Martes, Marso 1, 2011

A Southern tradition still in bloom

Bill Talbot, co-owner of the inn, which he describes as a "B&B or beer and breakfast," says bottle trees "have been here all my life, part of the African American superstitions.

"We had so many haints on the compound, we had to try and control them," he says.

Haints are lost souls, angry ancestral spirits, and it's conceivable there are more than a few around Talbot's inn, which is on an old plantation. He rents out rooms and refurbished sharecroppers' shacks to visitors.

Dwyer's trees feature what he describes as "green, blue, red, clear, purple ones, whiskey bottles, Coke, Mountain Dew, medicine bottles, all kinds of weird bottles."

"The haints get up in those bottles and don't get out," Talbot says.

Although bottle trees are said to have arrived in the American South with West African slaves, the superstition is far older, according to Rushing.

Since hollow-glass vessels began appearing in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 1600 B.C., he says, most ancient cultures have believed that bad spirits -- imps and genies, for example -- could be captured in bottles placed around entryways, where they would be destroyed by morning's light.

The idea moved through sub-Saharan Africa to Eastern Europe and eventually to the Americas. But Rushing says German, Irish, and other European immigrants brought their own evil-spirit shibboleths in the form of witch-repelling gazing balls and hex symbols on barns.

Nowadays, Rushing says, gazing balls are garden art, hex symbols are tourist attractions, and bottle trees are "outdoor culture, garden accessories no different from hanging glass ornaments from earlobes."

At the "blue-bottle cottage," the bottle tree is an integral part of the garden.

In warm weather, it's enveloped by pink lilies and yellow verbascum or mullein, mauve geraniums and sunny nasturtiums. In cool weather, it stands out against the dried seed heads and snow.

At Longwood, Kanamee, nicknamed Koa, works on specialty chrysanthemum forms, such as topiaries. Petravich, who grew up on a dairy farm in Schuylkill County, is a research assistant; he breeds clivias, conducts plant trials, and studies ways to eliminate viruses from cannas and chrysanthemums.

Their blue-bottle collection easily tops 100 and, thanks to friends who drink certain types of wine, water, and vodka, continues to grow.

Some bottles get packed away in the attic. Others are set on the sills of curtainless windows in the house, blue sentries in square frames that catch the winter sun full on.

The light is clear and bright in morning and afternoon. In early evening, it glows a deep blue, utterly entrancing, perfect for ensnaring those disquieting haints.

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