Kitchen windowsills or sunny spots on worktops and dining tables are the ideal places for edible houseplants, especially when growing crops that can be used as soon as they are picked. Culinary herbs are an obvious choice, but for something a little different, grow garnishes and flavourings for a home-grown cocktail party.
The Botanical Collection
For gin cocktails, use herbs with flavours that will complement the botanicals of the spirit. Robust and punchy-flavoured plants, such as the Greek lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum) or lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus), lemon verbena (Aloysia citradora) and rose-scented pelargonium (Pelargonium “Attar of Roses” is an excellent choice), will all grow well on a sunny windowsill.
The Pimm’s Garnish Collection
If you have space, try planting these together in one large planter. Dwarf cucumber plants (varieties suitable for pots or labelled as “dwarf”) or cucamelons can climb up supports or trail over the edge. Borage will grow tall; pinch out the growing tips of young plants to create a bushy rather than tall plant. Alpine strawberries will cover the rest of the pot to complete the garnish.
For a mojito or other long drink, mint is hard to beat. Virtually indestructible, it is easy to propagate by putting a stem in water until it sprouts roots. Even better, there are so many varieties, such as pineapple mint, strawberry mint and chocolate peppermint, not to mention the basic peppermint and spearmint.
Ginger leaves can be used like mint, and it also makes a great houseplant for a sunny, warm spot. It can be grown from an organic root, bought from a supermarket or food market; plant in a shallow tray until it sprouts, then pot on. See below for more detailed instructions.
It is easy to grow ginger from “roots”, technically rhizomes bought from a supermarket. Use the plumpest, freshest-looking roots. Organic ones are preferable because commercial growth inhibitors are sometimes used on non-organic roots which can stop them sprouting once planted. You may find there are already some swollen buds visible.
Plant in a shallow pot in multipurpose compost, so that the root is about half submerged in the compost. Keep the compost moist and the container in a hot place (ideally 25 to 28 C). Shoots should sprout from the root. Once it is established in the shallow pot, it can be potted up to a larger one. In the autumn, cut back the old stems as they die.
Planting a Windowsill Cocktail Garden
All these collections will be fine planted in multipurpose compost. Plant either singly in an array of pots or all together in one window box or large trough planter. Prepare a small wigwam of canes or cucamelon to climb up and secure the plant to one of them; otherwise, let it trail over the side. Wayward stems can be snipped off.
Water as required, and feed throughout spring and summer. Regular picking will keep most herbs to size. When mint becomes pot-bound (i.e. the roots have filled the pot, leaving no room for them to expand), divide the plant into two or three new plants and pot up individually.
Also known as sweet or common basil, this aromatic annual has bright green leaves, and tiny pink or white flowers swirled around a short spike. The flower heads should be pinched out to encourage the growth of the edible leaves. Not only ideal as an addition to cocktails, but it also has many culinary uses including pasta sauces and lasagna. It is easy to grow from seed and prefers warmth and light, well-drained soil. Its origins are unknown but is thought to be from Asia. Be aware, that it is not recommended that pregnant women or small children consume basil oil.
This is a lemon-scented evergreen plant, whose fragrance can be released by rubbing its leaves. It sits happily with other plants but requires some cutting back regularly to ensure it does not overwhelm them. During summer, it produces pretty lilac flowers and would be ideal on a sunny windowsill. The tiny leaves can be harvested regularly and either used straight away or dried, for future use. Not only perfect for adding a lemon essence to a cocktail, but it can also be added as a seasoning to soups, salads, sauces and stews, and is ideal with fish dishes.
Also known as lemon verbena, this aromatic shrub can be deciduous or evergreen, and produces tiny white or pale lilac flowers. It originates from South America and is widely found in Chile and Argentina. It is easy to grow and prefers well-drained soil, with its container placed in a sunny position on the windowsill, as it is sensitive to cold. Its pointed leaves bruise easily to release the lemon fragrance and are slightly rough to the touch. Other than as a welcome addition to a cocktail, lemon verbena can be used to make a refreshing herbal tea or with fish.
Pelargonium “Attar of Roses”
Having strongly scented leaves, this shrub can be evergreen or perennial and has small clusters of pink flowers with five petals each. The rose fragranced foliage adds a nice to touch to summer cocktails, and the flowers, when cut, are long-lasting when displayed in a vase. The leaves also add a surprising floral edge to an apple and blackberry pie. The roots of the pelargonium can dry out very quickly, and need to be covered entirely with large volumes of compost, and regular watering is required. A high potash fertiliser can be useful during the summer months for growth.
Share Your Story
What’s your favourite cocktail? Have you ever thought of growing your own garnishes? Do you have any other suggestions as what to plant in a windowsill cocktail garden? I hope you enjoyed my article, and it has given you some ideas. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.