Bottle Trees Across Texas

The Antique Rose Emporium people really know how to load up their trees with empty bottles.

I don’t remember where I saw my first bottle tree: my friend Bill Welch, long known for his impeccable class, or the Antique Rose Emporium, long known for its whimsey and dedication to southern garden lore, or Greg Grant, long known by all true plant people for just about anything horticultural. All those people I admired started talking about them back in the 70s or 80s. I decided if bottle trees were good enough for their gardens, they were good enough for mine!

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And here’s the entire mature bottle tree as grown by the staff of the Antique Rose Emporium in Independence. Well done!

And then there was Lynn. My devoted wife of now 55 years. She’s really fond of Bill and Greg and she loves to visit the Antique Rose Emporium. But this concept pressed her limits. Not exactly “an outdoor girl,” she just doesn’t understand bottle trees and how every garden needs one. I keep trying, but I’m not there yet with her.

Let’s take a look back…
Actually, the bottle tree tradition is very old. Our great, great grand-gardeners knew that evil spirits would fly into these upside-down-hanging bottles. Unable to figure a way out they would go there and die. And everybody knows that you want evil spirits to die. (It’s funny how much dead evil spirits end up looking like spider webs and road dust, but that’s for another study and another story.)

So, once I found out how I could get rid of the evil spirits I looked online for sources of bottle tree frames. Here are three that I found. There are many more.

Here’s is a family business that works with heavy machinery, welding and steel products. This is a fun sideline for them. I’ve bought from them and been very satisfied.

Jerry Swanson has been creating bottle trees in Wisconsin (not exactly the “Old South”) since 2001. I have bought several from him over the years and have been very pleased with them all. I’m not sure which page of his web site qualifies to be his “home” page, so I’ll just dump you into it somewhere:

And, of course, on Etsy! Isn’t everything on Etsy? It looks like Cubby’s rules the roost there. Lisa has been welding and shipping from Etsy since 2013. I haven’t bought from her yet, but I can feel the urge. Her work looks great.

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How I use my own bottle trees…
I figure evil spirits will find the bottles wherever I place them, so I position them where I need their good looks. We live in a pecan forest where it’s tough to grow flowers. I have plenty of shrubs and groundcover beds, but they’re all green. The corners look drab without some eye-catching appeal.

This was one of our first bottle trees. The blue bottles are widely available and they bring a simple, nice look to their surroundings.

I planted a bottle tree – one that bloomed forth with blue bottles. It looked good there, so I planted another in a different part of our landscape. It was taller, and it gave me the chance to use a combination of blue and green bottles. Nice look again.

These wine bottles from Holy Communion at the funeral of one of our favorite Lutheran pastors hang near our driveway. Pastor Dale would have loved the story. I asked permission of the family to use them this way. (Soap bubbles from a fresh washing add to the look!)

I found a hanging bottle tree and it took root on a large branch of a redcedar near where we park. Wine bottles from Communion ceremonies of a favorite Lutheran pastor’s funeral hang from its branches (with permission and smiles from his family).

This was my catch-all bottle tree. I used all types of bottles. A heavy ice storm a few years ago encased the bright colors and magnified them.

Bottle trees are rather dramatic. You must use them in moderation. They’re very efficient in capturing evil spirits, so you really don’t have to have very many. But if you’ve been considering adding one to your garden, maybe this is the time. It might make for a less-evil 2023.

Note: When you start collecting and even buying bottles, note that very few bottles are made in red glass. It’s too expensive. Most that look like they are red glass have actually been painted or dipped. They will fade when exposed to sunlight. That’s why I basically avoid red bottles. The other colors don’t fade.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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