Over the last few days I’ve been watching a bottle tree orchard unfurl in The Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art. My picture shows one of the bottle trees as dusk was falling this evening. It has been wonderful to have the chance to see the smiles and animated expressions on the faces of the first few people to interact with it.
Mississippi is a naturally creative place, able to tap into a rich, complex heritage. Influences from the thriving community of artists and craftspeople from the past and the present cross-fertilise readily and fall on fertile soil, firing the imaginations of the wider population. Creative people never seem to be in the minority here. People express themselves through garden art with exuberance and individuality, not worrying too much about what the neighbours might say.
Bottle trees and gazing balls can be traced back through folk lore as far as Aladdin. The idea was that that the bottles trap mischievous or unfriendly spirits, protecting the family home. The beliefs may have faded over time, but bottle trees are alive and well, in the southern states of America at least.
After keeping my eyes open for several years back home, I can vouch that bottle trees ‘in the wild’ of the average British garden are rara avis. In England, you’re more likely to see garden glass in high-end or public gardens or in glass artists’ exhibits at the Royal Horticultural Society’s world-renowned shows.
In contrast, bottle trees and other garden art are a regular feature of private gardens in Mississippi, making a stroll around ‘funky’ Fondren or the historic district of Belhaven (home to Eudora Welty) seem even more fascinating and characterful to my British eyes.
Though vernacular bottle trees have so much mass appeal here, they’re not always appreciated in fine art circles, so it’s refreshing that the art museum in Mississippi’s capital city, Jackson, is hosting an installation dedicated to this archetypal form of garden glass.
I’m sure those who visit the orchard will love the (world’s first?) deciduous bottle tree, surrounded by fallen ‘leaves’ (broken glass). Other exhibits naturistically placed in the flower borders include a hanging, chandelier-style bottle tree; rebar branches; a pink flamingo bottle tree; a flower tree; a gazing ball; a bottle tree grove and a traditional standing pine bottle tree. And it wouldn’t be Mississippi without some classic Blues. Blue bottles, that is.
A small grove of bare crape-myrtle branches has sprung up, spray painted to echo the autumnal colours of The Art Garden. Unlike the ones made famous by Eudora Welty, these are capped with glass insulators, on loan from local cornucopia Old House Depot.
‘…sometimes in the sun the bottle trees looked prettier than the house did’
Eudora Welty Livvie
The Mississippi Museum of Modern Art has a strong, pervasive sense of place, making it well worth a visit for anyone who enjoys art and culture. The Museum, the Bottle Tree Orchard and the talks to mark its official opening are all free to enter.
Mississippi Museum of Modern Art
380 South Lamar Street, Jackson, MS 39201
My experience of travelling teaches me that it’s a small world. If you’re in the area, please drop by and say hello tomorrow (Thursday 10th December) – I’ll be around to hear (my sweetheart) Felder Rushing’s illustrated talks at 11.30 and 6.00 in the foyer of the Museum.