05 March 2015

A celebration of trees: February: Lime Avenues

Chirk, July 2014
Unlike last month, in February’s tree celebration we’re not focusing on one particular tree. Instead, we celebrate the Lime Avenue.

Initially, I was confused about the local Lime tree – where was the fruit? In fact, these are not the citrus trees that produce the limes that make your caipiroska taste so refreshing. This tree is a completely different beast, also known as the Linden tree. That name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Linde and is the reason many parish and wood names in England are preceded by lynd- or lin- (as in, for example, Lincolnshire) – the name refers to the presence, either now or in centuries past, of the Lime tree. [1]

Great Budworth, November 2014
Britain is home to two native Lime trees, the small-leaved (Tilia cordata) and the large-leaved (Tilia platyphyllos), and also the Common Lime (Tilia x europaea), a hybrid of the two. The Lime is in the running for two superlative records – it is one of Britain’s longest living and also one of its tallest trees.

These are perhaps two of the reasons the lime tree has been used so frequently in the planting of tree-lined avenues, a landscape design feature that is centuries old. According to Glynis Shaw’s article ‘Tree Avenues’, one of the oldest tree avenues in Britain is the Spanish Chestnut avenue at Croft Castle in Herefordshire, which was planted with seeds from the Spanish Armada wrecks in 1592. [2]

In the 17th and 18th centuries, highly structured landscape design was the fashion, and tree avenues were a device to extend the formal design of the gardens around a mansion or castle into the surrounding parkland. The diarist John Evelyn is credited by many with introducing the idea of the avenue to England, by praising the French and Dutch plantings he had seen in his 1664 publication Sylva and subsequently planting the first double avenue of limes at Sayes Court in Deptford.

Here in Cheshire, we have several wonderful lime avenues and a lime walk close to where I am currently living and, last summer, I was also privileged to see the magnificent planting at Chirk Castle in Wales.

Chirk, July 2014
Chirk Castle
According to the Gardens of Great Britain website, the Lime Avenue at Chirk is the ‘surviving central axis of the seventeenth-century formal gardens’. Chirk’s magnificent oak-studded parkland was landscaped in the late eighteenth century by renowned landscape gardener William Emes, who has a long list of gardens to his credit.  

As well as the impressive line-up of trees, I particularly liked the placement at one end of the avenue of a version of the Farnese Hercules, one of the most famous statues of antiquity. This particular copy, cast in lead and dating from around 1720, was originally one of a pair of classical sculptures (the other was a figure of Mars) that stood outside the castle’s entrance. Hercules was moved to the surrounding woods in 1770 but relocated (with the help of an RAF helicopter!), restored and repositioned as a focal point for vistas up the Lime Avenue in 1983. A visit to Chirk is a must-do! 

Lyme Park, July 2014
Lyme Park
Returning to Cheshire, last summer I also enjoyed a superb day out at Lyme Park, with its 300-year-old Lime Avenue. According to English Heritage, 'The partial imposition of a geometric plan upon the park, with avenues and viewpoints, took place before 1676. It has been suggested that it was conceived by Richard Legh (1634-87), who was probably familiar with the work of the leading French landscape designer Andre Mollet (d c 1665).The principal view down the Lime Avenue formed the central spoke of a patte d'oie which radiated from the Hall. One lateral spoke focussed on Paddock Cottage to the south-west, the other on Game Keeper's House, at Bowstones, to the south-east.'

The original Lime Avenue was replanted in the 1840s but has also been receiving some much-needed maintenance in more recent years. For those fascinated by the details, the methodology and mechanism behind this maintenance are discussed in Samantha Gibson’s article ‘Exploring Every Avenue’. 

Marbury, November 2014
Marbury Country Park
Marbury Country Park, near Northwich, is based on the former landscaped parkland that surrounded Marbury Hall, the family seat of the locally prominent Barry family. Though the Hall was unfortunately demolished in 1968, the woodland that nestles so prettily alongside Budworth Mere has been redeveloped as a public park for all to enjoy. Its splendid double Lime Avenues were planted in the 1840s to the design of William Andrews Nesfield, whose influence on the structure of London’s Kew Gardens can still be seen today. 

Aston Park, February 2015

Aston Park
The rather grand country house at Aston Park was built in 1715 and seems originally to have been part of nearby Arley Estate as the Warburton family of Arley Hall lived at Aston Park between 1755 and 1763 while their own hall was being modernised. 

In his1903 book Picturesque Cheshire, Thomas Coward is of the opinion that the house ‘must have been more interesting still when it had its old front—for the front is much later than the rambling back—and its avenue of stately firs, which were replaced by the limes.’ I haven’t been able to establish when the limes replaced the firs.[3]

Tatton Park, July 2014

Tatton Park
With a Tudor-era Old Hall and a Neo-Classical Mansion set in 50 acres of landscaped gardens and 1000 acres of parkland, Tatton Park is one of Cheshire’s gems. At about the same time as the earlier house was being remodelled, between 1780 and 1813, the surrounding parklands were also being sculpted by the hand of man. Though a movement towards a more free-flowing landscape had by then largely replaced the earlier more rigid structural designs, the planting of lime avenues was still popular and the double Lime Avenues at Tatton Park are an excellent example, having been created during the latter part of the eighteenth century. [4] Humphry Repton is the landscape designer credited with ‘re-routing roads, sweeping away hedges and buildings and then planting thousands of trees and shrubs’. [5]

Tatton Park, February 2015

Great Budworth, January 2015
Great Budworth
Rather than a grand estate, Great Budworth is a small village of ancient cottages, clustered on a hillside not far from Northwich. And, rather than a grand avenue of limes, Great Budworth has a most beautiful lime-lined walkway no more than a couple of metres wide. Though parts of the village are much older, the village formed part of Arley Hall estate from 1469 right through to the 1940s, when much of the estate was sold off. I have not been able to find any information about the planting of the limes, but I assume the village’s close relationship with Arley may be the reason we can now enjoy a stroll down this sublime avenue.

Great Budworth, February 2015

[1] Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1996, pp.116-19.
[2] Glynis Shaw, ‘Tree Avenues’, Welsh Historic Gardens Trust Bulletin, LXII, March 2012.
[3] T. A. Coward, Picturesque Cheshire, Sherratt and Hughes, London and Manchester, 1903, p.79.
[4] Maggie Campbell-Culver, A Passion for Trees: The Legacy of John Evelyn, Eden Project Books, Random House, London, 2006, p.126.
[5] Norman Bilsborough, The Treasures of Cheshire, Shanleys Printers, Bolton, 1991, p.121.

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