Several years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida. It’s a beautiful botanical garden with a mile and a half walk through various gorgeous exhibits, but the thing that caught my eye, the one thing I could not get out of my mind, was a bottle tree. The bottle tree was made out of the large stump of a tree that had long ago died. The bottles were mounted on pieces of rebar that had been placed into holes drilled into the old stump.
It is commonly believed that bottle trees originated in the Kingdom of Kongo, in West Africa and that the tradition was brought to the Americas by slaves who believed that placing bottles on the ends of tree branches trapped evil spirits. It was also widely believed that blue bottles had the strongest magic.
I had seen many bottle trees on my travels throughout the south, but the one at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens made me determined to have one of my own. but I didn’t have a dead tree or a stump so I was going to have to get creative. As I was thinking about how to make a bottle tree in my garden, I began seeing them pop up in gardens here and there in Pennsylvania, some right here in my neighborhood, and they stoked the desire even more. Some were made out of old stumps like the ones I saw in the South, some were placed on old dead branches of dying trees and others didn’t have any actual tree support at all; they were just blue glass bottles placed onto pieces of rebar that had been pushed into the ground.
I began saving wine bottles and telling people that I was going to add a bottle tree to my flower garden and asking them to save their wine bottles for me. Meanwhile, my daughter-in-law, who generally supports all of my crazy ideas, sent me a bottle tree for my birthday in February. Because the ground was frozen I couldn’t put it out until about the middle of March, which I did, but I had a problem, I didn’t have enough bottles to fill it.
Shortly afterwards, during a random visit to a nearby gift shop that specializes in wrought iron, I found large wrought iron bottle trees for sale so I grabbed one of those too. It was at that point that I realized that I don’t drink nearly enough wine. Since I needed lots of bottles I decided to cheat the process and went to Hobby Lobby where I bought lots of beautiful colored bottles – at 50% off, of course.
I placed the larger bottle tree in an area of my garden that is somewhat protected from the wind and filled it with the colored bottles I purchased. The summer sun was tough on some of the colored bottles I purchased, especially on the pink ones. Sadly, I’ll have to drink more wine so I can replace them. I’ve decided to use only cobalt blue bottles on the smaller tree and although I still need more of those bottles, it is well on its way. Through this process I’ve learned that Riesling often comes in colbalt blue bottles. I’ve also learned that I like Riesling. A lot.
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