Grandmother lime is a small-leaved lime, ‘Tilia Cordata’, registered on the ancient tree inventory with veteran status. Her vast trunk has swelled to an impressive 5.4m and shows all the features of a well lived linden with lapsed branches, flourishes of bracket fungus, and holes displaying exposed heartwood. Veteran limes are trees that have reached an age of between 150-250 years old, if the girth-based estimate of age is correct at 202, this would place her planting at some point in the early to mid 1800’s – possibly coinciding with the coronation of Queen Victoria.
Grandmother lime, as she is known to the locals, lives on the rolling slopes of Bushy coombe. She holds space in the landscape, physical and spiritual, as a place of pilgrimage, prayer and thanksgiving, picking up a thread of linden worship that dates back to pre-Christian times. Her colossal canopy reaches outwards as far as it reaches upwards, occupying a space upon the banks of the coombe that would be adequate to build a small church. She is in herself a temple and is visited by many with the appropriate reverence. An outstretched limb beckons one into her space and provides a bannister that guides visitors into the nave of her chapel and towards the altar.
Her short but girthy trunk splits into multiple leaders with each branch as big as any other linden tree in the area. They extend up and out to launch the billowing cumulus of her crown. Further branches, young and vigorous, sprout vertically in rows along the top side of each bough, and appear as if each branch is sprouting its very own linden woodland.
In Summer, this complex skeletal structure produces layers upon layers of foliage, bulging cloud-like to create a persistent mirage of distant forested swathes within her farthest reaches. So expansive is her form that the eyes are able to wonder across her as if slowly inspecting the view of a distant landscape, travelling such a distance that the mind questions whether they are still looking at the same tree.
Linden’s flowering marks Midsummer, she is known as a tree of the South, and is not a native to the cold climes of Scotland and Ireland, requiring all the warmth of the Solstice sun to produce fertile fruit. While most of our local trees engage in a frenzied Spring flowering, the linden takes her sweet time about it, waiting until mid-to-late June, when the sun is at its highest, to lazily sprinkle her canopy in hundreds of thousands of creamy white blossoms. The perfect hermaphrodite flowers attract pollinating insects in numbers so plentiful the tree develops an audible hum, which on the warmest days turns almost to a rumble.
It’s at this time of the year when a visitor can truly step through the doorway into Lindenland. Midsummer’s Lime has the ability to softly provoke all the senses simultaneously: eyes are dazzled by her dancing blossom, the smell of her flowers intoxicates the respiratory system, while the gentle breeze through leaves and the deep hum of the bees lures one further into submergence. In this experience, perfectly unique to the lime, one is literally drawn “Under the Linden” – headily intoxicated beneath her deep shade, fully under the influence of her crown.
A few picked flowers placed in a bottle of spring water provides a floral linden libation that provokes the tongue and taste, while I sit with my back supported steadfastly by her sturdy fluted trunk, with hands placed upon her base to feel the deep texture of her physical presence. What other tree, or being, can claim the complete engagement of all the senses with such ease? Perhaps only a Goddess, or the universe itself!? It might be said that Tilia, the tree of many names, is mother nature personified and that our Grandmother is one of her finest manifestations.
Summer’s linden might be at her verdant best, but what Winter’s linden lacks in foliage, she makes up for in stark revelation. Winter’s linden is a different place altogether – raw and provocative, her brave pillared form backdropped against bleak Winter skies is dripped with blood red stems and studded with blood red buds that from a distance give the whole tree a distinct magenta aura. It’s like the tree bleeds its new shoots and the contrast of red and silver conjures an image of blood on metal.
Up close, the slanted light of the low Winter sun illuminates Grandmother’s revealed skin to evoke the subtle quality of tarnished silver. The linden plays well with the light of Winter which is fleeting and unlike the direct rays of the Summer seems not to originate from a single point. It is rather less conspicuous, drifting and draping across her skin, enhancing her textures, moving and transforming as if each day desires to paint our dear linden as a most beautifully ornate altar decorated in the finest detail.
It is in the Winter, void of her green hearted cloth, that the true magnificence of her structure is revealed and she transforms into something that is more of a dream state creation than a real life tree. Boughs normally hidden from sight are exposed as colossal columns carved ornately of lime reaching skyward like the pipes of a holy organ, while embodying all the looming demeanour of a gothic cathedral made not of stone, but chiselled from tree by the elements.
Along with the old oaks and the holy thorn, our divine linden is one of the most sought after trees of Glastonbury and completes a fine trinity of arboreal representatives. Humans are drawn to her as tradition dictates. I often see them cradled in the forearm of her low outstretched branch, or in groups circling her hand-in-hand, leaving their prayers behind in branches, or else singing songs of joy and dancing beneath the deep shade of her Summer canopy.
Grandmother lime may be one of a handful of linden trees in Britain that speaks to a deep cultural heritage of lindens throughout Europe, there is no other to my knowledge who receives as much attention. I think it’s no coincidence that a Linden should hold such a prominent position on the land and in the hearts of Glastonbury folk – she stands so proudly as the balancing feminine force to the masculine represented by the local oaks.
That she should be named so aptly as Grandmother speaks to lime trees’ romantic wisdom and giving nature. In my deepest daydreams I imagine that she herself has been carried through the fog of history and given to us as a reminder of the ancient lime woods and linden cults of bygone millennia, where much of life may have been carried out within the bosom of the linden.
This is by no means an exhaustive gospel to lime, but a mere verse in its chapter. No doubt, as life moves on it will expand and grow into multiple volumes that might one day form part of the written testament to Linden.
I leave you with some photos and a poem called, The Linden Tree, by polish poet, Jan Kochanowski. I feel it puts into succinct detail the giving nature of linden and is apt for thankful dedication to Grandmother lime herself.
The Linden Tree
Traveller, come! Enter under my leaves for a rest,
Where the sun will not reach you. Come, and I promise the best:
Even with sun at the highest, shooting down on the meadows
Brilliant rays, diffuse them I shall, to the softest of shadows.
Here, right under my crown, wafts gently and coolly a breeze;
Here, the starlings and larks all abound and argue with ease;
Here, the hard-working bees extract from my sweet-smelling flower
Honey that graces the finest of tables at family hour.
And, without effort, with whispers that come from my deep,
I shall be singing all visitors sweetly to sleep.
Though in Hesperides Garden none of the apples I bear,
As the most giving of trees, my Lord has planted me there.
by Jan Kochanowski – translated by William Auld.
Article by: MW – 25/01/24
Visual Diary Dec / Jan 2024