Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Blue Bottle Bush

There is something new on the horizon in my backyard garden.
It is tall. It is metal. It is glass.

I have been thinking about adding one of these in my garden for quite a while and finally got around to building one.

Bottle trees have been popular in gardens in recent years. Click here for some historical background. Instead of a bottle tree, I call my creation a bottle bush. 

Fans of Pam Penick's blog, Digging, (and who isn't a fan of Digging) may think my bottle bush has some similarities to her ocotillo bottle tree. I swear I did not steal her idea. My bottle bush idea has been bouncing around in my head for several years. I had the rebar and I had some bottles, but I never had or made the time to make one until last month on the day after Christmas.

My bottle bush was made from the three rebar tepees that I removed from the garden last year. Looking back on this photo from June 2012, I wonder why I removed them.

I took my 15 pieces of 5/8 inch rebar of varying lengths and bent them with a pipe bender. You insert the pipe or rebar into the curved end of the pipe bender and use leverage against a hard surface (a sidewalk in my case) to bend the pipe. It takes a little muscle and an eye for plant growth habits to bring a lifelike shape to a straight piece of metal.

As I was bending the rebar, I stuck it in the ground to create the shape of my bush. I wish I had numbered the branches of my bush so I could recreate this shape. I actually prefer it to the current shape. As for the bottles, I had been collecting them from anybody that would donate to my cause, but I only had six blue bottles after four or five years. I did not have enough bottles of one color to complete the bush, so I thought I could use green bottles on the lower branches to represent the leaves of my bush and the taller branches would have blue bottles to represent flowers.

Since I drink grape juice and not wine, my alternate idea was to use frozen concentrate grape juice containers instead of wine bottles on my bush. The only problem with this idea is that the containers would probably blow off with a strong wind. In the end, I decided all blue wine bottles would work best. I found some bottles for sale online, but shipping would cost as much as the bottles. My internet searches finally lead me to a local beer making store that had blue hock bottles in cases of 12 for about $20. I bought two cases.

I thought of a couple of ideas to minimize contact between glass and metal. The first was to dip the ends of the rebar in Plasti Dip Multi-Purpose Rubber Coating. Plasti Dip comes in a can and is typically used to add a rubber coating to the ends of hand tools, such as pliers. Two dips seemed to be enough for a good coating.

While I was waiting for the Plasti Dip to dry, I stuck the rebar in the ground in a random linear pattern. I kind of like the look. This might look good in front of a fence, hedge, or maybe used as a see through screen.


To keep the neck of the bottle from rubbing against the rebar and to give it a snug fit, I cut a one inch length of 5/8 inside diameter vinyl tubing, ran it up the rebar and inserted the tubing into the bottle. You can barely see the tubing in the neck of the bottle.

I pushed the rebar branches into the ground as far as I could. There is up to 8 feet of rebar above ground and maybe one foot underground. I am not sure how this will hold up long term. Wet soil, dry soil, and wind could loosen the rebar and cause it to fall over. Concrete will be a last resort because I want to be able to move or adjust the branches of the bush if I get the urge. 

It is raining right now and is supposed to rain all day tomorrow. I hope the branches stay upright and I do not have to pick up pieces of broken bottles this weekend.

22 comments:

  1. What fun! Sending this off to friends. You have your own little bit of Chihulyesque translucent color.

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  2. What a low maintenance bush you created. Thank you for sharing the instructions. I have always like the look to the "bottle bushes" and you created a lovely one.

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    1. Thanks crybrug. No pruning, fertilizing, or watering required for this bush.

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  3. Your bottle tree turned out great and adds a lot of color in the winter garden. A show stopper for that spring tour when it's surrounded by bee balm.

    Great helpful tips too as I use rebar for bottles and wondered how to keep them more stable.

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    1. I have a feeling a lot of the Plano garden tour-goers will be unfamiliar with bottle trees (and bushes). One of the reasons I made this now was to add something interesting to the backyard. For me, it is all about the plants, but visitors are probably looking for a little more.

