If you are a regular visitor to this blog of ours you may remember a post I did a few weeks ago called ‘Question Time’ in which I discussed some of the regular questions we get from visitors. In that post I focused on the Alstroemeria plants that were flowering in the cut flower area at the time and drawing much attention from everyone who passed by. Well, in the ever changing world of gardening, those Alstroemeria have long gone over and it is another plant that is grabbing the horticultural headlines here in Churchill’s gardens now.
Us gardeners here at Chartwell are having plenty of chances to smile to ourselves at the moment as we see a steady stream of visitors wandering around certain areas of the grounds with their noses aloft like the Bisto Kids from the old television adverts! There is a heady scent in the air if you are anywhere near Sir Winston’s Studio in the Orchard or if you are exiting the main Terrace Lawn at the Butterfly House end. We see lots of people smelling every flowering shrub, climber, annual and herbaceous perennial in the vicinity trying to find the source of this amazing fragrance and they are always surprised when we tell them that it is in fact the nearby Lime Tree that they can smell!
Tilia tomentosa ‘Petiolaris’, or the Weeping Silver-Leaved Lime to you and I, is an amazing tree in many ways. The masses of clusters of small, yellowish flowers throw out such a scent that if the wind is right you can smell it from a fair distance away. And even if you had no sense of smell you would be able to hear the tree from a similar distance as they are usually teeming with buzzing bees and other pollinators of every kind imaginable at this time of the year too. In fact, the pollen from the flowers is almost a drug to some bees, although not luckily to the honey bee, making them quite drowsy if they ‘overdose’ on the indigestible nectar! In fact, tea made from the flowers of Tilia tomentosa can act as a sedative so the tree clearly has some strong narcotic properties.
Tilia is the ancient Latin name for the Lime Tree, while tomentosa is derived from the Latin ‘tomentum’ meaning ‘the hairy stuffing of a pillow’, in reference to the hairy undersides of the leaves. ‘Petiolaris’ refers to the distinct petioles of this tree. They tolerate full sun or part shade, enjoy any aspect in the garden but prefer a slightly sheltered site and thrive better in an alkaline or neutral pH soil. The leaves are dark green and shiny on one side and a downy silver on the underside. The two-tone leaves flutter beautifully in the wind and the silvery hairs on the undersides make them less attractive to aphids than most other lime varieties. It is said by some that the leaves turn their underneath side to the sunlight during the day, perhaps to either reflect excess light on hot days or to attract more pollinators.
Native to southwestern Asia and introduced in to the UK the early 1840s, this Lime tree won the coveted RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2002. It can reach between 15 and 20 metres in height, taking anywhere up to 50 years to do so, with a spread of around 8m. Ours aren’t perhaps quite that large yet but they certainly aren’t very far off as this Lime is a particularly vigorous, but still very beautiful and graceful, variety. We have two examples at Chartwell, both of which are thriving. I won’t give you exact locations as you’ll easily be able to find them yourselves if you follow your nose!