Better bottle tree: Now I’ve really got the blues

When I visited MSS‘s garden a couple of days ago to collect the promised agave pup, I offhandedly asked her whether any empty sake bottles, which are cobalt blue, might be lying around. No, she said, but I do have a few empty, blue-glass water bottles in the shed. Do you want them?

A peek in the shed revealed about a dozen and a half cobalt bottles, dusty and begrimed, but full of promise for a bigger and better bottle tree. As soon as I got home, even before planting the longed-for agave, I set to work with a bucket of sudsy water and started scrubbing dirt and scraping the labels off the bottles.

The next day I drilled 12 more holes in the bottle tree’s “trunk,” inserted 18-inch-long pieces of one-half-inch-diameter rebar, and added 12 new bottle branches. Enough bottles remained for me to replace the non-blue bottles I’d been using as fillers until I acquired the deep blues.


I’m very pleased with the result. Many thanks for the bottles, MSS!


Though my hands and forearms bear crisscrossing scratches from my encounter with its toothy leaves, the passalong variegated agave now sprawls in the front bed it shares with the new pomegranate tree. Next to it (too closely, but there wasn’t much room) grows the Jerusalem sage whose yellow flowers complement the agave’s stripes. I hope this Jerusalem sage won’t end up the latest sacrifice in a line of dead Jerusalem sages in my garden. I almost felt guilty sticking this innocent in the ground—little does it know what happens to its like in my garden—but the combination, which I spotted at Shoal Creek Nursery’s streetside garden, called to me. Resistance was futile—and unattempted.


The agave (Agave americana ‘Marginata’) in close-up. Such beautiful coloring! I also love its writhing, octopus-like shape.


Nearby, the young pomegranate buds and blooms magnificently orange. The flower buds look and feel like fleshy fruit as they split open to reveal the ruffled flowers.


The crepe-paper blossom of the pomegranate


The purple smoke tree’s leaves caught my eye this morning.


As did the smoky “bloom”


The pavonia first bloomed today also, lighting up a shady spot under the vitex in the front garden.


And so did ‘The Fairy’ rose, tucked as it is in the shadow of ‘Belinda’s Dream.’

20 Responses

  1. Pam says:

    I just love your bottle tree! I have a collection of blue wine bottles started (I think I have five so far) – do your bottles ever break in the wind with the rebar? I wasn’t exactly sure how to handle that.

    No, I’ve never had any break. My biggest concern is a stray soccer ball.

    An acquaintance of mine has a really cool bottle tree on a public-facing side lot in her garden, and recently vandals took all her bottles and threw them in the street to break them. (She’s since replaced them all.) So although I’ve seen bottle trees in front yards, they’re probably safest in back yards. —Pam

  2. Nicole says:

    Lovely flowers and agave, Pam-I also pick up agave pups wherever I get them, and 2 two of my “bush finds” are now 5 feet tall and 3 feet across and quite architectural. I have to say your bottle tree made me laugh-but for a reason that would surprise you. In the Caribbean long ago (and still in very rural areas) some people had blue bottles on sticks in the garden as a means to ward off obeah-or black magic-from the household. Your tree looks like what a really serious warder off of evil spirits would concoct, so if your bottle tree was in the Caribbean imagine the commentary people would have about you!

  3. Nicole says:

    Pam: I just did some research-I didn’t realize its also believed in the Southern US that a blue bottle tree will capture evil spirits. Wow, what an unlikely cultural connection.

    Yes, bottle trees are an African-American, Southern folk art tradition, which I wrote a little about in an earlier post. The bottles were thought to capture evil spirits. It seems likely that African slaves would have brought the tradition to both the American South and the Caribbean, don’t you think? I bet that’s the connection.

    Interestingly, blue doors are thought to ward off evil spirits in New Mexico, according to a tour I took in Santa Fe. Now where did that tradition come from? —Pam

  4. Nicole says:

    Yes, it must have been brought by the African slaves to both places. I emailed a friend who is originally from North Carolina, about this, and he said “I think, the origin of that belief may be the Gullah folks of the Georgia and SC coast country. I’m not sure about this, but I remember my South Georgia grandmother telling me that one of my mother’s nannies – who was a Gullah woman – had planted a blue bottle beneath the window of “Miss Pauline’s” bedroom when she was a baby in order to “keep her safe from the hants.” It was still there in my boyhood.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if this superstition weren’t of West African origin and has shown up in communities where slaves and their descendants from that part of the world eventually were “relocated.”"

  5. The bottle tree looks pretty spectacular, Pam! You can count the blue bottles from MSS as Passalong Yard Art. After reading your post I checked the Pavonia and mine also had one flower.
    I love those pomegranate flowers, but my pomegranate is still all leaves. Do yours seem to have set fruit?
    I haven’t killed off a series of Phlomis, but have knocked off a lot of Bulbine.

    Annie

    I don’t know if it is setting fruit, never having grown “food” plants before. What will it look like when it does? —Pam

  6. Layanee says:

    Hmmmm…I think I have seen that blue bottle tree before. Is that Aesulus azurifolia? I’ve heard it is quite drought tolerant and that it is taprooted! Don’t you just love a little whimsy in the garden!

    Yes, for something with a watery origin, it is remarkably drought tolerant. —Pam

  7. gardenmomma says:

    I just love your blue bottle tree!!! Your photos are wonderful, as usual.

