You could never call British summers reliable but that mix of sporadic sunshine and smatterings of showers does make the well-tended British garden unbeatably lush and pretty. The perfect place to share a few fizzy tipples with friends on those fortunate occasions when the evenings are long, warm and dry.
The same garden can also double up as an extension of your cocktail cabinet: plant the right ingredients and you'll be able to whip up some fresh, home-grown cocktails for your garden party guests with an added twist of "Yes actually, I did make all the flavours myself!"
We asked Lottie Muir, aka The Cocktail Gardener and author of The Wild Cocktail, about the best foliage-based aperitifs that will keep everyone rosy-cheeked well after the sun has set. So take a look at our three recipes – seductively illustrated by Kate Cronk of Papier design studio Peggy & Kate – and start growing! (Just be aware of your smug smile when that sweet home-made nectar touches your lips.)
As well as being very dramatic, the syrup is very high in vitamin C.
To begin with you'll need to make the Wild Hibiscus Syrup. Add equal volumes of dried wild hibiscus flowers, sugar, and water — for example, 200g of flowers, 200g of caster sugar, and 200g of water — to a non-reactive pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let the ingredients steep for 20 minutes. Strain and keep the flower as a garnish.
Then, put 4 wedges of lime, 3 whole blackcurrant leaves, and the sugar in a glass, and lightly crush together. Add the Wild Hibiscus Syrup. Half-fill the glass with ice. Add the rum, the remaining 2 lime wedges, and the 2 finely sliced blackcurrant leaves. Top with soda water and serve with a stirring rod (straw or spoon if not!). Garnish with the sprig of blackcurrant sage flowers and blackcurrant leaves. You could add a hollyhock flower, too.
For this one, you'll need to make some lavender gin. Place fresh or dried lavender blossoms in a 1-litre wide-mouthed, sealable, sterilised jar. Then pour in a 1-litre bottle of floral gin such as Jensen Old Tom.
Seal the jar, upend it gently a couple of times, and place somewhere dark at room temperature. Leave for 5–8 hours, testing after 5 hours, then every hour to make sure there is no bitterness emerging. (To speed things up, heat the lavender gently in a pan with half the gin. As soon as it reaches boiling point, take off the heat, let cool, and add the remaining gin.)
Strain the infusion into the sterilized presentation bottle, seal, and store in a cool, dark place. Both methods will result in a gin with a pinkish-purple hue.
Then you need to make the honey simple syrup. Simply combine equal parts honey and water, and heat until the honey is thoroughly dissolved to give a delicious floral simple syrup.
Once you have your lavender gin, add all the Bee's Knees cocktail ingredients to the cocktail shaker and fill it two-thirds of the way up with ice. Cover and shake hard for 20 seconds, then strain the contents of the shaker into the glass. Garnish with the sprig of lavender.
Firstly, you'll need to gather about 20 large elderflower heads to make an elderflower liqueur. Shake the elderflower heads free of unwanted wildlife but do not wash them. Place them (make sure you've removed all leaves, stalks and creepy crawlies) in a 1-litre wide-mouthed, sealable, sterilised jar and compress slightly with your hand. Add 100g of caster sugar, followed by 1-litre of vodka — adding the sugar at this stage helps to draw out the flavor of the elderflowers. Place thin slices of an unwaxed lemon on top of the flowers to weigh them down — you really don’t want the flowers to oxidize by rising above the surface of the alcohol. If the lemon slices don’t do the trick, add a small plate or a lid that fits snugly in the jar.
Seal the jar and store in a cool, dark place for a month. Upend it gently a couple of times during the month, to make sure the sugar has dissolved. After 1 month, strain the liquid twice into a wide-mouthed pitcher, first through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the flower debris, then through a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth to catch the minute particles, so that the liqueur is not cloudy. Store somewhere cool and dark. Once opened, keep in the refrigerator and consume within 6 months.
"Use a tall, thin glass, so you can wedge the flower garnishes between the ice and the side of the glass."
While that's storing you can make some Rose Petal Syrup. Take 6 handfuls of pink and/or red rose petals and snip off the bitter white tip at the base of each petal — it’s a little awkward to do but worth it. Alternatively, when picking the petals from the rosebush, pull the petals in a clump with one hand and snip the base off in one go with the other.
Loosely pack the petals in a non-reactive bowl and add about 400g of caster sugar. Gently massage the sugar into the petals to bruise them and start the maceration. Cover with a clean dishtowel and leave overnight or up to 12 hours.
Lottie first created this cocktail for the Chelsea Fringe — the alternative to the more famous Chelsea Flower Show
You should return to a gooey mess, where the petals have shrunk and the sugar has extracted some colour and flavour out of them. Tip this sugar and petal mix into a non-reactive pan, add 800g of caster sugar, 750ml of water, half the zest of an unwaxed orange, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, and gently bring to a boil. You will notice that the colour transfers from the petals into the liquid. Let simmer for 5 minutes or until you have a thick, unctuous syrup. Let the syrup cool. Strain it into a wide-mouthed pitcher, then funnel into a sterilised presentation bottle and seal. You can store the syrup in the refrigerator for well over a month.
Then, mixing the cocktail! Fill the glass with ice. Tuck some wild strawberries, fennel fronds, the lavender sprig, borage flowers, and a few dianthus petals in amongst the ice cubes, sandwiched against the glass, for maximum visual impact. Save a few borage flowers for the final garnish.
Add the gin, Elderflower Liqueur, Rose Petal Syrup, orange bitters, and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. Fill it two-thirds full with ice, cover, and shake hard for 20 seconds. Strain the mixture into the chilled glass over the ice. Garnish with the lemon twist and remaining flowers using the tweezers or small tongs, then top with the soda water. (It's important to add the garnish before the soda water, otherwise you will push the soda water out of the glass.) Use a pipette or the top of a barspoon to drop the cassis to the bottom of the glass to create a colour contrast (optional).
Wild Cocktails by Lottie Muir is published by CICO Books and retails at the very generous price of £16.99