Bottle trees are beautiful to look at

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ever see an old guy jump with joy and click his heels in the air?

That’s what I did a couple of weeks ago when I discovered garden-variety bottle trees featured at a major flower show in England, right under the huge floral marquee sign.

Imagine, welded metal stems festooned with blue and red bottles, highlighted at a Royal Horticulture Society event that doesn’t even allow gnomes to be displayed!

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High-end garden art, including Dale Chihuly-esque glass sculptures, has always been a popular feature of great garden designs, but imagine my surprise when at this month’s RHS Chatsworth show I bumped into a prominent display of Mississippi-style bottle trees set amidst a stunning floral backdrop.

The English designers of the award-winning stand told me that they were trying to bring homemade bottle trees to the masses. And get this (I am not making it up): They said straight up that they were inspired by bottle trees from… Mississippi. Really. It ain’t just the Blues they love about the Magnolia State.

As a professional garden journalist I am privileged to have behind-the-scenes preview peeks inside flower shows from Seattle and San Diego to Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia, and pretty much everywhere in between. Plus esteemed international shows including Chelsea, Hampton Court, Chatsworth, and The Netherlands’ once-a-decade Floriade.

The venues are set up to expose gardeners to dazzling displays of both cutting edge and heirloom plants, small-space garden design concepts, creative uses of every imaginable structural material, and new products and tools.

Plus opportunities to interview designers, horticulturists and other garden experts, all putting their best feet forward.

What continues to be hot at RHS flower shows includes beautiful heirloom flowers, herbs and vegetables mixed in large mixed containers, rustic wooden fences, unique vine-covered arbors, naturalistic designs encircling smaller formal lawns, mowed paths through wildflower meadows loaded with pollinators, small water features, fire bowls, children’s gardens with all sorts of recycled containers (including painted tires) garden art, and low-maintenance succulents.

One real “back home” display attracted my eye because of its prominent colors that reminded me of my antique pickup truck, which was recently repainted an internationally recognizable bright green.

The exhibit, put on by the John Deere company, featured an original 1919 made-in-Iowa Waterloo Boy tractor as a celebration of the 100th anniversary the introduction of one of America’s first successful engine-powered tractors.

I chatted with folks who proudly refurbish wooden handles and metal blades of well-worn garden tools, others who have spent decades carefully cross-breeding various plants to come up with the most amazing succulents, roses, clematis, daylilies, iris, and other fantastic never-before-seen plant cultivars.

You can taste some of these show benefits by visiting similar albeit smaller-scale events at various botanical gardens, from Memphis to Huntsville, New Orleans and Mobile, and by taking advantage of the spring flower shows put on by the Mississippi Nurserymen Association and at MSU fall “field day” events at experiment stations.

Main things are to be inspired with what others are doing lately and try some of it out in your own home grounds.

The best plants and ideas will take it from there.

As for the bottle trees at the RHS Chatsworth Show, which were hoped to tickle a broader overseas audience, I’m reminded of what high-end English glass and metal artist Jenny Pickford told me one time: “All we’re doing is holding glass up to the sky so its colors can sing.”

And I’m proud that there’s a Mississippi connection to their international allure. For the back story and photos, check out the recent entry on my

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to