Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Saga of a Bottle Tree, Chapter Two

In which our protagonist calls "do-overs!" on her proposed version of a Bottle Tree.
My original choice for a bottle tree was close to what I wanted, but simply was too modest a specimen. It would not support the number or the variety of bottles I wanted to display.

Looking around the immediate area I spotted what seemed a more ideal candidate just behind my original choice.

Given that the oak pollen counts have limited my forays out of doors to brief sprinter like sessions in the afternoons only (supposedly pollen counts are higher in the mornings and no, I don't know why that might be, but my nose tells me it is true), I took advantage of some free time yesterday afternoon.  I made several short work trips out back to de-leafify* limbs that had sprouted from a hackberry we had (mostly) cut down last year.  

*Deleafify is a technical term we classier garden bloggers use to denote a process of stripping the small leafy branches off of bigger limbs.  Some pedestrian types might call that "pruning", but it has nothing to do with prunes.  Really.  It is what it is - de-leaf-ifying.  Onward.

This particular hackberry had unwittingly looked into its trash tree soul and somehow, by throwing out a halo of smallish limbs around the sawn off trunk, transformed itself into what may be a near perfect Bottle Tree.This tree, in other words, had read my mind and known what I wanted before even I realized it.

Creepy, but cool.

So here it is in all its current glory.  [Click on the photo for a closer view.] More bottles to come certainly, and I want to play with the length of the limbs a bit more, but you already get the general idea.  I wish it got a little more sun, but once I get back to a time of year when I go out of doors AND still breathe through my nose I will deleafify around the bottle tree to brighten the overall prospects.While I think about it - just in case you are not already familiar with the bottle tree tradition, here is an excerpt from an article with a version of the history of bottle trees.
The south is full of strange superstitions and this is one of them. According to legend, evil spirits, spooks, haunts and wooly boogers just cannot resist crawling into the blue bottles on the tree. It seems they have a great deal of curiosity, so they climb the bottles to see what is inside. Then they are trapped. By morning, when the sun comes out, they are destroyed. 

Curious little devils, are they not? It is said that when the wind blows past the tree, you can hear the moans of the ensnared spirits whistling on the breeze. The blue bottle tree is one of our oldest traditions, alongside painting your front door blue, which also helps to keep the spooks, evil spirits or what have you from entering your home. The origins of the tree go back to the ninth century Congo where hand-blown glass was hung on huts and trees as a talisman.
I've been coveting other folks' bottle trees for a couple of weeks now.  This photo captures one of the most original variations on the theme I spotted so far:What about your yard? Are you hosting a bottle tree where you live? If so, feel free to send me your photos [austinagrodolce at gmail dot com]. If I get enough samples perhaps I'll start a Bottle Tree Gallery here on Gardenista. How much fun then, to have bottle trees both inside and out!

Friday, April 3, 2009


I attempt to have something new going on around our house at any given time.  
Trying out new plants, placing new features here or there, it keeps things interesting and reminds me that the more I learn about gardening in Central Texas, the more there is to learn.

We have another area of St. Augustine turf grass we are allocating for a new garden bed.  This requires killing the grass off once it moves out of winter dormancy, leaving the dead plants in place for a season so their roots will hold the soil and nurture it as they decompose, followed by reseeding/replanting the area gradually with various new specimens to create a stable biomass.

OK - I tossed the term "biomass" in there because it makes me feel very much the SuperGardener.  

If you've followed this blog long you already know I am quite the fan of before/after shots.  For posterity, here is the new garden bed to be in its "Before" state.The new area is on either side of that triangular mosaic bed with the various planters in place. It will take weeks to months before I have a decent "After" shot but if you wait patiently I promise you there will be one. Eventually...

I don't seem to manage to get organized enough to participate in Carol's May Dreams Gardens Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of each month because I don't always have the proper names of whatever is in bloom handy.  I am bad about that.  I will buy something from the nursery, plant it, sort of forget about it and then when it begins to bloom or otherwise make a showing for itself I may have forgotten what it is.

I like having the proper botanical names though. If you call a bright yellow flower Taraxacum officinale it sounds less like a weed, don't you think?
A dandelion by any other name...
Forgetting what is where happens most often when I toss out wild flower seed mixtures. Some of the plants pop right up and I am comfortable with them already. Like blue bonnets (Lupinus texensis). I have really been enjoying the shapes the seed pods make as they form this year.Although their appearance makes me a little sad because that is also the beacon of the beginning of the end for the bonnets for the season.  I've discovered I especially enjoy having blue flowers around me. Blue is supposedly the rarest color for flowers and perhaps my favorite shade for blooms as luck would have it. So I really appreciate these corn flowers too (Centaurea cyanus).
Then there are the plants like Showy Primrose that take two years to produce flowers. I'd forgotten they were in the seed mix, or maybe thought none of them had germinated because I'd also forgotten they take a while to get established. I typically don't recognize the plant without the blooms but once in bloom they are a childhood favorite for me.  We used to call them buttercups because of the yellow centers. Another childhood favorite is the rain lily (Zephyranthes candida). I guess some of the flowers I like the best are the ones that are both tough and delicate.Other plants have names I like so much or that are so evocative in some way I have little trouble recalling them. Such as Moroccan Toad-flax.
Enough about names for the moment.  Here is a fun new project that will be weeks in the making.  

I decided I needed (read:wanted) a bottle tree. It is a very Southern custom, originally thought to have been brought to North America by slaves taken from Africa. The bottles, placed upside down on branch ends, were placed outisde a house to capture evil spirits before they could enter.

I want to go on record as being all for capturing evil before it gets in the house. I have enough trouble cleaning up after the cat.

While talking to the Hub about introducing our own bottle tree, he suggested I use one of our regrown-from-the-stump elm trees in the back and modify it into a living bottle tree. I am not altogether sure this will work long term, and I am not completely convinced there will be enough usable branches to get the effect I am after, but after pricing some of the bottle trees for sale on the internet, I figured it was certainly worth a shot. Here are the early results with (ahem!) the promise of many more bottles to come.  Bottle Tree Before:And After:I know it doesn't look like much right now, but I have big big plans to sacrifice myself ruthlessly in a quest for more bottles.  Plus, other than those plans to empty lots of bottles we are (thankfully) fairly small frogs in the "evil attracting" pond so far as we can tell. 

To wrap it up for this post I will offer these beauties. Another couple of specimens that bloom more reliably after a season to get established: the Cutleaf Coneflower,(Rudbeckia lacianata) and the Verbena Rigida, or Sandpaper Verbena.I think the way the edges of the individual florets crinkle and turn blue as they age is wonderful.  But then some say I am too easily amused.  Oh wait - one more item.   There is a mystery I must share.  To wit, this gorgeous poppy.  According to the bag from Wild Seed Farms this ought to be either a Corn Poppy or a California Poppy but to me it looks more like an Icelandic Poppy. 

Whatever specific type it is, it is most definitely a Poppy of some sort and I am quite smitten with the shading on the petals. Each flower looks like a watercolor masterpiece in miniature. 

There you have it - a report from this garden and gardener for April. Once the oak pollen counts fall I will be back outdoors working to get in some vegetables, fingers crossed before it gets too hot. I will also be posting new photos of the bottle tree as it either works out beautifully or gets chalked up to "Lessons Learned".  Stay tuned and do drop back in!

About Me

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Rollingwood, Central Texas
Family historian by default. Oldest surviving matriarch on my branch of the Family Tree. Story teller, photo taker, gardener, cook, blabbermouth.