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  4. Love this! So much prettier than the stiff shapes of most. Lol at the grape juice cans

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    1. Thanks Laurin. I think the grape juice cans would look good if I could figure out a way to keep them on the rebar. Maybe silicone?

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  5. I love this, it looks great! I did a similar thing in my garden, but I call it 'Bottle Weeds'. I have the re-bar spaced out in my plumbago bed. Some of them are bent slightly and some not. They are varied heights and have green, blue, and clear bottles on them.

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    1. Sounds nice, littledutch. I may do something else along those lines at some point if I find the right spot.

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  6. I love the free form of your bottle bush. Mine is one of the "stiff" ones but better than not having one! I got my inspiration from a run-down bar in Alaska years ago, they lined them up on top of the pickets on a fence and I thought it was enchanting. Yours is one of the best I've seen!

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    1. You never know where you will get inspiration, do you, LostRoses? It is nice that you could recreate some of that enchantment at home.

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  7. It looks terrific, Michael! You know, there are only so many ideas in the world, and it makes sense that we'll all come up with similar ideas from time to time. What makes them unique is how we use them in our own gardens, surrounded by our own beautiful plants. I look forward to seeing how your bottle bush evolves over time since it's so moveable -- a cool feature. Thanks for the heads-up about breweries offering bottles. I'm planning to reuse my original bottle tree, after cutting off the rotten wood at the bottom, somewhere else in my garden, and I'll need more bottles for it.

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    1. Thanks, Pam. I am sure I will outright steal one of your ideas at some point. The lack of permanence of my bottle bush is a good feature, because I know I will rearrange the branches or move the whole thing somewhere else. The potential negative is I do not know how well the clay soil will hold them up over time. It rained all day today and all the branches are still upright, so that is a good sign. I will probably try to push them a little deeper into the soil this weekend. Good luck finding a local source for your bottles. So much nicer than having to pay shipping costs.

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  8. I love your bottle tree! I've been meaning to do something really similar. I also love Pam's bottle tree and its minimalist, organic shape, but like you, I want the option of re-arranging the arms at whim. I also would like to find an easy way to cut the rebar to different lengths for more height options. I just rearranged my back border and feel the need to do something different back there, so we shall see. Thanks for the tip on where to source the blue bottles. I'll have to see if I can find some in Austin. That, or drink more. ;)

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    1. Lori, I used a hacksaw to cut my rebar. A new blade goes through pretty quickly. Good luck finding some bottles. I hope I don't hear about you and Pam fighting over the blue bottles in Austin.

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  9. I've always loved bottle trees - blue in the garden makes me happy-happy - and yours is especially striking for its free form. Keeping it rearrangeable is genius. I'll be watching to see if you have issues with it staying upright this spring. That's the only time of year the combination of wind and rain seem to threaten the preformed rebar tree I've got. A combination of guide wires and rocks helped, but like you I'm avoiding concrete to keep is easier to move the bottle show as needed.

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    1. TexasDeb, I did some rearranging of the branches over the weekend. Since the ground was moist from the rain a few days earlier, I was able to push all the branches a little deeper into the ground. They all seem pretty stable right now. I will keep you posted on how it all holds up.

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  10. Your bottle tree turned out beautifully, Michael! Until the last few years, I had never seen one made except on a real bush or tree. I like your free form.

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    1. Thanks Maggie. It was not too many years ago that I didn't even know about bottle trees. The power of garden blogs and Felder Rushing's website http://www.felderrushing.net/BottleTreeImagess.htm

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  11. Very cool! I've wondered how to make a bottle tree. The last one I saw (at the monthly Wimberley market) was $125. I could buy a Rusty blackhaw viburnum for that, so it looked like a bottle tree wasn't in my new garden's future. Not sure I'm up to what you did but I'm inspired.

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    1. The one time I tried a rusty blackhaw viburnum, it died within a year. I think my bottle bush will last longer. If I bought everything new, my bottle bush would cost about $200 to build. Fortunately, I already had the rebar from other projects, so I just had the cost of the bottles. I bet you will come up with something nice.

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