After writing about my friend, the sweet bottle tree artist Stephanie Dwyer yesterday, today’s WSJ is running an article entitled, ‘Bottle Trees Join Grand Tradition of Pink Flamingos, Garden Gnomes‘.
I don’t think that’s accurate. In fact, I’m leaning toward insult, even if Felder Rushing, who I really-really enjoy, is okay with it.
Bottle trees are a cultural tie, a tradition. This isn’t kitsch or a fad. For Southerners, anyway.
In part, from the article:
The trees have long been a fixture of rural Southern yards and in Caribbean island communities, where property owners commonly decorate real—but dead—trees with bottles.
The manufactured versions, which can be short or tall, are popping up everywhere from New York to Alaska.
Gardener’s Supply Co. says bottle trees made in India are one of its top sellers in garden decor, a category that has been growing 15% annually, the company says.
“Bottle trees are the modern pink flamingo,” says Felder Rushing, a garden author in Jackson, Miss., who is writing a book about the trees. “People are bored of the plantings we have. And you can only have so many naked goddess statues out there.”
Some landscape architects wish the bottle tree trend would stay where its roots are.
“They have their place in Southern culture, but usually they risk looking totally tacky and like someone’s leftover party binge,” says Susan Cohan, a residential landscape designer in Chatham, N.J. “It’s a country gardeners’ thing. Not something I’d ever want or recommend for my clients.”
For non-Southerners to erect a bottle tree can seem inauthentic…
Bottle-tree tradition is believed to have originated in Northern Africa where they hung glass orbs outside of dwellings to help deter or trap spirits, according to Mr. Rushing. The practice came to the Southern U.S. in part via the slave trade and other immigrants and became an inexpensive, colorful form of décor in poorer Southern communities, he says.
Well, I have a bottle tree made from woody kudzu, a bottle tree chandelier, and a bottle tree table. In early January, for several years now I’ve set to making bottle trees from my neighbors’ discarded Christmas trees. These things aren’t in the same solar system to garden gnomes and flamingos. I don’t think they were for the people back in the 30s who had the bottle trees that Eudora Welty photographed, either.