Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Nick's Lime Tree (Plant Portrait XI*)


On 20 December 2014, musician and writer Nick Cave planted a lime tree on Picnic Point, beside the Ornamental Lake, in Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. It was our 103rd commemorative planting, and the first for over a century that didn't involve a governor general, governor, queen, duke, countess, marquis...(you get the idea)...or associate of the botanic gardens.

Even then, in the early twentieth century, there were usually links to title. Opera singer Nellie Melba was a Dame when she planted a Poplar (Populus) in 1903, which has since died, and the pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski was the third Prime Minister of Poland when in 1904 he planted a Buckeye (Aesculus), still living.  

We have a plan now to celebrate people associated with Melbourne who have made a major contribution to the cultural life of Australia and beyond, with or without honorifics. Names on our list include Ron Barrassi, Cate Blanchett, Nick Cave, Barry Humphries, Michael Leunig and Geoffrey Rush (at the moment the gender balance is a bit like the first Federal Coalition Cabinet).


Many Melburnians of my age have grown up, or not, with Nick Cave (pictured here in the Royal Botanic Gardens with a mature Lime Tree). His music has been, almost literally, the soundtrack to our lives: from the The Boys Next Door/The Birthday Party's Mr Clarinet and Zoo Music Girl at student parties or live at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda, through the bands Bad Seeds and Grinderman, to recent musical masterpieces such as Higgs Boson Blues. Along the way there were films, books and other collected materials.  

Nick Cave started performing in Melbourne but soon became a musician of the world, and resident of Germany, Brazil and now the UK. His lyrics and novels have been the subject of workshops and academic scrutiny. Earlier this year Gerard Elson, in the magazine Island, compared him to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the American poet John Berryman. In The Monthly, Robert Forster places Nick Cave at the top of his list of Australian 'rock stars', ever.

Nick's writing and music is by any standard clever, evocative and fun. At its peak it's goose-bumps inducing, whether mellow or murderous. While there are plenty of plant references dotted through Nick’s lyrics - he was perhaps the first Australian 'rock' artist to reference nature in this songs - the selection of tree planters is not about plants, and mostly it never has been. It's part of the Royal Botanic Gardens celebrating its place in the cultural life of Melbourne, as well as attracting visitors to a place (for whatever reason) so we can drench them in the beauty and importance of plants.


Nick Cave's significant contribution to art and to Melbourne make him an obvious first choice in this reinventing of the commemorative tree planting program. While others on the list may be better known, we felt it was important with this first choice to pick someone less conventional and a little provocative. Someone who has extended the culture of Melbourne geographically and creatively. Someone who reflects modern Melbourne.

We won't rush the next planting and I expect we'll do one or two a year. I like the idea of linking the tree, at least tangentially, to the person doing the planting but it needs to be a tree we want and to fit into the Gardens landscape.  

The tree this time is a Lime, a connection to one of Nick's most moving songs where he says 'I put my hand over hers, down in the Lime Tree Arbour'. This particular lime is called Henry's Lime, Tilia henryana, again a nod to one of Nick's creations, the 1992 album Henry's Dream. 


This is the first time we've grown Tilia henryana. It's an Ernest Wilson collected species from China, introduced to the West around 1901 and named after another prolific plant collector, Augustine Henry. The leaves are described as 'sea-green' when mature, glossy above and silvery below. But the new leaves, which you can see now (and pictured at the top of the post), are silvery-pink or copper-coloured, and produced in mid to late summer as well as spring.

So this flush of growth is expected, although perhaps not the best thing to do this time of year in Australia. In his recent book on Henry, Seamus O'Brien describes this species as 'the largest of all the lime trees from western and central China, and without a doubt the most beautiful'.

Thanks Nick. Not quite a Lime Tree Arbour, but a beautiful Henry’s Lime to celebrate a major contribution to world culture, from Melbourne.


Notes: I held back on posting this story having already pasted most of the photos in my Facebook page, and with the Sunday Age running a photo story the day after, but the tree is doing so well, and the new growth is so pretty, I can't resist.

*Occasional posts are called Plant Portraits (in brackets after the blog title and marked with an asterisk). These are usually about things other than, but including at least passing reference to, plants. Often they will be inspired by a book or something else in my cultural life. The idea is borrowed (very loosely and with due deference) from Milan Kundera's 'Novels, Existential Soundings', in his Encounters. These essays were as much, or more, about things other than the book being reviewed.

2 comments:

thomasfairman said...

I humbly suggest Garrett or someone else from Midnight Oil for the next planting. You've even got a choice of a double planting from their great song Golden Age:

I can see a purple patch of jacaranda Framed in eucalypt from this wooden floored verandah

Tim Entwisle said...

Hi Thomas,
A nice suggestion and perfect link to (two) plants. The down side is that MO very much a Sydney band, as is Peter Garrett. I'm sure there is some link to Melbourne but hard to bump a few others at this stage. But I will add to my list! Thanks for the response. Tim