A yard full of glass trees

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2022

By Felder Rushing

Everyone has their too-oft repeated story or joke that others are tired of hearing. Mine is about glass bottle trees in the garden.

I love ‘em, been promoting them ever since I saw my first one when I was sixteen; to this day that inexplicable spectacle haunts my sense of the absurd. To the consternation of neighbors, my little Jackson garden now boasts over a dozen unique bottle trees (including perhaps the tallest in the state) and other art glass. No matter, it isn’t a competitive garden art form.

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Some wet blankets sniff that these simple outdoor paeans to stained glass aren’t very classy, which to me means they just don’t get it; however, without putting too fine a point on this, how is this different from hanging glass baubles from holes in ears? Should people living glass houses be throwing stones?

Anyway, it isn’t just me. My little egalitarian neighborhood, a self-contained village named Fondren buried deep within Mississippi’s capital city, is bejeweled with over a hundred bottle trees, the densest concentration in the known universe. And Mississippi’s Museum of Art featured two dozen in its garden.

You’d think that gardeners who display them are in-your-face contrarians. Nope, they simply have a different take, an urge to do something mildly artistic on a very personal level. Unlike “pink flamingo people” who share a camaraderie of sorts as they collectively take a tired stand against conformity (irony, anyone?), bottle tree folks genuinely see themselves as unique individuals doing their own things, cheerily waving their faux stained glass greeting to all who pass.

And forget that pernicious voodoo thing you may have read about; in a word: Nah. Just as sneezes were once thought to be evil spirits being expelled, the belief in “bottle imps” and captured genii were superstitions apparently originating from the moaning of wind blowing over bottle openings, which culminated in the now 3,000-year-old Arabian folk tale about Aladdin and his magic lamp.

Today all bottle trees, whether home-made, artisan, or mass produced, are variations of a simple theme: glass suspended where sunlight can shine through. No two of these unique creations are alike, no need for a how-to recipe. 

Home-made versions can be made of dead trees or big limbs tied together (crape myrtles and cedars have the best natural forms), bobbed-back Christmas trees, wood posts with nails, bottles stuck on the tines of an upended pitch fork, or a small number of rebar rods stuck awry into the ground between flowers.

Most are festooned with glass bottles of many colors, but all-blue is considered the tastiest because its moody hues have long been associated with ghosts and spirits; there is even a “haint blue” paint for repelling spirits from windows and doors of cottages (not making this up). One of my favorites is just green and clear bottles which sparkle subtly without being a poke in the ire of neighbors.

I’ve photographed glass garden ornaments, both small and grandiose, across five continents, including fanciful sculptures by Dale Chihuly and other world-renowned artists, visited bottle tree forests from the Mojave Desert to Bavarian Alps, and interviewed artists who’ve displayed theirs at Chelsea and other Royal Horticulture Society shows.

All in all, it’s just good folks holding glass to the sky so its colors can sing. Perhaps you’ll join those of us with enough panache to display our joie de vivre on a stick.

Note: This week I finally went live with bottle trees on my Felderrushing.blog with a bit of history and dozens of photos from my yard, neighborhood, and around the world. Hope you enjoy them!