The Linden tree, star of the French gardens

If the linden tree spans the centuries and countries and is still loved, it is because it is good for people. Adorned with all the virtues, it is at the same time the beneficial tree of the neighborhood, but also the noble and elegant tree which participates in the creation of the most beautiful French gardens since the 17th century.

The history of the linden tree

This tree has been around for 55 million years! It is found throughout the northern hemisphere, in the form of 45 different species.

Its name comes from the Greek word liber (part of the wood between the bark and the sapwood), tilos, which became tilia in Latin.

Throughout its history, it has given rise to many legends, which have adorned it with magical and healing virtues. Calming, protection of the temples of the gods, fidelity forever, the linden tree is endowed with all the powers!

In the Middle Ages, they were even planted near hospitals because they purified the air.

The tree that does good

The lime tree, a sacred and universal tree, with strong symbolism, and loved throughout the world, has always been close to mankind, so good it is to them. Its benefits spread like no other on the spirit, the body, the skin; its perfume is a real feast for the senses.

Its charm operates near houses, in schoolyards, on all the village squares, where it has been planted since time immemorial. Its bark was even worn as an amulet to protect men and animals.

Baptized the doctor tree, the tree of joy, the tree of love, the feminine tree or the tree of light, it is also the ornamental tree par excellence.

The linden tree, the preferred ornamental species

As early as the 16th century, botanists chose the lime tree to plant in parks and alleys, because it provides magnificent shade, fragrant in spring. It is also a very resistant tree, with a long life span and an elegant habit. It adapts very well to our climates, from Europe to Ukraine.

Since the 17th century, it became the preferred tree of the great gardeners, then of the famous French gardens in the 18th century, which had their moment of glory under Louis XIV, thanks to André Le Nôtre. To the point of being copied in the various European royal courts, and even throughout the world.

The essential of French gardens

Very structured, perfect symmetry and architecture were de rigueur. Indeed, the aim was to dramatize and domesticate nature and the landscape by creating perspectives. The components of the French garden? A total mastery with a rigorous geometry, alignments, terraces and stairs, perspectives, topiaries, fountains, statues…

A perfect alignment tree, which can reach 40 meters in height, the linden tree formed splendid alleys, as well as vegetal curtains and cloisters of greenery, because the tree supports severe pruning and grows quickly. Women could walk under their shade without fear of damaging their complexion with the sun, while breathing in the fragrant perfume of the delicate little linden flowers, protected by their bracts.

Some examples of French gardens

From the 17th century onwards, the French gardens were the most imagined gardens in the great castles. However, they required “armies” of gardeners to maintain them, and it is for this economic reason that they were gradually set aside, especially since they had no practical use (vegetable garden, crops…).

– Versailles 

Under Louis XIV, the avenue of lime trees designed by André Le Nôtre is an integral part of the extraordinary perspectives of the park of Versailles.  It linked the castle to a reserve for waterfowl in the royal hunting grounds, the Mortemets.

Almost 100,000 linden trees were planted throughout the estate! Alain Baraton, head gardener of Versailles, specifies that the 22-hectare Grand Canal is lined with 1872 lime trees, and that all the paths of the park are framed by 18,500 lime trees.

Chambord. 

Requested by Louis XV, this very regular garden offers an important place to the 

trees, which form real screens of greenery. They were restored in 2016, and it is the lime tree that was chosen to reconstitute the alignments. 

– Villandry: 

1016 linden trees still dress the park of the castle today.

– Palais Royal : 

Built for Richelieu in the 17th century, the Palace is separated from the garden by the Orleans gallery. “Four double rows of linden trees trimmed in marquise shape line the garden paths. Between these rows, two large lawns lined with flowerbeds frame the large central pool and its water features. 

– The Tuileries

The oldest and largest garden in Paris! It is to André Le Nôtre (still him), creator of the royal gardens of Versailles, Marly, Saint-Cloud and Saint-Germain, that Louis XIV in 1664 asked to redesign the garden. Here again you can walk along the linden-shaded paths. For the anecdote, it was the first public garden of Paris: the king had opened it “to the walk of honest people”.

– Matignon

In this Prime Minister’s residence in the heart of Paris, in the garden designed by Le Nôtre’s nephew, there are two alleys of 18th century lime trees. The trees, trimmed in a marquise shape, lead to a statue and form a perspective that is all the more beautiful because the space between the lime trees narrows as you walk along.

Pruning the linden trees

Although linden trees can be left to grow freely, in French gardens they are pruned and heal very well.

“Cat’s head, or willow head”. This old pruning technique limits the development of trees, with a structured shape.

“A cat’s head is a growth at the end of a branch resulting from repeated pruning of shoots in the same location. The scarring bulges fuse together and cause this head to grow. Trees pruned in this way store a large proportion of their reserves (starch, sugar) in the heads, which provides additional longevity.

Curtain pruning, or canopy pruning (in Versailles and in the cities). 

“The curtain is a geometric shape (parallelepiped), with a waist on all 6 faces of the alignment.

“The canopy shows a curtain on one face and a half-arch shape above. The double canopy shows two arches on either side of the alignment.”

Pruning of the linden tree as a parasol, or as an arbour (South of France and village squares): “the crown is lowered to about 2.50 m so that it extends in amplitude”.

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