    Thanks! —Pam

  8. Thanks for the shout-out. And how convenient of you to post a photo of your bottle tree…I needed an example for my review of Passalong Plants. In rereading that book, I noticed they listed pomegranite as a passalong. Does your set fruit? If so, I might come a-begging for a cutting sometime.

    None of my pavonia is blooming yet. At one time, I cut it all to the ground because it was getting out of hand and not flowering much. This year it’s come back bushier and denser than ever. So lesson learned. It likes to be cut back.

    Annie asked me if it’s setting fruit, and I sheepishly replied that I don’t know. What does that look like? I’ve never grown any “food” plants before. But you’re welcome to a cutting whenever you like.

    You’re right about pavonia. I always prune mine to about 8″ in mid-February, and I’ll cut it back by 1/3 a couple of times through the growing season to get it going again. —Pam

  9. The bottle tree is a real winner. And wont drop leaves which sounds like a plus to me!

    Yes, the foliage is ever-blue, not deciduous. ;-) —Pam

  10. Henny says:

    I love your bottletree, and my husband too. He promised to make many blue bottles empty.+ROFL*
    This wonderful bottles usual are filled with Prosecco and I love to drink Proseccco!!
    greets from Austria, where winebottles are green

    Henny, thanks for visiting from Austria of the green wine bottles. Actually, ours are mostly green or brown too. Hence the rarity and desirability of the deep-blue ones. But I think a bottle-green tree would be lovely too. —Pam

  11. At last! I’ve had trouble getting access to your blog these last 4 days, it just would not upload. But today it did and here I am ready with another comment. ;-)

    Just look at all those lovely blue bottles in your bottle tree, absolutely wonderful. I’m searching high and low for some pretty coloured bottles too but so far no luck so my bottle tree has to wait a bit until I find the right bottles.

    Your purple smoke tree looks lovely, mine is almost in flower too I’m happy to say!

    BTW In North Africa blue is also used to ward off evil.

    I’m sorry you’ve had trouble getting to my site. Perhaps I need to have someone out to look at my connection. Anyway, thanks for the comment. Pretty bottles can be found here in antique stores, though those are expensive, and of course buying sake or certain bottled waters (first enjoying the contents) is another way to get them. I look forward to seeing what you do with them one of these days. —Pam

  12. max says:

    Hey, your Pomegranate looks great. Looks like you’ve had a nice wet spring — I envy you.

    I’m sure you know that Agave is going to get HUGE eventually. Like 8′ in diameter, I think. I bet you have this in Texas too: I can’t even count the number of Agaves I see with all but the top 4-5 leaves hacked off because they were planted too close to something. There’s one near-vertical A. americana in particular planted in that little sidewalk “hellstrip” that makes me laugh every time I pass it. But of course, I just did something similar with an A. parryi (thankfully, a little smaller than A. americana).

    When it gets too large for that bed, I’m simply going to pull it up and replace it with one of its pups. Like you, I hate to see agaves that get “pruned up” like trees to make them fit. They look so unnatural afterward. —Pam

  13. [...] Postscript: My bottle tree enjoyed a growth spurt—see photos. [...]

  14. Carol H. says:

    Love the bottle tree. A friend of mine made a bottle tree, she used an actual tree, which looks really neat. I have also see bottles on sticks in gardens. They are grouped together like flowers. I wonder if it is the same superstition.
    My son keeps making fun of me and said that it is really backwoods Martha Stewart.

    Yes, I’ve seen several real-tree bottle trees too, and my mom has made a bottle shrub using bottles on sticks. Aren’t they fun? Thanks for commenting, Carol H. —Pam

  15. Amy T. says:

    I just saw your picture of your bottle tree. I have been toying with the idea of creating one for quite awhile now and I have decided that it will be my first spring project. With that in mind, can you please share how long the 4×4 is that you used? I think yours is great!~

    Thanks, Amy. I used an old, 4×4 redwood post, about 8 feet long. I dug a 2-foot-deep hole, mixed some concrete (instructions are on the bag), and poured it in around the post. I used a level and braced the pole to make sure it remained straight while the concrete set. Good luck with your bottle tree! —Pam

  16. Tina Ramsey says:

    This is an awesome bottle tree! Annie told me you had one and I must say I am ever so happy she did as yours is great! Blooming blue is good.

    Hi, Tina. I’m glad you stopped by. Aren’t bottle trees fun? I just saw yours too and like the variety of colored bottles you’ve chosen. Thanks for sharing. —Pam

  17. Mamaholt says:

    I LOVE bottle trees and yours is absolutely fabulous! I wanted to make one with green bottles as my house is dark greens and browns. I found that quart sized Dos Equis bottles are perfect – cheap, good size and lot of fun to empty!

    Yes, emptying may be half the fun of making one. ;-) —Pam

  18. [...] my old bottle tree, I set a redwood post in concrete and used rebar pieces for the branches. This time I set a cedar [...]

  19. Jean Harrington says:

    I was checking out pomogranate information when I came across your bottle tree. How fun is that ! Might have to consider that myself. Lots of fun reading your “blog” ?

  20. NorWesterner says:

    Love your bottle tree. I have two now and the first one the Wife wanted Blue Bottle Tree and it is blue, now I have a smaller Green Bottle Tree close to the Blue Bottle Tree. I plan to put more Bottle Trees in my Yard because they are comforting to see and watch. Have a great day and Thanks for sharing your bottle tree Pam.

    I like green ones too. Thanks for visiting and commenting. —Pam