Lottie’s entrée in to the world of cocktails came about more or less by accident, when she was asked by the Brunel Museum to devise a nocturnal event for Museums at Night. Lottie’s idea of botanical cocktails around the fire in the community garden was an instant hit. “It was at the time of the Olympics, and although pop-ups and cocktails were trendy, no-one was doing botanicals – now they’re all the rage!” says Lottie. Her new career was born, but being a cocktail gardener isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be, “I don’t actually drink that much” admits Lottie, “and when I’m designing new cocktails, I have to stay sober so I can remember the recipe, so I just have a few sips and then test drive them on friends.” Lucky friends, say we.
Drawing on a lifetime’s experience of foraging – her mother was an avid gardener and the family were practically self-sufficient in food – Lottie grew up with the knowledge that hedgerows are full of free food. In London one of her favourite foraging haunts is Walthamstow Marshes, which according to Lottie have an incredible array of food, from walnuts to wild fennel, and wild cherries. “Rich pickings!”
As a professional gardener (she was top of her year at Capel Manor when she studied there), Lottie is well placed to advise would-be cocktail gardeners on the best botanicals to grow in a small London garden. “I would suggest growing things you can’t easily buy – chocolate mint, things like jasmine and honeysuckle (which make beautiful syrups), blackcurrant sage and pineapple sage, and then I would grow masses of fennel, and structural plants such as rosemary and lavender. If you don’t mind a wilder look, I’d also recommend angelica, lovage and alexanders.”
Although many botanicals are Mediterranean plants, with a corresponding love of sunshine and lots of drainage, Londoners who have shady gardens and heavy soil don’t have to miss out. For these situations, Lottie has found that “all the different kinds of mints, lemon verbena and lemon balm are quite happy in semi-shade, while Alpine strawberries and sweet woodruff are lovely to look at and really like the shade.” Oh, and they make a pretty mean cocktail ingredient too…
The Brunel Museum
Brunel Engine House, Railway Avenue, SE16 4LF