The Cocktail Hour Garden | Fresh Blueberry Cocktail Recipe

Designing a “cocktail hour garden” is a great way to elevate your relaxation and entertaining game from your own backyard. Here’s how, plus a fresh blueberry cocktail recipe that’s perfect for summer.

By C.L. Fornari

Aug 23 2016


Fresh Blueberry Cocktail

Photo Credit : C.L. Fornari

Gardener and author C.L. Fornari shares a little cocktail hour history, how to create the perfect cocktail hour garden, plus a fresh blueberry cocktail recipe from her new book, The Cocktail Garden (St. Lynn’s Press, 2016). 

Cocktail Hour Garden
The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

Some believe that the cocktail hour began in Paris, France, during the late 18th century. At that time it became customary to pause at the end of the workday for a glass of green absinthe, a highly alcoholic drink made from herbs. So many people looked forward to this daily practice that this period of the evening became known as l’heure vert, the green hour.

For New Englanders, the color green doesn’t bring absinthe to mind but has other positive associations. The Northeast is a verdant, green environment. Our parks and ball fields may be referred to as “the green.” And in the 21st century the word has also come to mean environmentally aware and responsible. But no matter which of the many definitions of the word we embrace, we can enjoy the green hour as a time to reconnect with the natural world.

Designing a cocktail hour garden starts with the realization that it’s beneficial to make a ritual of relaxation. Whether you’re pausing with a cup of tea, a glass of sparkling water or a cocktail, it’s important to put aside the digital devices keeping us constantly linked, and to appreciate the immediate that surrounds us. This setting doesn’t have to be large. A relaxing green hour garden can be created in sizable yards or on a small patio or balcony.

Whether growing in beds or containers, a cocktail hour garden should contain plants that appeal to the senses. For example, choose colors and textures that are backlit by the setting sun if your property is illuminated at sunset. Fine grasses will glow in the warm rays of the sinking sun and plants with red or yellow leaves and flowers come alive at that hour.

As the sun goes down, however, white becomes the most visible flower and foliage color. Including plants with white blooms or variegated leaves will create plantings that are perceptible before and after dark. Frequently, white flowers are also the most fragrant in the evening, so these can appeal to our sense of smell as well as sight.

As the sun goes down, however, white becomes the most visible flower and foliage color.
As the sun goes down, however, white becomes the most visible flower and foliage color.
Photo Credit : C.L. Fornari

Every evening garden should include some herbs or other edibles. These can be used as hors d’oeuvres, beverage ingredients or simply for aromatherapy. In larger New England gardens, blueberries are especially prized. (Blueberry cocktail recipe below.) Sungold cherry tomatoes are easy, ornamental, and very productive; many swear that their sweetness and flavor leave every other small tomato in the dust.

Most green hour gardens should contain two or three varieties of mint. Since this plant wants to take over your yard on its way to total world domination, grow mints in pots or boxes. Make sure those containers aren’t sitting directly on the soil so they don’t root inadvertently. Whether used in a beverage or in bouquets, mint brings refreshment from spring through the fall.

Herb leaves and edible flower petals can be frozen in ice cubes.
Herb leaves and edible flower petals can be frozen in ice cubes for a lovely presentation.
Photo Credit : C.L. Fornari

Mint and flowers can also be preserved so that we’re able to sip some New England summer magic later in the year. Herb leaves and edible flower petals can be frozen in ice cubes. Serve these in future green hours or for special occasions such as family gatherings or bridal showers. Roses, nasturtiums, marigold and phlox flowers are all edible and lovely when encased in ice. Place a few petals or sprigs of mint in an ice cube tray and fill to 3/4 full; the flowers and leaves will float on the top. Once these are frozen, add water to cover and fully surround the colorful clippings with ice.

Whether you serve homegrown berries, herbs or flowers with your evening beverages, or just sit quietly in the garden, the important part of the ritual is not the drink but the practice of relaxing in the outdoors. Reconnect with friends, family, wildlife or yourself, and enjoy the natural world. I propose a toast to the green hour!

Blueberry Cocktail
Fresh Blueberry Cocktail
Photo Credit : C.L. Fornari


For each drink:
2 oz vodka
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar
10 fresh blueberries plus one for garnish
Two springs of fresh mint

Muddle the blueberries in a mason jar with one sprig of the mint. Add the lemon juice, vodka, agave nectar and three ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with one whole blueberry and a sprig of mint. This is a tart version of the drink; those who prefer a sweeter beverage can double the amount of agave nectar.

C.L. Fornari is the author of The Cocktail Hour Garden (St. Lynn’s Press, 2016) and several other books. She hosts gardening programs on WXTK and WRKO and gardens on Poison Ivy Acres on Cape Cod.

See more of C.L.’s garden: The Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival