Bottle Trees Blooming Everywhere!
Rooted in Southern tradition, these handcrafted "trees" now jazz up landscapes from coast to coast.
By Kathleen Zimmer-Anderson, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Bottles bloom in Gloria Garwood's flower bed in Salt Lake City, Utah. The "tree" is made of iron and anchored in cement.
One of Gloria Garwood's favorite garden features is a special tree she "planted" about 6 years ago. It hasn't grown an inch and never leafs out—but this branched beauty glows with color all year long. It's a "bottle tree" made of iron, with graceful branches that hold luminous green, blue, white and red glass bottles.
"People driving down the street have actually stopped and admired it," Gloria says from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah. "I truly love how it brightens our yard, especially during the dreary winter months."
Gloria first came across a bottle tree during a trip to California.
"We were driving along, and I happened to see an assortment of colored glass bottles hanging from a tree branch," she recalls. "I loved the look, but kind of filed it away in the back of my mind for years. Eventually, I decided to figure out how to reproduce a bottle tree for our yard, knowing I'd need to make something very sturdy and secure that would stand up to cold weather."
Putting her ideas down on paper and sketching out a plan, Gloria shared her design idea with a friend who was a welder by profession. The end result was a graceful iron tree-like form that Gloria and her husband anchored in cement in a flower bed near their home.
"I didn't have enough bottles for all of the branches on my 'tree' at first," she says. "I was pleasantly surprised when friends began to supply more as time went on. They knew I was interested in large, colorful glass versions and eventually provided enough so that I could fill the tree."
While bottle trees are a relatively new way to accent yards for the rest of the country, they've long dotted the landscape in the Deep South.
Following the Southern tradition of using an actual tree to hold bottles, Don Drane of Madison, Mississippi formed his from a 15-foot section of a blown-down, 100-year-old cypress. To create his "branches" for the barkless trunk, he drilled holes in the tree, cut lengths of 3/8-inch PVC pipe, spray-painted the pieces to match the wood and inserted them in the holes. The last step involved tracking down colorful bottles, a process that took some time. "I looked all over the place," he says.
"The trunk itself is anchored in concrete and proved sturdy enough to weather Hurricane Katrina without losing a bottle." adds Don. "The tree has taken on its own personality and is like a part of our family."
Dudley Pleasants, a Mississippi Delta artist just north in Greenwood, remembers the bottle-filled trees in yards when he was a boy.
"They were pretty common back then," he says. "My wife asked me to make her one about 10 years ago. I forged ours out of iron; then, friends started asking me to make trees for them. It wasn't long before my hobby turned into a business."
Today, Dudley and friend John Sabin operate The Bottle Tree Man, a growing business that offers one-of-a-kind bottle trees, bottle bushes and bottle fences to customers across the country. They range from $70 for a small "bottle bush" frame to $225 for a full tree with the optional, colorful bottles.
"Each item we make is handcrafted in free-form fashion from cold-roll steel," Dudley says. "Our designs all include pipes that are inserted in the ground in order to hold the trees firmly in place. The trunk fits into the pipe and even turns with the wind.
"Bottle trees are virtually maintenance-free and add a touch of whimsy and color to any kind of a garden," he says. "And, you can count on them to always be in bloom!"
Bottle Trees Roots Start with African Folklore
The concept of bottle trees originated in the Congo, where legend has it that colored bottles on the branches of live trees attract evil spirits. It is said the spirits find the jewel-toned containers so appealing, they slip inside and are trapped, protecting the people who live and work nearby. Often, the wind elicits soft moans from the bottles...the sounds of the spirits wailing.
Centuries ago, slaves carried this folk tradition with them to the U.S. and often decorated trees with bottles. These "bottle trees" were a common sight across the Southern landscape.
The end of slavery and the rise of mechanized farming in the 1900s led to the disappearance of bottle trees for many years. The resurgence of the trees in recent years has fanned out from the Deep South and taken on new forms.
"I was 'reintroduced' to the idea at a party I attended with my wife," says Dudley Pleasants, bottle tree crafter and co-owner of The Bottle Tree Man. "Instead of using a tree, the hostess had topped the posts of a fence around her yard with bottles. When partner John Sabin and I started our business, we quickly expanded it to include fences and smaller bushes, as well as the popular full-grown bottle trees."