An exercise in Occam’s Razor (the K.I.S.S. approach)
Bottle trees, beyond their being folksy “make-do” garden ornaments, are a proud form of recycling. I’ve met hundreds of folks who openly confess they are “saving bottles” for a notional future state of nirvana they hope to reach when they’ll feel daring enough to actually put a bottle tree in their garden. Where used bottles belong.
In these weird times, bottle trees strike a chord for being a simple, refreshing, liberating aspect of life where there are no rules at all about getting it right or wrong. Unlike same old, same old pink flamingoes, no two bottle trees look exactly alike, not even those made of standard welded frames bedecked with your personal choice and placement of bottles. So, without a standard to go by, you actually can’t mess up.
Keep in mind here that I have made dozens of different bottle trees, spent half a century photographing thousands of them in their myriad variations across five continents, and, not to make too fine a point, actually wrote the book on bottle trees.
All this said, IMO there are many earnest folks who make bottle tree construction way too complicated. Let me assure you that it all boils down to two simple rules: “Stop throwing bottles away, and stick them on something out in the yard.“
Bottle Tree Materials
You can make one out of any material that will hold a bottle, from trees with limbs cut back to recycled Christmas trees, wood fenceposts studded with large nails, or bent or welded wire or metal rods. Any size, form, or shape will do, from a small shrub or tree-form, or as an arch, arbor, hanging chandelier, or wall sconce. Or just sticks shoved into the ground.
And you can use glass or plastic, and not just bottles. Modern, antique, any shape, any mix. I’ve used those small, rounded telephone pole insulators found along railways, jam jars, high-end glass art, old vases, antique medicine bottles (Milk of Magnesia used to come in great cobalt-blue glass bottles), and frosted bottles with flamingoes hand-painted on them…
As for colors, do you like the idea of rainbow of bottle colors? Of course. Plain old clear, or all green? Suit yourself. All blue? Classic. (BTW Riesling wine and Skyy vodka often come in blue bottles. Just saying.) Labels on, or soaked off? Depends on the label. Mardi gras beads, or string lights? Go for it.
Really, it boils down to the idea that every single bottle tree on Earth is simply a sturdy frame festooned with bottles in a garden setting.
Make a Bottle Tree in Four Steps
For folks who need guidelines, here are the four crucial steps to making a bottle tree, with any combination of materials, variations, and embellishments:
Step 1: Get your attitude right for expressing yourself, with the tacit understanding, as Martha Stewart once quoted me as saying, “Hold your head high – it doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it, your neighbors are going to talk about you anyway.”
Step 2: Find or make a sturdy support in the garden with pegs no bigger around than your finger.
Step 3: Find some bottles
Step 4: Stick the bottles on the support.
Add-on: Many bottle trees are topped with a special-flourish finial. I’ve seen metal roosters, toy horses, hubcaps, an iron, bowling balls, a special red bottle, birdhouses, even an antique typewriter.
The takeaway here is that it’s all up to you. Remember: You can’t mess up with bottles on sticks. Make one, or live your life bottletreeless.