Bottle Tree Art: Hot Garden Trend for Spring

Bottle tree art is the latest trend to hit gardens this spring – especially urban and patio gardens. Along with bottle arches, and bottle bushes – or a bottle anything, really. Always glass, of course.

Beautiful Jacaranda bottle trees
Bottle tree art by Artist Stephanie Dwyer – they look like Jacaranda trees, don’t they?

Bottle trees come in all the colors of the rainbow, the brighter the better. Although an all-blue tree is a popular choice. Cobalt blue has always been a favorite and a color you can  readily find in the bottle world.

Blue bottles are thought to repel evil spirits
Bottle tree at the Northwest Garden Show in Seattle – it’s a hot trend right now

It’s easy to DIY a bottle tree

It’s easy to DIY your own bottle tree. If you want a metal stand, you can find someone to make it for you. It’s not a complicated base to create but unless you’re a welder – don’t try this at home. Otherwise, you can also use a wooden pole with large (seriously large) nails, or dowels. Or a dead tree, using the limbs that remain as the dowels. And this isn’t just a hippie-funky-colored-glass-Chihuly-wannabe thing – this is a growing movement. You’ll see this art everywhere from international flower shows (including London’s Chelsea Flower Show) to landscaped yards in the best neighborhoods.

Make your own bottle tree art piece
Make your own glass bottle tree using a post and large nails. And colored bottles, of course.

I Dream of Genie

While bottle trees are turning into a hot commodity now, they have long been an outdoor peculiarity in the South. And the whole thing started long before that. Around 1600 B.C, shortly after hollow glass vessels first appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the first trees appeared. Stories circulated about spirits living inside the vessels – the only logical explanation for the whistling sound made by blowing over the mouth of the bottle. Remember the genie in the bottle stories? That’s how they got started.

Fantastic colors on this bottle tree art work

When the African slaves arrived in the US, having grown up with bottle trees, they created them from dead trees around their shacks – using the glass bottles found in their masters’ garbage. The theory was that the spirits would enter the bottles at night and be trapped. In the morning, they would cork the bottles and throw them in the river.

Blue bottle tree art using Milk of Magnesa bottles
Square Milk of Magnesia bottles were often used in the south, blue being the best color to ward off evil spirits.

What color(s) should you use?

Blue is considered the best color bottle for repelling spirits. There is even a tone known as haint blue (‘haint’ being a southern synonym for ghost), that is used to paint the ceilings of porches in the southern states for that reason. There, you would often see bottle trees made from square Milk of Magnesia bottles. And you can never go wrong with cobalt blue glass, in a broader design sense. Or you can take your chances using bright primary colors – which also repel spirits, but aren’t as efficient. But they do brighten up the yard and in sunlight – well, that’s the reason they call them poor man’s stained glass. There are clear trees, green trees, red trees – you can do any color that you can collect enough bottles for. It’s personal – and it’s art. And it’s fluid. You can change the color of the bottles anytime you like.

Warm colors bottle tree from Etsy
This bottle tree kit from BigCountryIronWorks – makes a colorful statement.

What if I don’t have time to collect all those bottles?

If you want something easy – you can order bottle tree kits online – the stands and the colored bottles all in one package and then only the arrangement is up to you. Be sure that the bottles are true colored glass and not painted bottles, as these will fade in the sun. With either iron or wood bases, the assembly is minimal (if required). You can have it unpacked and set up within an hour. Both Etsy and ebay are great places to order. Keep an eye on shipping charges on the bases – if they are pre-assembled, delivery can be expensive.

Colored Bottles Online for Bottle Tree Art
You can buy colored bottles for your tree online, from places like BigCountryIronWorks.

Or you can order the colored glass bottles from places like BigCountryIronWorks Etsy store and make your own from a pole, or a tree or a big piece of driftwood – be creative, it’s your bottle tree and your garden. Just hammer large nails into a pole on an angle – voila – now place your bottles. If you’re not up for a full size tree, try a bottle bush, a smaller, bushier version.

Bottle Arch from Gardener's
The bottle arch from Gardener’s Supply makes a statement in the driveway.

Or, if you believe in going big or staying home, you could try the bottle arch – available at Gardener’s Supply. They also have a selection of colored bottles and bases in various sizes. There’s even a mini bottle tree for those who really just want to dip their toes.

Gardener's wine bottle tree art
Many liquors and beers have unusual bottles these days. Watch flea markets and yard sales for old bottles, too.

Where else can I find bottles for my bottle tree art?

Another option is to use wine, liquor and specialty drink bottles. Many are unusual shapes and colors. Tequilas are often sold in unique bottles – maybe time for a margarita party? Ask friends, neighbors and bartenders to save any interesting empty bottles for you. And keep your eyes on your neighbors’ bins on recycling day.

Night light bottle tree
You can make magic at night with a few fairy lights.

Just imagine this look for an evening party – or even an alternative to a Christmas tree outdoors – put some fairy lights in your bottles and turn them on at dusk. It’s magical.

Route 66 bottle tree
The bottle forest is an incredible roadside attraction.

If you want some real inspiration on Route 66 – you can take a walk in the glass forest at Elmer’s bottle tree ranch, just west of Helendale, California. Elmer started his ranch 14 years ago and the tallest tree is 18 ft. Open daily, free admission.

Bottle Tree in the Winter
Stephanie Dwyer’s work is true art.

And don’t think your art tree is only for summer. Isn’t this winter tree by Stephanie Dwyer mesmerizing?

Do you have a bottle tree art in your yard? Upload photos and description below – just click on “Add Post”. We’d love to see it!

About Beverley Wood 45 Articles
Beverley Wood is a freelance writer and communications consultant living in Mexico City - WhiteDogCreative.com