osaka Purple and Black Krim tomato seeds (0844 884 6474;

Garden cocktail recipes for you to try at home

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