The photo of the snow-daubed bottle tree in my deeply dormant garden brought so many emails and comments, I'm going to push back the post on African violets and delve into the story of bottles trees.
Long ago and far away I was once a traveling saleswoman. While I grew up in 'southern' California, I next spent six years treading the ground of my truly southern ancestors. During this time I drove my trusty little blue Renault over the highways and back roads of Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas selling frames for an optical company.
Well, at least that was what I was supposed to be doing, and I did put forth great effort. However it was still more of a man's world, and I lacked the expense account, golf skills and alcohol tolerance that seem to bode for success in that arena.
But enough excuses. I will freely admit I was mightily distracted by the exotic, rural landscape of plants and people that populated the tiny towns and backwaters of the south. Kudzu-covered forests, floating lotus meadows, shotgun shacks, ditch lilies and Dorothy Perkins roses sprawled over discarded kitchen appliances were so more interesting than the beige and boring optometrist offices where I would wait patiently while thumbing through faded Field and Stream magazines.
On the best days I would spot a bottle tree. These were not the contrived concoctions put together by gardeners and yard-decorators for kitsch and color. These were the real thing; blue bottles, most likely Milk of Magnesia, sparkling on the tips of a dead crape myrtle tree in a dirt-swept yard.
My mother would tell me they were to scare away evil spirits. Just as I had heard that "new paint will scare the haints". But blue, seems to have more magical powers than other colors. Blue paint around windows, blue porch ceilings and blue roofs are all seen in the south and were supposed to shoo bugs and/or bad vibes.
Going back to ancient times it was believed that spirits could be captured in glass vessels. Think genie in a bottle. And when the wind blows over the rim, you could hear the moaning of lost souls. Back then it made more sense.
Nowadays bottle trees are just fun, but then it never hurts to give your garden some good juju.
I'd been wanting one for quite awhile, but didn't have the spot or the talent to build one of the wood and rebar variety. My neighbors are kind of fancy too. Then opportunity presented itself. Not wanting to tear up a wedged-in bed where a shrub died, I realized I had just the place to put my bottles. After all I had been saving different colors ahead for the day.
I trimmed and shaped the dead limbs for better display, and to be honest it's more of a bottle bush than tree. As the garden tour approached and I still hadn't filled it out, my daughter and I took a trip to the liqour store in search of blue bottled beverages. As we suspected, blue bottles often disguise bad wine.
I have heard rumors of other bottle trees here "up north", but figured that this was the uppermost boundary for such southern traditions. Yet when I was traveling up the St Croix looking for fall color, I found a totem pole type of bottle tree. So who knows, maybe they have them in Canada. Anyone?
I don't have any photos of authentic bottle trees, but this one comes close. In Dallas this summer I toured a tasteful contemporary garden that had an alter ego. Beyond the koi ponds and meditation areas, a gate lead to a self-described "white trash garden". There grew not only a beautiful blue bottle tree but a mayonnaise jar tree, filled with odd tokens and found treasures.
I like how my bottle tree is half-hidden; as you come around the corner, there it is, a colorful surprise, a gentle poke at convention and an homage to my southern roots.