There’s a new flush of leaves on the lime tree now. That’s lime as in Tilia, the one with the flowers that lime tea is made from, nothing to do with the citrus fruit. The limes are an interesting group – they are the only trees I can think of in the UK that have leaves worth eating more than one or two of for more than a few weeks of the year. After the first big flush of leaves in the spring, they have the very handy habit of producing an almost continuous supply of a much smaller number of new leaves. I’m growing them as a hedge to maximise the supply of new, reachable leaves.
All the different lime species have technically edible leaves: the big difference is that some of them are hairy and unpalateable, while others are smooth and slip down a treat. I have one of each. Tilia platyphyllos or large-leaved lime sounded great in the catalogue, but I find it bristly and almost completely inedible. It’s fair to say that its coat is now on a shoogly peg. The smooth one is Tilia cordifolia or small-leaved lime, which Ken Fern of Plants for a Future describes as ‘the nicest lime I have tasted’.
I tend to agree, but the trouble with small-leaved lime is that, well, the leaves are rather small. The taste of small-leaved lime and the leaf size of large-leaved would be great and it just so happens that that isn’t an impossible dream, as there is a hybrid between the two called Tilia x europaea or common lime. Common lime is very variable, with seemingly practically every combination of its parents’ features out. Most are inedible but there are some very nice trees growing near our flat and next spring I’m going to try grafting a scion from one of them onto a lime seedling that has sprung up in my flower bed.
Almost certainly there are even nicer ones out there and, as their name suggests they are very common, so it is worth getting in the habit of having a quick nibble on any new lime tree you find (I learned to ignore funny looks from neighbours and passers by a long time ago). If you find a prize tree, please let me know.
My limes came from the Agroforestry Research Trust, probably the most comprehensive supplier of forest garden plants in the UK.