Tyler bottle trees illuminate “spring winter”

As Winter Flies

A treasure hunt

for glass and glisten,

thoughtful birds

appear to listen

to water on water,

the rustle of wings,

in colorful joy

the bottle tree gleams. 

Orange, green, blue and white pop against a brown, pre-spring landscape at Tyler Rose Garden. 📷 all photos by Carol Thompson

The metallic scrape scrape of rakes against hay-colored yards and concrete around town heralds Tyler gardeners anticipating a green spring. “You should see my yard in just a few more weeks,” they are quick to point out. 

The Fins call the halfway season between winter and spring kevättalvi or “spring winter.” During “spring winter,” the local beauty of bottle trees and yard art shows off best, popping against somber gray and brown landscapes. 

Bottles adorning metal and wooden trees tell a lively stream of stories, lore and ancient legends.

Early Mediterranean cultures told tales of imps living inside hollow glass objects. The bottles trace back to the genie from “Arabian Nights” and bottle trees from North African cultures.

The bottles, often cobalt blue, are part of the vivid history and scenery of the American South. According to some folklore, spirits drawn by the rich blue color enter the bottles and become trapped, destroyed by the morning sun.  

Sandy Pannett

The sturdy wooden bottle trees in master gardener Sandy Pannett’s front yard in Tyler’s Glendale subdivision are Louisiana transplants. The trees, she said, are a part of Creole Black history said to keep evil spirits away. “If you blow over a bottle, it howls and moans,” said Pannett.

Her trees, decorated with cobalt blue bottles including Milk of Magnesia and Vicks VapoRub, hail from different places. Each has a telling name: “Mixed Drinks,” “Arizona Tea,” “Wine” and “Apollo Beer.” 

The tree decked in Apollo beer bottles is Pannett’s NASA tribute in honor of the Apollo space era and an astronaut who lived next door to her in Houston. Her yard also blooms with blue globes and pelicans. Believing common lawn grass is harmful to the environment, Pannett’s  backyard garden features ferns, hydrangeas, cannas, more bottle trees and a salad garden. 

Tricia and David Smith

A garden party of art best describes the front and back yards of Tricia and David Smith’s home near Hubbard Middle School. The limbs of their bottle trees display more than glorious glass. They also hold family memories: a green bottle from Pompeii; a $50 bottle of champagne from their 50th wedding anniversary; a blue bottle souvenir from a friend’s wine party; and a Chianti bottle, a gift from Ms. Smith’s sister. She said she favors blue bottles, including an Evening in Paris perfume bottle, because “they chase away the blues.”

Ms. Smith displays a prize-winning collection of George Carruth face sculptures artfully arranged across a backyard tree trunk. Whimsical names — “Bee in my Bonnet,” “Pandora,” “Green Man,” and “Garden Grouse” — give clues to the personality of each sculpture. 

Artful surprises punctuate every corner: A metal woodpecker hammers away at a tree trunk, red gazing balls reflect the Sweet Olive tree and a lineup of trinkets adorns a family bedstead at the backyard fence. Rotund birds of brilliant blue from Hanover, Germany oversee the grounds with curious, intelligent eyes. 

Rhonda Rooker

Wooden birdhouses swing in a row beneath the front porch eaves of Rhonda Rooker’s Green Acres neighborhood home. Her eclectic collection of yard art includes a blue gazing ball. Balls like Rooker’s — called fairy balls, witch balls, mirror balls and globes of happiness — are tucked in yards and gardens all over Tyler.

Rooker’s yard features a metal angel, colorful pottery, gourd birdhouses and stone sculptures. Every bottle on her tree is blue. “Blue is my favorite color,” she said. One came from a nephew’s wedding. 

Ted Kamel

A few blocks from the Rooker home beneath a spread of majestic magnolia trees, Ted Kamel’s tree of green bottles blends into vines and greenery. Nearby stands a colorful statue of an Asian woman and metal bluebirds in flight. Kamel’s yard is a hidden picture page come to life, each look revealing another sculpture. 

Cynthia Peters

Across Broadway Avenue in the Azalea District, Cynthia Peters’ tree of red, orange and green bottles nestles against her corner fence. The tree holds a special bottle from a monastery turned winery in Geneva, New York, where her husband Mel was born. For mystery lovers, Peters recommends “On Folly Beach” by Karen White, a novel plotted along the bottle trees of South Carolina. 

Jim Showen

Across town in the University of Texas at Tyler area, Jim Showen stands among his native plants. “They survive so much better than the others,” he said. Showen said he enjoys the decoration of his bottles from green, Milk of Magnesia blue and a brown prune juice bottle. Green wine bottles nestled in the groundcover line the yard.

Maria and Jose Palomino

Blue splashes on blue in the north Tyler yard of Maria and Jose Palomino. The water pours from the mouth of a large, blue jug and runs down a stream of rocks. The formation was created by Mr. Palomino, who put his skills as a landscaper to use with the help of his son, Jose Jr.

Katy and Greg Sutton

A grapevine peace sign and whimsy set the tone for the front porch and yard of Katy and Greg Sutton on Belmont Drive, where metal sunflowers and cactus bloom among the rosemary. A bright bluebird nesting near a rock in the flower bed reminds Ms. Sutton of her years as a Bluebird Girl

A large metal owl perched in a nearby tree belongs to Ms. Sutton’s daughter, Rachel — a gift for her love of all things Harry Potter. 

By the light of the moon, Tyler’s yard art glows. An after dark return trip to the Sutton home shines with lights, bringing the metal owl and woven peace sign to life. 

John Trube

John Trube’s welded bottle tree, a gift to his late wife Robin Morris, shines as a tribute to her memory. The couple collected the bottles — lots of blue, because the color showed up well in her garden. At night, solar lights on the metal sculpture, “Stargate,” illumine his Azalea District yard.

Steve Paar

A life-size iron angel lights the night in Steve Paar’s Copeland Woods yard. The angel holding Christ’s burial cloth is originally from New York and was later  brought to Madisonville, Louisiana, where Steve and his late wife, Cindy, spotted her. Moving the iron sculpture and setting her into place required assistance from the couple’s friends.

Similar to bottle trees favored for protection, the angel emits a sense of peace and well-being for the home as she spreads light across the flower bed.

“Spring winter” in Tyler holds its own beauty: treasures of bright color, hidden pictures and another turn of the season’s kaleidoscope. 

Carol Thompson, a former 70s newspaper reporter, has been published in “We Need Not Walk Alone” and National Public Radio’s (NPR) Marketplace. A member of the Rusk County Poetry Society and The Poetry Society of Texas, Carol is a coauthor of “Souls in the Sand” and “Twelve East Texas Poets.”

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