The Bottle Tree

We made our first bottle tree early in our history here at Henbogle House.  Dan had seen a movie, long forgotten, which had a bottle tree, and he mentioned it and it simmered on the back burner for a while.  Then, while pruning our ancient lilacs, Dan had the brilliant idea to use the large pruned trunks for a bottle tree.  We trimmed the branches back to sturdy twigs thin enough to slip a bottle on, yet sturdy enough to hold one, and voila, our first bottle tree.  We don’t recall exactly when we made it, but it was surely before we owned a digital camera.  The first photo I could find of it was in March 2007 (click to enlarge), but it was perhaps 2 years old then.

Bottle trees have long been seen in the South. Doing a bit of reading online, I found Eudora Welty had photographed a tree in the 1930s and later had written about one in her story “Livvie.” A little more reading at various sources revealed that the tradition arrived in this country via the slave trade and spread from the African’s beliefs that shiny objects and bottles would fascinate evil spirits, the bottles trapping them inside, thus protecting their homes from the spirits.  Often the bottles were blue, relating to another tradition of African origin, the use of Haint blue to protect ones home from evil spirits.  We don’t have a porch here at Henbogle, but we have painted our front entry and kitchen nook ceilings a lovely sky blue shade.

But I digress.  We loved the idea of capturing any evil spirits headed our way, so we make sure our bottle tree is in place to protect us, after all, why take chances?  When we first created the tree, it was covered in multicolored bottles, mostly green or clear, but over the years we have changed the bottles to blue ones.  Many were given by friends, adding another layer of meaning to our tree.  It is beautiful year round, contrasting with the deep green lushness of spring, the white of a layer of fresh  snow, or glinting in the lowering sun.  I think it is safe to say, Henbogle House will never be without a bottle tree.

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7 Responses to “The Bottle Tree”

  1. Hadas Says:

    Here, we sometimes leave bottles filled with water, because someone said it drives the musquitos away when the sun reflects on the water, I wonder whether it is true, and whether it is somehow connected to trapping the evil spritis (which, if we think of the musquitos bite, is a good title for them…)

    • Ali Says:

      If the mosquitoes in Tel Aviv are anything like Maine mosquitoes, Hadas, then they are indeed evil spirits!

      We’ve been thinking about you, Hadas, as the semester begins. Here it has been clear and cold for so long, there is a thick layer of ice on the Kennebec River, in places 15 feet thick, and when we had a rainstorm 2 weeks ago, parts of Hallowell flooded — fortunately not the Liberal Cup! I’m sure you would enjoy seeing the river and all the ice shacks set up for people to go fishing through the ice.

  2. Callie Says:

    I have always wanted a bottle tree, but I needed pretty colored bottles. I’m going to put the word out in my family and ask for colored bottles.
    I love the blue, but I would be happy with a multi-colored tree. Thank you!

  3. Susanna Says:

    I need a bottle tree that I can strap to my back so it’s with me at all times keeping those darned evil spirits away. :)

  4. Claire Says:

    I have been saving blue bottles for some time now for a purpose similar to this. I want to make a trellis of sorts, and then pop them on the top of the trellis uprights. I thought it would be nice with a paniculata clematis on it, with the blue and green, and then in the fall the white flowers all around the blue bottles…

  5. Margaret Says:

    That. is. so. AWESOME! Love the explanation of ‘haint blue’ – and the cobalt blue bottles are gorgeous. I’ve been saving some bottles that appealed to me for some time now and had no idea why I was letting them take up space in an already tiny apartment. Now I know why. Thank you Ali!

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