Stop 1 AVENUE OF LIMES
The Avenue of Limes was planted in 1874 but how many of the current limes date from this time is unknown.
It is not certain whether the avenue was originally pleached, as the trees appear to have been freely grown and cut off at a uniform height. (Pleaching is a technique used to train trees into a raised hedge.) The branches have subsequently been trained out sidewise and the trees managed into a semi-pleached form, leaving a sizable central horizontal cut. Wood decaying fungi have colonised many of the stems and trunks through the cuts, but the branches carry relatively little weight so at present this does not appear to be a problem.
The European, or Common Lime, is a natural hybrid of the small-leafed lime Tilia cordata and the large-leafed lime Tilia platyphyllos. These two are British natives, but the Common Lime was introduced from the Netherlands in the 17th century. It is one of the tallest deciduous trees growing up to 40m. The bark is smooth and grey, becoming fissured with age. The leaves are heart-shaped, around 10cm long and lime-green in spring. They are followed in midsummer by beautiful scented, yellowish-white blossoms with long bracts (modified leaves), which attract bees looking for nectar. In summer aphids feed on the leaves, making them sticky with ‘honeydew’ and then black with sooty mould. As Limes are often planted as street trees, this syrupy substance inevitably falls on cars and pavements, annoying the owners and passers-by. They also have a tendency to sprout unsightly suckers. Lime wood is fine-grained but soft and is ideal for carving. It was used most famously by Tilman Riemenschneider to carve altar pieces and sculptures of saints.
Mythology and Folklore of the Lime
In Germanic mythology, the lime was believed to help discover the truth. Local communities assembled under a lime tree in order to seek justice. Until the 18th century verdicts in rural Germany were frequently returned ‘sub tilia’ (under the Lime).
In the Nibelungenlied, written around 1200, a bird tells Siegfried that to make himself invincible, he must bathe in the blood of a dragon. This he does, but a single lime leaf lodges between his shoulder blades, leaving him vulnerable at this point. It is to be Siegfried’s undoing. Later in the story while kneeling to drink, Hagen kills him, by thrusting a spear into the spot.