The bottle tree has a long history in the United States. With the first written records of bottle trees going back to as early as 1776, the bottle tree has been a culturally, spiritually and aesthetic element of American history. Originally brought to these shores with the enslaved people brought from the West African kingdom of Kongo, the bottle trees we know today, are likely a Creole adaptation. Though rare, the bottle tree remains a protective and attractive addition to any garden.
Collecting Your Bottles
When starting to think about creating a bottle tree of your own, you may want to think about creating the tree with bottles that have a special meaning to you. Some folks enjoy going to wineries in their state for wine tastings. Save your bottles from these wine tours for your tree. If your favorite drink is beer, single malt whisky or other liquors, you could save these bottles to make a true ‘spirit’ tree. Once the evil spirits get trapped inside they will never want to leave. If you are a nondrinker and prefer drinking bottled water, you could use bottles from your favorite brands. I needed some blue bottles for my tree and found flavored bottled water from Italy at Wegman’s grocery store on sale for less than two dollars. Other bottles that can be used are vinegar, olive oil, and condiment bottles.
Once you have collected enough bottles for your bottle tree, clean them thoroughly and remove all labels.
Constructing Your Tree
To construct your bottle tree, you will need either a tree trunk, large branch, or a post. Depending on how permanent you want your tree to be, use wood that is naturally rot resistant or pressure treated. I used a post which I purchased at our local Southern States store. Whatever you use, make sure it is long enough to be placed in the ground at least eighteen inches, but still at least six feet above ground. For extra stability, once the post is in the ground, fill in around it with concrete.
Now comes the fun part, putting on all those bottles which you painstakingly collected. If using a tree trunk or post, using a power drill, drill pilot holes at a forty five degree angle into which you will hammer very large nails. Stagger the holes from row to row so when you slip on your bottles they will not bang into each other. Believe it or not, over time the weight of the bottles and gravity will cause the bottles to sag towards the ground and fall off. If this does happen, cut pieces of hard PVC pipe long enough to go clear to the bottom of the bottle. Slip this PVC pipe over the nail and place the bottle over the pipe. This will keep the bottle at the forty five degree angle, keeping the bottle from dropping off your tree. For the very top of the bottle tree, you can use one very unusual jug wine bottle or a grouping of three separate bottles. If using a very large tree branch, cut the smaller limbs back to a length your bottles will fit. These smaller branches need to be strong enough to hold the weight of your bottles or they will bend right over and your bottles will fall off. If your small branches are just not strong enough, cut them completely off and hammer in very large nails where the branches used to be. You will still have the randomness of a natural tree limb but your bottles will be secure.
Once all your bottles are on the tree, stand back and watch for all those evil spirits clamoring to get into those beautiful colored bottles. The real treat is when the sun’s rays shine on the bottles and cause beautiful colors to dance over the ground like nimble winged fairies.