We Southerners take our traditions seriously. And even though I am a yankee transplant I adopted a couple of those traditions as my own. If you drive far enough into the south you are likely to see one, or more bottle trees. Bottle trees are one of those things that northerners don’t “get.” Oh, they like them, they may even attempt one in their own gardens, but in the south a bottle tree is a necessity. Because. They capture bad spirits. Genies, and imps who want to cause problems. It’s true! I have a bottle tree in my back yard and I have yet to see a bad spirit, genie or imp in my home. So there. Proof positive these trees work!
The practice began in the ninth century in the Congo according to historians, and since I don’t know anyone from the ninth century to ask….well, I have to believe the historians know what they are talking about. Or maybe they have a direct line to the ninth century. Anyway….. Central African people believed that they could capture imps and bad spirits in glass bottles and began hanging bottles in trees to attract the spirits and trap them before they could enter their homes. The practice was taken to Europe and North America and the Caribbean islands by slaves and over the years became embedded in the south.
The Smithsonian says, “Bottle Trees have a long history as an element of spiritual, cultural and aesthetic significance in American History and garden design.” WOW! Who knew? Mr B says it’s just another way for me to add junk to the yard and advertise to the neighbors that we may have a drinking problem. Let me just say up front that I have no problem, zero…. with drinking and some of the nastiest tasting wines come out of the prettiest bottles. Make of that what you will.
Legend says that the bright colors attract the spirits and when they enter the bottle they can’t get out. Makes perfect sense…..I can’t get IN a bottle, much less get out of one. I have enough trouble getting in and out of my jeans. HOWEVER…… once trapped inside the bottle sunlight fries the little pranksters before they can do harm. Good thing, I’m not sure I’d want any mess making imps in my home….I still remember the Grands when they were toddlers….. I never thought about trapping them in bottles…………I did, however threaten to send them to “Hell Western Crooked,” a place my Grams always threatened to send me. It sounded like a very bad place and I never, ever wanted to go there. Glad she didn’t have a bottle tree….. Just sayin.
You can purchase pre-made bottle trees from on-line sites or through many local garden centers (if you live in the south). You can also add individual bottles to your garden just by sinking a length of rebar in the ground. You can find rebar in the building section of Home Depot or Lowes. If you don’t know what rebar is, just ask one of the friendly associates. Or use any sturdy metal rod, copper works well and has the added bonus of developing patina with time. (Make sure your metal rods are a smaller diameter than your bottle opening.) You can suspend the bottles from your tree branches by tying them with sturdy twine around the neck of the bottles. A glob of glue for outdoor projects will hold the twine around the neck of the bottle. For the record, I do not recommend pruning tree limbs and placing the bottles on the end of the branches. It causes unnecessary trauma to the tree and improper pruning may actually kill your tree. Just stick with a pre-made one. Unless you have a sturdy dead tree (Is that an oxymoron?) Then prune away and add bottles to your heart’s content.
Author Eudora Welty (1909-2001) made the southern bottle tree famous in her short story, “Livvie.”
“Coming around up the path from the deep cut of the Natchez Trace below was a line of bare Crape Myrtle trees with every branch ending in a colored bottle, green or blue. There was no word that fell from Solomon’s lips to say what they were there for, but Livvie knew there could be a spell put on trees and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil form coming into the house… Solomon had made the bottle trees with his own hands over the nine years, in labor amounting to about a tree a year, and without a sign that he had any uneasiness in his heart, for he took as much pride in his precautions against spirits entering the house as he took in the house….”
Special note: Clean your bottles before using them in the garden. You don’t need drunken bees hurtling around. They like wine. You won’t like tipsy bees.
If you want to protect your home and take the necessary precautions to catch evil spirits, make a bottle tree. You don’t have to become a wine-o. Just do what I did, ask your neighbors to drink the wine and save the bottles for you. They’ll be happy to help. Trust me.
Create the home you see in your heart. You deserve a sanctuary, no matter where you live.