Country diary: A generous, loving old soul is this tree

·2-min read

It is exactly 100 steps from my front door to the big lime tree on the corner – a marathon number for me, and so they happen very slowly as I lean heavily on my walking frame. I was determined to reach the tree today. I’ve been watching it from my bed, where I must spend most of my time, thinking about it with a cheerful obsession. I made a promise to myself that I would make friends with the things around me, and what better place to start than with the largest?

Tilia x europaea – I’ve been saying its Latin name to myself like a spell, researching its facts and folklore, delighting that traditionally it’s a tree under which people married – apt with its big heart-shaped leaves – but, until now, we have been distant acquaintances, merely waving back and forth. It was high time we met in person.

Of course, it is March, cold and damp, and so the tree that greets me after those 100 patient steps is absent most of the characteristics I’ve been learning about. It is almost comically untidy, suiting our cramped, neglected estate. You can barely see its scarred trunk for the mass of sprawling suckers, dotted with litter. Its zigzag branches are crooked. A neighbour has optimistically hacked it back where it pushes into their driveway, but it’s already regrowing.

As I rest, I take one of its probing low suckers in hand, and there – just as I learned – is a little red boxing glove of a bud. Soon it will leaf from head to toe, and then, defying all expectations of ugliness, flower beautifully. The bees will flock to it in such numbers that it is referred to in some places as “the humming tree”.

I make my slow way back, smiling. An apt new companion: obstinate, surprising. Back home, I brew a cup of dried limeflower tea. The tree’s flowers are said to heal and soothe the heart in another echo of its leaves. A generous, loving old soul is this tree. I am so glad to know her now.

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