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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Bottle Tree: A Colorful Southern tradition

Last year we made a bottle tree here at Hacienda Edwards. This is an old Southern tradition of "planting" colored glass bottles on the ends of stakes made of rebar, wooden dowel rods, scrap lumber, or even fancy wrought iron structures specially fabricated for the purpose.

The bottle tree's history is a bit murky. It's said they originated with African slaves, but I've also read that they were erected by poor Southerners in the belief that they'd chase away "haints" or spirits. Whatever their origins or purposes, I simply like the effect of sunlight shining through the different colors of glass. That was my sole reason for wanting a bottle tree.

Even on a snowy day, the bottle tree is a colorful accent in the landscape!  ©2016 Lynn Edwards
The bottle tree that Hubs and I created is very simple. It's nothing more than lengths of rebar and other sturdy metal rods shoved into the ground.

Collecting the bottles was the best part; we sampled more than one unfamiliar wine or other product just because we wanted to acquire the bottles they came in. Before, I had never paid much attention to bottles. Once I started looking for bottles with unusual shapes or colors, I was amazed to see just how interesting and beautiful so many of them are.

Right now wine bottles in various shades of blue and green predominate on our tree, but there's also a clear square-shaped liqueur bottle with a highly refractive pebbled surface, and an elegantly slim dark green bottle that once held olive oil. The most unique-looking one is made of cobalt blue glass with an extended neck that's about a foot long.

Yesterday, while cleaning out a chest of drawers, I found an unusual disk-shaped bottle made of chocolate brown frosted glass. I have no idea what it might have contained, or why it had been saved in the first place, but it's definitely going to be added to the tree. As will a lovely clear glass moscato bottle recently given to us by a friend. The contents were delicious, but its ribbed sides and graceful shape are what I prize. (Actually it's so attractive I'm tempted to turn it into a table lamp instead. (Decisions, decisions....!)

Come warm weather, we'll relocate the bottle tree to the lawn in front of the studio. That area gets more direct sunlight, enabling us to plant flowering vines and other plants among the rebar stakes to camouflage them. In the meantime I continue to be on the lookout for more bottles. I especially want to find one made of red glass. Not merely covered with a red coating, but one in which the glass itself is red. They're not easy to find, but I just know there's one out there somewhere. If you know of a source, please let me know. I'll be forever grateful!

Text and image ©2016 Lynn Edwards

2 comments:

  1. I couldn't resist doing a search for red bottles, and found a thread on bottle trees.
    http://forums2.gardenweb dot com/discussions/1480926/what-comes-in-colored-bottles

    I don't live in the South, but I've heard of bottle trees. I thought they were always put on real trees. Your description is interesting. I just line up colored glass of various types on the dining room window sill, including a pretty red vase. Do they count?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the tip! Maybe my hunt for that elusive red bottle might nearing its end!
      You're right about bottle trees being made from real trees. The trees are usually dead but still standing and the bottles are placed on the ends of the branches. But I've also seen a magazine photo of a live tree being used with the bottles suspended from the branches. So there are many different interpretations of bottle trees, and it sounds like yours is just as pretty and visually pleasing as any we have down here in the South!

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