Easy-to-Make Bottle Trees Express Whimsical Southern Style

Find out what makes this Southern garden staple such a special tradition.

Whether or not they really do the job of capturing the haints, bottle trees have long captured the hearts of Southern gardeners. (For you non-Southerners, “haint” is a colloquial name for ghosts or lost souls.) Reinvented and retold are traditions and superstitions in the storied South. These traditions live on today in whimsical symbols that express the richness of this cultural melting pot that I call home. Vernacular style stirs a curiosity in me and conjures up envy when I see it. Haint blue, bottle trees, mirrors on porches, pink flamingos, tire planters, statuary, found-object folk art — you name it, I love it. Dirt roads and back alleys are intriguing and will always lure me to places that feel foreign but exciting. I must sneak a peek and get a closer look.

Haint blue bottles are often the bottles of choice when constructing a bottle tree. In Southern tradition, this color is meant to ward off evil spirits.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Haint blue bottles are often the bottles of choice when constructing a bottle tree. In Southern tradition, this color is meant to ward off evil spirits.

Why do we like to embellish our yards? I suppose some might do it to thumb their nose at restrictive covenants, and maybe I do it for that reason as well, but mostly, I just like the way it looks and I would rather this art form be revered than banished. Folkloric, pretty and fun, a bottle tree is a link to the past. It is yet another tool to aide Southerners in telling stories, making art, and making statements.

As stories and traditions evolve, so has the making and use of bottle trees. Once made with living trees, bottles were either placed over clipped branch stubs or hung from strings on lower branches. Today they are made from wood, metal and found objects, they vary in artistic expression, and they are installed in gardens of many differing styles.

One of several at The Bottletree Cafe and Bar in Birmingham, Alabama, this bottle tree stands on the porch. 

One of several at The Bottletree Cafe and Bar in Birmingham, Alabama, this bottle tree stands on the porch. 

My own version of a bottle tree is made from different heights of rebar hammered into the ground, and then I simply add my favorite bottles to the tops. Bottle trees fit in well with the tacky, I mean “vernacular” garden.

My own version of a bottle tree is made from different heights of rebar hammered into the ground, and then I simply add my favorite bottles to the tops. Bottle trees fit in well with the tacky, I mean “vernacular” garden.

Pay a visit to the South and to Wade Wharton’s garden if you want to see bottle trees up close, or check out HGTVGardens contributor Felder Rushing, who literally wrote the book on bottle trees. And for a virtual primer of Southern culture, read up at Deep Fried Kudzu. For more DIY bottle tree ideas, browse this photo gallery. 

Also, it’s no secret that we here at Made + Remade like to upcycle our empty bottles into fun crafts of all kinds. Check out these additional projects using bottles — if you don’t use them all for your new bottle tree, that is.

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