A Tale of Two Gardens

A Whitehorse friend recently told me about a useful book called The Gin and Tonic Gardener, by Janice Wells, a gardener and newspaper columnist in St. John’s, whose thesis is there is no gardening problem so large that it cannot be solved by a gin and tonic in a deck chair. Gardens, she posits, should be enjoyed, not slaved in.

For those blessed with a blighted thumb, whose yards are a confusion of dandelions, pineapple weed, and thigh-high grasses, this is a thesis to get behind. But even we gardening philistines require a modicum of atmosphere in which to enjoy the evening cocktail.

A couple of weeks ago I decided the wind-raked deck, empty terracotta pots, and raised beds devoid of living matter in my yard were not doing the trick. In a three-day frenzy my faithful retainer and I planted four trees and several trays of flowering plants and voila: instant garden.

I invited the girlfriends over to celebrate. The south wind howled, the storm clouds gathered and dispersed, and we alternately baked and froze, but damned if we were moving inside; I had a new garden and we were going to enjoy it.

We did so with a suitable cocktail, of course: a searing, ginbased sour that burned and froze at the same time — perfect for a new Northern garden on a raw June night.

A week later and my faithful retainer and I were on Vancouver Island, visiting Parksville, where the land is lush, the clematis flowers are the size of an outstretched hand, and the poppies could hold a half-litre of gin within their papery walls. Flowers bloom and bloom again. Vegetables flourish. My sister and brother-in-law, whose thumbs are stained a deep green, eat from their garden all year round.

In the potting room, there is another kind of garden: shelves lined three-deep with bitters, homemade syrups, and a finely curated selection of spirits and liqueurs. My brother-in-law takes cocktails as seriously as gardening.

One night, while hummingbirds darted and goldfinches sang, we sat under the deepening sky and sipped Mai Tais. These were not the Mai Tais of my youth, heavily grenadined and sickly sweet, but subtle, creamy, and fragrant with tropical flavours.

The nighthawks whirred above, and we were transported to a different country: the Tropic of Parksville. 

Tropic of Parksville Mai Tai

Both the Mai Tai and Orgeat Syrup recipes are adapted from Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails.

1 lime wedge

1 ½ oz. Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaica Rum

½ oz. Bacardi 151 percent Rum

½ oz. Cointreau

¾ oz. orgeat syrup

dash Angostura bitters

Garnish: mint sprig

Squeeze lime wedge and drop it into the shaker. Add remaining ingredients and short shake with 3 ice cubes. Pour into a big red wine glass over crushed ice and garnish with a fat sprig of mint. Serve with a straw.

Orgeat Syrup

This two-part recipe starts with Toasted Almond Milk.

Toasted Almond Milk

1 cup (250 mL) blanched sliced almonds

510 mL warm water

METHOD: Toast almonds in a 300 F oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add water and pulse until almonds are finely chopped, then blend for 2 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth into a clean 1-litre jar. Will keep for one month.

Makes about 1 ½ cups (375 mL)


1-½ cups (375 mL) toasted almond milk

2 cups (480 mL) berry sugar

2-½ tsp. (12.5 mL) Courvoisier V.S. cognac

2-½ tsp. (12.5 mL) Amaretto Disaronno

¼ tsp. (1.2 mL) rosewater

METHOD: Combine almond milk and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over medium low heat until sugar is dissolved, without bringing to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Strickland Street Sour

Adapted from the San Miguel cocktail at Ocho Tapas Bar & Restaurant in Seattle.

1 ½ oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin

1 oz. St-Germain Elderfl ower Liqueur

¾ oz. lemon juice

1 tsp. (5 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch Syrup

2 dashes rhubarb bitters birch leaf for garnish

Shake vigorously over three large ice cubes for a slow count of 10. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with birch leaf. 

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