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28 Oct 2022

Plant of the month: Malus domestica ‘Annie Elizabeth’

Written by Lucrezia Rossi, PLANTS Project Inventory Officer
A view of a garden lawn, with an old apple tree at the back. The flowerbed on the right is filled with orangey-red flowers.
The apple tree seen from the entrance to the lawn in Broughton House Garden
In the heart of the garden of Broughton House can be found a charming, old apple tree (Malus domestica).

This apple tree, together with several other plants, remains one of the few surviving trees that were planted by Edward Atkinson Hornel, the artist who designed and maintained this garden between 1901 and 1933.

Hornel was an innovative and successful Scottish painter, whose works predominantly featured landscapes, flowers and foliage, with children playing in them. The enchanting garden of Broughton House played a significant role in influencing Hornel’s paintings and can be considered a work of art in its own right. Much of its design was inspired by Hornel’s visits to Japan, which can be seen in the creative use of water and stones. The garden is divided into a number of ‘garden rooms’, each with a distinct character that reflects not only Hornel’s eccentricities but also the different personalities of those who have gardened here in the past.

The old apple tree sits at the border of one of the main lawns, where it can be peacefully admired from one of the benches around the edge of the lawn. For the attentive observer, it will be possible to notice an unusual growing pattern: the two main branches form a ‘v’ shape. This is because the tree had originally been trained against a fence.

The apple variety is Annie Elizabeth, an old-fashioned English ‘cooker’ that dates back to Victorian times and is thought to derive from a Blenheim Orange seedling. The story goes that the apple was originally grown in 1857 by Samuel Greatorex, a magistrate’s clerk from Leicester, who named the apple after his daughter. Due to its excellent qualities, the apple was subsequently propagated and raised by Harrison and Sons of Leicester and was grown commercially in the UK until the early 1930s. In 1869, it received a First Class Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society. It is believed that the original tree is still in existence to this day, identified from old descriptions and a watercolour painting belonging to the owner of the property where it grows.

“Annie Elizabeth’s flavour is much sweeter compared to most culinary varieties and it can also be eaten raw for those who enjoy a sharp apple. When cooked, it retains its shape, making it ideal for use in tarts.”

Especially good for growing in cooler and wetter areas, this tree can survive anything that the British weather throws at it. The apples are usually ready for eating from late September to early November, depending on which part of the UK you live in – late September in the south-west of Scotland.

Annie Elizabeth is not one of those varieties that are commonly found in supermarkets, nor is it likely to be sold in mainstream garden centres. However, at Broughton House these apples are harvested annually and sold to whoever wants to enjoy them. Make sure to take some if you visit Broughton House and bake the perfect autumnal dessert with Hornel’s special apples!

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