Each month here on ProvencePost, Gardening Guru James Clay dishes up great advice about two of his favorite subjects: gardening and drinking. This monthhe's all excited about datura--an amazing white shrub for the terrace--and one of his all-time favorite boissons, the classic margarita. "If the cocktail doesn't blow your house guests away," James reports, "then the plant most certainly will!"
(*Note to houseguests: Yes, datura is poisonous and yes, James makes a lethal margarita. But here James means blow you away in the 'you'll be delighted and amazed' sense...not in the 'what, you're leaving so soon?' sense or the 'oh dear, I've killed the houseguests again!' sense.*) Anyway, here he is...
It's fitting that the Romans brought so much to Provence that even the month of July was named, by Mark Anthony, in honor of Julius Caesar. I also note from my intense research (lasting all of eight minutes) that St. Julian is the Patron Saint of Travelers and Hospitality—something that we who live in Provence know a lot about. Well, we certainly know about the 'hospitality' side of things. If, like me, you have house guests coming and going, here are two items that I feel they should share with you during this month. They’ll love both.
As you have to admire the datura plant with a margarita in hand I suggest that you pop down to you local pépinière (nursery). The shrub (evergreen to semi-evergreen) I have in mind is really amazing, commonly named "Angels Trumpet" (not that I'm in a hurry to hear one of those). It’s also known as datura and for those who are fluent in Latin (and who isn't these days?), it’s the Brugmansia solanaceae. The specific variety I recommend, because it's hardy (meaning it’s tough and will come back next year like certain house guests), is suaveolens. It’s white, with hanging trumpet flowers (15-20cms/6-8 inches) that are very heavily scented and open only as the evening commences. In fact, usually at the cocktail hour! By morning they’re wilting but a new crop is always there for the first drink of the evening. Bees go crazy attempting to get into them as the flowers quickly open, so quickly that you can almost watch it happening if you have a mind to give them your attention for half an hour or so.
As we all know, beauty generally comes with some cost and in this case, it’s that the datura is rather poisonous, particularly the seeds. In fact, the whole thing could kill you if you ate it but then again it wouldn’t be on my list of favourite things to eat.
It’s not advised to plant datura if you have small children around or perhaps it’s ideal if you don’t want any around. I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Great--so far so good. You’ve found the datura and now you have to plant it up. It wants full sun and protection from the wind, as would you if, like this shrub, you were native to South America. The terrace is therefore a great place to plant it (plus, this allows you to view it from your lounger, which makes it almost ideal).
Datura can get quite big, up to two meters or more, so give it some space. I don’t recommend planting this variety in a pot. Once it’s up and running (not a gardening term I’ve ever heard but, hey, you get what I mean), water it well but only once a week. If you see it flagging when the weather gets super hot, water it some more.
Speaking of flagging and all that shopping and ‘planting up’ your fantastic new tropical shrub, it’s getting close to cocktail hour. On your way home from the garden center, you should swing by the store and pick up the following: one bottle of Tequila (Silver or Gold), one bottle of Cointreau (or Triple Sec) and at least a dozen fresh limes to make juice. Use Pulco Citron Vert if you can’t find fresh limes.
Yep, you’ve now got the ingredients for the Classic Margarita. Here’s the low down: three, two, one. (Math was not my favorite subject at school but those proportions you just can’t forget!) Here’s the recipe.
Three measures of tequila (ever noticed how close that word sounds to ‘to kill yer’--I’ll let you mull that one over); two measures of Cointreau ; and 1 measure of fresh lime juice (if using Pulco Citron Vert, make the proportion a half measure as it’s a concentrate). You have to have loads of ice: that way it lasts even longer and the melting ice will take some of the power out of what otherwise, even standing up, can become a major event. Crushed is best so either you have a fancy machine or you put the ice in a bag and smash it against something hard (preferably not your partner).
Now you’re all set. Wet the rim of a cocktail glass and lightly dip it into a plate of salt--the salt provides a nice sour/sweet contrast and has the effect of making you drink even more! Make up a pitcher-full; that way you won’t have to stagger back to the kitchen to make more.
Cocktail gardening is not quite as ridiculous as it may sound, particularly in July when the opportunities for actually planting are few. The 'cocktail hour' is also the perfect watering time for the pots on your terrace; at the end of the day, in the cool of the evening—and just like us--they too enjoy a good drink. I recommend that you water them very well every two to three days and not lightly every day…you will soon notice a difference. Enjoy July! It is, after-all, high summer and time to relax.