“The falling leaves
Drift by the window
The autumn leaves
Of red and gold…”
What a stunning, colourful Autumn this has turned out to be. The leaves are such wonderful shades of red, gold and copper making a beautiful tapestry of trees and shrubs. Thankfully there are still occasional days when the sun is warm and a few Red Admiral or Peacock butterflies follow the sunbeams to land on brightly coloured Michaelmas daisies or straggly lavender flowers.
However, the gusty October winds really do bring down the autumn leaves. If you’ve been around the house or driven past the grounds recently, you may have noticed our Evergreen trees as they begin to stand out among the bare branches in the woodland. Next time you go by, have another look and see if you can spot our two majestic rows of veteran Lime trees. They are beginning to lose their golden leaves, revealing dramatic, long, grey, skeletal limbs reaching for the clouds.
These are some of our oldest trees and have been growing for more than 330 years! They were probably planted around 1685 as the house was being built and would be used to create a shelter belt and mark out some of the boundaries of the Estate.
A recent visitor to the House, who lived in the Cottage in the 1940’s, called the Lime Avenue at the front gate “The Blindman’s Row” and, as the name suggests, they may well have been planted by a blind man. I would love to know more about that story and if anyone can shed some light on it please let us know.
Why were Lime trees used for Avenues?
The other day a friend asked me “Why were Lime trees used for Avenues”?
My initial thoughts were because of the speed of their growth and their height, but my curiosity was aroused and so I did some research.
Lime or Linden trees (Tilia x europaea) are our tallest growing, broad-leaved tree. They are normally quite narrow, upright trees (compared to Oak or Beech) so they can be planted relatively closely together which makes them ideal for creating an Avenue. Because of their height, they can be seen from a distance and a row or two of tall trees is a unique way to show off your magnificent wealth and importance, whilst also marking out your territory so your neighbour can’t pinch any of your land. Lime wood is very useful. It doesn’t warp so it can be used to make furniture, cooking utensils, bowls and cups; it makes super firewood; the sweet-smelling flowers are popular with honeybees and we make a delicious tea from the petals.
An ‘Avenue’ is a row of uniform trees lining a road or a driveway approaching a particular place. The word comes from the Latin ‘venire’ – to come…. to your destination.
Repetitive Shape & Size
There is something satisfying about such a row of almost identical trees lining a road. The repetitive shape and size of the trees is an impressive sight changing slightly from day to day in sunshine or moonlight, wind or snow. The trees provide shelter from rain, wind and sun, they show you where the road is heading and help you to navigate safely in fog or by night but most important of all, you can only plant an Avenue of trees if you own a lot of land and you can only own a lot of land if you are rich. So, it is a pretty exclusive garden feature.
French Garden Design
The idea of an ‘Avenue of trees’ seems to date back to Italian gardens of the Renaissance period, around the 1500’s. This fashion was then ‘transplanted’ into French garden design and from there it was copied and thus spread widely across the continent of Europe. In the late 17th century, life was beginning to settle down a little bit and instead of financing wars, noblemen and wealthy merchants could use their money to build attractive houses with ornamental gardens. No expense was spared. This was the period that would see the stunning gardens at the ‘Palace of Versailles’ and, nearer to home, ‘Drummond Castle’.
In England, when William and Mary became the new Monarchs around 1688, they had Lime trees imported from Holland to be planted as part of their new designs at Hampton Court.
Meanwhile, in 1685 Bannockburn, the Paterson family and their gardeners were following the latest fashions of the day when they began to plant the trees at Bannockburn House. They planted two Silver Fir trees (Abies alba) on the main driveway approaching the House. These majestic trees had only been introduced into Britain in 1603 so they were still a novelty and they were to survive until the great storm of January 1968 when they were blown down.
The building of the Motorway
We know also that they planted several Lime Avenues around the grounds as the mature trees are clearly indicated in later maps. Some of these ancient trees were felled as recently as the late 1960’s when the new Motorway was being built across a substantial swathe of the original Estate. Sadly, only two now remain to give us some idea of the wealth and status of the original Laird.
Over the decades the popularity of tree-lined gardens and estates led to more trees being planted in towns and cities and from there tree-lined roads became a common sight in the 18th and 19th Centuries. These trees helped to prevent erosion, soaked up water, prevented marshy land and offered protection from wind. Their leaves were used to feed cattle and their fruits too had their uses so this fashion for Avenues was instrumental in shaping the landscape of Scottish gardens and the surrounding countryside.
If Trees could Talk!
Some of these wonderful 17th century trees are still alive and growing strongly as a testament to the far-sighted landowners who planted their Lime, Beech and Oak Avenues for their ‘bairns’ and the ‘bairn’s bairns’. We are the lucky ones who get to admire these amazing, mature trees. If only they could talk – what wonders they would tell us of the things they have seen and lived through over the last 300 years and how we would listen.
History & Places to Visit
Some historic Lime Avenues can be seen at ‘Blair Castle’ and ‘Inveraray Castle’. There is a famous avenue of Beech trees in N.Ireland which features as the ‘Dark Hedges’ in ‘Game of Thrones’. The longest Lime Avenue in Europe is at ‘Clumber Park’ in Nottinghamshire. It is almost two miles long and contains 1296 trees.
Gardening blog by Margaret from the Bannockburn House Trust Volunteer Gardening Team
Bannockburn House Photos by Lesley McPherson