The Vincent van Gogh pleached lime in the artists village of Zweeloo in Drenthe is topiary of the highest order. Firstly as it was painted by Vincent van Gogh, but also because it is one of the only pleached limes in the north of the country with the respectable age of at least 163 years old. The only slightly sad aspect is the location of this living, culturally historical artwork; in the pavement between piles of patio chairs behind a bistro. But don’t let that curb our enthusiasm for this stunning artwork from 1860.

In 2022 the National Tree Top 50 was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Nationale Bomenbank where the 98 nominated trees were visited, recorded and judged by Terra Nostra. I had the pleasure of visiting the pleached lime in Zweeloo. A village not far from Emmen and already indicated as an artist’s village before leaving the city limits. The pleached lime was nominated by the artist Kees Verweij, who regularly paints the tree. Along the through road is Bistro Tante Zweel where the tree is situated. The bistro is closed, but as I walk around the building I see this artwork behind a fence, in full leaf.

Vincent van Gogh pleached tree

Vincent van Gogh single layer lime from 1860 in pavement

A very low normal lime, Tilia x europaea with a pollard height of 4 metres at most. The crown is formed of relatively messy branches on 6 heavy horizontal boughs. The trunk has a diameter of just 64 cm, is hollow and is separating. The tree has lots of support to keep the branches on the trunk. These all hang from the open, hollow trunk sides. Apparently the tree barely survived a gas explosion in the 1950s. During the assessment in the summer of 2022 the crown was adorned with an impressive amount of leaves, formed by two or three year old shoots. A beautiful green monument.

Stem detail

Detail of stem and hollow branches

But what a desolate location for this tree. The bistro does not take advantage of this potential tourist attraction and has its terrace at the head of the building, not by the tree. The van Gogh lime is just around the corner, behind a fence and out of site behind the building. Wouldn’t it be lovely to sit in the shade of such a lime tree? It seems like a missed opportunity, but a lot would need to be changed to make this the centrepiece. Moreover any changes would be detrimental to this tree. It makes me sad to see a tree like this, with its history, being lost in a pavement. A tree with such a history needs to be situated in the middle of the village square, like the Moeierboom in Etten-Leur. The Moeierboom was ‘only’ visited by van Gogh, but never drawn or painted. But that Van Gogh visited Etten-Leur is no secret! Near the Moeierboom there is a sign reminding us and on the internet there is also plenty of information.


Rondekoplinde of Borger from 1880

Back to my mixed feelings about Zweeloo. The Vincent van Gogh lime in Zweeloo is extra special, because most topiary, such as single layer and multiple layer limes are found in the south of the country. Often in Catholic regions. The ‘Rondekoplinde’ from Borger (Drenthe) is the most famous example of topiary in the north of the Netherlands that I know of. Planted in 1880 in honour of the birth of Queen Wilhelmina. I’m probably being unfair to other single layer limes, but these two limes are the best examples from the 3 northern provinces of Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen. Yes, on the Menkemaborg in Uithuizen there is also an single layer lime but this is much younger, at most 30 years old. In short the Vincent van Gogh single layer lime is very special!

Max Liebermann, 1882 Die Rasenbleiche. Source: Reinisches Bildarchiv Koln

In 1882 the German artist Max Liebermann painted ‘bleaching on the lawn’ on two paintings, including ‘Die Rasenbleiche’ where the single layer lime is visible. And although a painting is not necessarily always the truth it appears in the painting from 1860, so the tree is only 22 years old, that it already has an impressive crown. Especially for an example of topiary where the leaves were frequently pruned. This might mean that the age of the tree has been underestimated and that the planting date of 1860 might not be accurate.

Vincent van Gogh, 1883 Orchard with pleached lime behind Mensingh Inn, Zweeloo. Source: Boijmans van Beuningen museum 

In 1883 Vincent van Gogh also drew the tree. He knew about the paintings of Max Liebermann and wanted to see the place which Liebermann. During his visit he was so impressed that he made a charcoal sketch of the single layer lime. The Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam has of this artwork called: ‘Apple Orchard with Lime Tree Behind the Mensingh Inn in the Village Zweeloo’. The tree also appears older here than 23 years due to its trunk, character and crown volume. The branches are also supported by wooden frames, a detail that Liebermann also showed.

knot zomer knucklehead in winter

Growth in summer and 'knucklehead' in winter

Recently, April 2023, during a walk along the Pieterpad I was in the vicinity of Zweeloo again. So I had to make a detour to Zweeloo, as I now had the chance to see the tree in the winter. The bistro appeared to still only open occasionally so I couldn’t ask if I could visit the tree. Nothing else for it then to put on my naughty shoes, sneak around the back of the bistro to view and photograph the tree, which had just been pollarded.

Polarded Vincen van Gogh single layer lime

Less impressive because the bare knots in the contrast with the large number of roof tiles and pavement and the lack of foliage. But it’s still a fantastic tree to see, the history alone giving me a large amount of respect for this tree. There is also now a sign in a nearby park and new life has been blown into the van Gogh bicyle route. And the tree lovers? They can just about see the knuckleheads of the impressive van Gogh lime sticking above the fence and that a piece of living art history is standing there.

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