Creating A Cocktail Hour Garden

– Posted in: Garden Design

Cocktail Hour Garden

Flowers and foliage that are white are especially noticeable as the sun goes down.

Written by Guest Contributor, C.L. Fornari

“It has been a difficult week. Your boss has been extremely difficult, or your clients self-centered, and your mother/best friend/spouse is clueless about how to support you. Maybe your furnace or A.C. has suddenly quit, the basement flooded, or your kids have decided that everything that they liked last week is “gross” now.

Choose any or all of the above, and you’ve got life, right? Fortunately, you’ve also got a garden. You have cultivated places where you can decompress and connect with the natural world, be it in the morning with a cup of coffee or in the evening with a cocktail. Take a deep breath, look at the colorful flowers, inhale nature’s perfume, hear the birds calling, pick something organic and crunchy as an off-the-vine hors d’oeuvre and relax.

Actaea brunette

When Actaea ‘Brunette’ is in bloom, your evening and morning garden will be filled with a delightful, stop-in-your-tracks fragrance.

Whether you have a balcony, a condo patio or a large yard and garden, you’ve got stress reduction in your own yard. All you need is the right plants, some advance planning, and a place to sit down and take in the natural world. It’s aromatherapy, an organic retreat and home-sweet-home all rolled into one cocktail party among the plants.

When designing a cocktail hour garden, your party venue shall we say which you might decide to look into cincinnati tent rentals for, start with what you have and where you are. Spend a few evenings sitting there, looking at where the sunlight falls and noticing which plants look terrific and those that speak to your heart. Make note of plants that are no longer bringing anything to the party…for these, it’s OK to say. “Thanks for coming. Bye!”

fornari_backlit_king_tut.jpg- #3

The long stemmed, fine flowers on a King Tut papyrus add motion and drama to any garden, making it one of my favorite guests in the summer garden.

Once you decide to create an outdoor room, notice where you can add plants and place furniture. Using plants with fine textures such as grasses is ideal for areas where the setting sun will illuminate that foliage. In the evening garden, flowers that are fragrant from sundown to sunup are also prized, and white blooms or silver foliage are most noticeable as the sky darkens.

You’ll want assorted places to sit in your outdoor retreat. A bench here, and chairs there will be appreciated so that you can move out of or into the sun. And if you plan on entertaining friends or family in these gardens you’ll want enough seating for several people.

Once you have the basic plants and furnishings in place you can add an assortment of containers to the scheme. Pots of flowers, herbs and veggies will not only be decorative but provide ingredients for tea or cocktails as well as organic hor d’hoeuvres.

fornari_birdbath_roses.jpg- #4

The container rose garden provides a delightful fragrance and the shallow water draws in the birds on this back deck. The chairs and table provide a place for people to relax, decompress and enjoy the natural world.

When it comes to creating a garden and landscape, it’s easy to get sidetracked into a discussion of the process. You’ll read about the importance of adding compost, when to dig in the compost, and how to make the compost, for example. If you end up getting interested in such processes then there are any number of great books and websites to guide you. But in my experience and opinion, what’s important to focus on is your vision of how you want your environment to look and function.

Do you want fragrant herbs to sooth you after a particularly tough week? Are you dreaming of picking organic cocktail ingredients and mixing up some creative beverages for family and friends? Perhaps you’re in need of fragrant flowers and birdsong at the end of the day. Here are some specific suggestions of plants you might want to invite to your garden party.

Invite this plant for fragrance:

Brunette bugbane (Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’) Zones 3-8

This perennial plant arrives in a suitably dark outfit that can pass for formal attire in any flowerbed. And you’ve heard the saying that you can’t be too rich or too thin? Well I don’t know how much ‘Brunette’ has in the bank, but the skinny nature of its stems is definitely desirable in the garden. The tall, thin flower spikes don’t dominate or shadow other plants and they allow a view of the landscape beyond. In my garden these stems are also frequent perching places for small birds. Add to all of this the stop-in-your-tracks fragrance and you have a party guest that should be on nearly everyone’s invitation list.

Invite this plant for catching the rays of the setting sun:

King Tut papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) Zones 9-10

Most gardeners need to grow this Egyptian papyrus as an annual, and it’s absolutely worth planting every year. If you’re placing King Tut in a container, however, make sure it’s a large and heavy pot. This papyrus grows four to six feet tall in one summer and the explosion of hair-like, inflorescence rays on top of tall stems is dramatic, light-capturing and wind-catching. In other words, this plant brings what every party needs: drama, illumination and dance.

Invite this plant because it shines as the skies darken:

Lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Silver Bouquet’ and ‘Silver Shimmers’) Zone 3-8

Don’t you think that an elegant shade plant with silver foliage and sweet spring flowers deserves a better common name than lungwort? Never mind that wort derives from the old English word wyrt, which meant plant, and the German wurtiz, meaning root. And yes, wort often signifies that a plant was used medicinally, so clearly it was once thought that Pulmonaria had some value for the lungs. Nevertheless, when introducing these to others at your green hour gatherings, perhaps it’s best just to say, “And have you met Pulmonaria ‘Silver Bouquet’?”

Invite this plant for food and drink:

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) Zones 9-10

Unfortunately, people have come to associate lemon grass with a scent used in spa candles and soaps, not a real herb. Of course you know that in Thai cuisine this is a must-grow plant for flavoring, but did you know that it’s a member of the sugar cane family? One of the traditional medicinal plants in several countries, this grass is also just plain attractive in the garden or in a pot. Use it to flavor liquids, muddle it in a glass, or chop the interior, tender parts for cooking. But here’s another idea: how about using the stems for swizzle sticks?

Whether you choose these plants for your cocktail hour garden or others, here’s what I know to be true…a soothing environment, reconnections with nature, and a relaxing time with family and friends can all be cultivated in your own backyard.”

I’m delighted to welcome C.L. Fornari as a guest contributor to Gardening Gone Wild. She is the author of The Cocktail Hour Garden and Coffee for Roses. She hosts two radio programs every Saturday and can be found online at






Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
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Leave a Comment

HEATHER May 15, 2016, 12:56 pm

THANKS for the ideas! I’m about to move to a new house and large garden so appreciate the ideas. Great perspective to aim for a beautiful cocktail garden – when my workday is done, that’s when I’m in the garden.

Martina June 28, 2016, 5:26 pm

Great article! The garden is always the first place I like to go to relax after a long day. Thank you for the wonderful cocktail garden design ideas.

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