Using glass bottles as garden art

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Rebar provides a sturdy “tree” for displaying bottles. The cat is extra! Photo credit: Carolyn Tomlin

By Carolyn Tomlin

The University of Tennessee (UT) Institute of Agriculture and Gardens in Jackson, Tennessee is bursting with color, and it’s not only from the flowers. With an emphasis on the environment and recycling, Jason Reeves, UT Gardens Curator of the bottle art, put out a call to friends and community members. Soon, thousands of bottles poured in. At the last count, over 6,000 bottles in all shades of blues, greens, clear, and brown swing from trees, make a dividing wall, and outline flower beds. With a team of creative employees, they built a 40-foot wall of hanging bottles. For a most spectacular sight, visit the gardens at sunrise and about an hour before sunset for the most outstanding view. Cameras required!
The history of bottle trees dates back thousands of years. Believed to have originated from African people, they thought that glass bottles placed outside the house would capture evil spirits before they could enter the house. The following day, the sunshine would destroy the specter. Southern writer, Eudora Welty, in her book Livvie, writes about the use of bottle trees. Colored bottles would lure the apparition and they could not escape. It’s been said, they are a poor man’s stained glass.
Gardeners no longer rely on bottles to keep negative forces away, but they are resourceful people. What is one person’s junk, is another person’s treasure. Instead of being wasteful, think of another way to use an item. The UT Gardens are an example of taking throw-a-ways and turning them into one-of-a kind garden art. Throughout the Gardens, home owners find numerous projects they can replicate in their own yards. By visiting public gardens, you learn about another gardener’s success. As an example, when building a bottle wall, drill holes in each bottle. Then, string the bottles on a wire cable and attach to a wooden frame. Rainwater runs out, therefore, the bottles do not collect the water and burst in freezing winter weather.
Rebar or metal rods are another way to display bottles in the garden. Welding is gaining in popularity and can be used in many garden designs. Instead of investing in welding equipment, find someone in your area who has the necessary tools to weld and solder rebar. In less than an hour, you can cut a 20-foot length of rebar into a tree or branch. Draw your design, measure the “limbs” and make sure the limbs are balanced. Otherwise, heavy bottles may cause the tree to fall. Arrange bottles with the necks going downward to avoid rainwater collecting.
Home gardeners will see many unusual ways to combine bottles, vines, and flowers by visiting public gardens. Adapt these to your personal space. With thousands of colored bottles hanging from trees, evil spirits would think twice, before entering your home! And who knows… if you walk by and hear the wind whistling… it could be the evil ones trapped inside!
Carolyn Tomlin lives and writes in Jackson. She is from a long line of women who believed that the best days of life are spent in a garden.