Capitalizing on cocktails

Departments - Retail Revival | Store improvement tips from the Garden Lady

Use “the green hour” to promote plants and products.

February 3, 2020

Cocktail events are a great way to showcase how herbs or edible flowers from your garden center can make a splash at social gatherings.

The cocktail hour originated in Paris in the 19th century with the popularization of the herbal spirit absinthe. This emerald colored spirit was created from the herb wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and it was so well-liked that the period after work but before dinner became known as “the green hour.”

Although absinthe is no longer very fashionable, there is a resurgence in the popularity of cocktails. It seems only fitting that those in the green industry should take advantage of the green hour. From holding evening events to using cocktails to promote the sale of plants, there are many opportunities for garden centers. Customers can be reminded about plants that will provide them with beverage ingredients and relaxing environments for evening gardens. We have many opportunities to use the cocktail hour to promote sales, and here are a few suggestions.

Cocktail ingredients


Customers can be reminded about plants that will provide them with beverage ingredients and relaxing environments for evening gardens. We have many opportunities to use the cocktail hour to promote sales, and here are a few suggestions.

Cocktail ingredients

Be they herbs or edible flowers, there are cocktail ingredients to be found throughout your garden center. The usual mints are perennial favorites for beverages of course. Display these near a selection of colorful ceramic pots with the suggestion that they be contained instead of allowed to take over gardens. This presents an opportunity for cross-merchandising and add-on sales while offering control of a known garden thug.

Other herbs such as parsley, basil and lemon verbena aren’t as well known as beverage ingredients but are trendy in drinks right now. Find some recipes for using these in cocktails and mocktails and make these available near the herb section.

Edible flowers such as sunflowers, calendula and borage can add color and flavor to beverages. Encourage customers to think about including these in gardens and containers for use as garnishes. Remind them that a lavender stem can be placed in a tall glass and used for a swizzle stick as well as an adornment.

Demonstration gardens

If you have display space, group nursery stock and perennials around furniture and fire pits to create a model cocktail hour garden. Use plants that have fragrant flowers or foliage to enhance the experience of being outside at dusk. Variegated shrubs, or those with white flowers are especially visible as the sun goes down, so include them as well. Be sure your signage points out why the plants used would be desirable in the evening landscape.



Cocktail hour events can be held in your store or near your demonstration gardens. If you’re serving alcoholic beverages, check town ordinances to be sure you’re in compliance. Some garden centers partner with a local liquor store or caterer so that experienced bartenders are on hand. Be sure to charge for special events and require advance registration so that there will be enough food and snacks and the numbers can be controlled.

On the other hand, some garden centers offer a set cocktail night or happy hour every week and invite the public to drop in without registering. In either case, plan to provide inspiration and information along with the refreshments.

Demonstrate how edible flowers can be used to create lovely, natural colors in cocktails. For example, putting nasturtium flowers in a shaker along with ice cubes and your drink ingredients will tint cocktails peach or coral. Shake vigorously, strain and garnish with a fresh nasturtium flower or bud.

Give after-hours walking tours of your garden center, pointing out special plants and providing tastes of unusual beverages. Offer tastes of a beetini (a martini made with fresh beet juice) or a Kale Collins (a Tom Collins made with kale juice), to name just two. Many recipes for vegetable-based cocktails can be found online.

Blog content

Take advantage of the research and planning you’ve done to provide content for your website, blog and social media. Take photos of all plants recommended and beverages prepared. Post recipes and plant lists online and use the same descriptions you’ve placed on your signage to provide content for your blog. Don’t post all cocktail information at once but separate out the plants and topics over time. This also serves to increase traffic to your website since search engines reward sites that update content frequently.

As we look to attract younger customers — of legal drinking age, of course — using the cocktail hour is one way to do so. This was driven home to me recently when an early 30-something professional woman said to me, “If you want to attract people of my generation to an event, you need to offer alcohol and information.” So this spring and summer, plan ways that your IGC can toast the cocktail hour. Cheers!

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at