At the 2015 RHS London Botanical Art Show I was asked to post the information that I had researched on the crab apple trees so that it was available for reading or re-reading. This will therefore be a long post with photos of the trees and information on the variety and the specific trees I based my paintings on.
The name ‘crab’ to describe the fruit of wild apple trees has been used since the 1300s, with its associated meaning of something that is bitter to taste. They were often used in the creation of mixed hedging, and as reliable pollinators for domesticated apples.
When I started research on crab apples, I was amazed at the variety, in colour and size of fruit, flowers, and leaves. Because of their tendency to hold on to their (admittedly unpalatable but decorative) fruit in winter, they can provide year-round interest, with a profusion of blossom in spring (from white through deep pink to rich claret), the developing fruit in summer (pale lemon through cherry red to deep purple), and glorious autumn colour. And you can make a tangy jelly from the fruit – what’s not to like?
On a visit to nearby RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex, I had picked up a leaflet on their ‘Crab Apple Trail’, and enjoyed following it around the garden, so I contacted the Marketing Manager, Sue Carter, to ask if I could use trees from the collection as the subject of my exhibit. Sue kindly set up a visit with Garden Manager, Ian Ball, who gave up his time to take me round the garden to look at the collection in detail.
Out of the many possibilities, I chose an initial selection of twelve, with a variety of blossom and fruit colours and sizes. I regularly visited the Garden to draw, paint and photograph the trees over the next two years, to assemble the notes and sketches to work from, and as I discovered more trees, the list crept up to a possible twenty-one. However, at the end of the time, I reduced it to the seven varieties on which I had sufficient information on to create complete paintings.
Sources of information
The staff at RHS Garden Hyde Hall
Mr. Ivan Dickings, formerly of Notcutt Nurseries, Woodbridge, Suffolk
Thornhayes Nursery, Cullompton, Devon
Bricknell Christopher (Ed.) (1996), The RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants – Dorling Kindersley, London.
Bricknell Christopher (ed.) (2008), The RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers – Dorling Kindersley
Campbell-Culver, Maggie (2001), The Origin of Plants – Headline (Hodder)
den Boer, Arie F (1959), “Ornamental Crab Apples” – The American Association of Nurserymen
Fedde Fredriech (1906), “Repertorium Specierum Novarum Regni Vegetabilis”, vol. 3: 178-179, Berlin-Wilmersdorf
Jefferson Roland M (1970), “National Arboretum Contribution No. 2. History, Progeny and location of crab apples of Documented Authentic Origin” – U.S. Department of Agriculture
Website of SAPHO, (Syndicat d’Amélioration des Plantes Horticoles Ornementales): The INRA (Institut national de la recherche agronomique) of France gives the group exclusivity for the license management of its woody ornamental varieties;
Kew International Plant Names Index database http://ipni.org/
Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles (online text of 1970’s edition), provided by the International Dendrology Society,
Link to license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
Malus kansuensis is a species native to Kansu, Hupeh and Szechwan provinces in China, where it may reach the height of 7.6 m. It was first named by Alexander Theorowicz Batalin, of the Imperial Botanical Garden in St Petersburg. It was originally considered to be a variety of pear, due to the possible presence of brachysclerids or stone cells (which give a gritty texture to pears). Seeds collected in 1911 by E.H. Wilson, in Tachien-Lui, West Szechwan, were sent to the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard, labelled as ‘Pyrus No. 4115A’.
It has white buds and flowers about 3 cm across, and ovoid fruit about 1 cm long which start yellow, then ripen to very deep red. The leaves are oval.
It is also known as Malus kansuensis (Batalin) C.K. Schneid., Pyrus kansuensis Batal. and Eriolobus kansuensis (Batal.) Schneid.
The Malus kansuensis at Hyde Hall was planted prior to the RHS taking over in 1993.
Malus × hartwigii ‘Katherine’ was a chance seedling discovered growing at Durand-Eastman Park, Rochester, New York State, by Bernard H. Slavin of the Rochester Parks System. Mr Slavin asked Donald Wyman, the President and Director of the American Horticultural Society, that the seedling be named for his daughter-in-law, Katherine Clark Slavin.
The abundant double flowers (of 15-24 petals) start as deep pink buds, fading to white flowers, about 5.4 cm across. There are fewer fruits (as many double flowers are sterile); they are yellow flushed with red, and are approximately 1 cm in diameter.
The Malus × hartwigii ‘Katherine’ at Hyde Hall was planted prior to the RHS taking over in 1993.
Malus transitoria was introduced into the USA by the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, from seed collected in 1911 by William Purdom from Yeng fu, Shensi province in North Western China.
This is a graceful, small deciduous tree. Profuse single white flowers are followed by tiny yellow globose fruits up to 9mm in length. It reaches 4-8m, with a spread of 4-8m, in 10-20 years. It is hardy down to –15°C.
Also known as the Tibetan Crab or Cut-leaf Crabapple, Malus transitoria has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.
The Malus transitoria at Hyde Hall was planted in 1987 by Dr & Mrs Robinson, prior to the RHS taking over the gardens.
Malus ‘Evereste’ was developed and registered in 1974 by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (the French public research institute dedicated to scientific studies), as a decorative small tree for urban gardens and planting schemes, being pollution and disease resistant.
It is a deciduous tree, broadly conical in shape, with some lobed leaves. Flowers are up to 5cm in width, and white, opening from red buds; the fruit is up to 2.5 cm in length, and yellowish-orange with red stripes. It is hardy in very cold winters, and can grow to a height 4–8 metres, with a spread of 4-8 metres, in 10-20 years.
It is also known as Malus PERPETU ’Evereste’ and has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.
The Malus ‘Evereste’ at Hyde Hall was planted in January 1990 by Dr & Mrs Robinson, prior to the RHS taking over the gardens.
Malus × adstringens ‘Almey’ is a second generation (F2) hybrid of the Redvein and Siberian crabs, bred to develop a variety with both deep red flowers and improved disease resistance.
‘Almey’ was selected, introduced and named in 1945 by the Experimental Farm, Canada Department of Agriculture, Morden, Manitoba, Canada. It was named in honour of J.R. Almey, horticulturalist of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
The leaves are purplish when they unfold, gradually changing to bronze-green as they mature. The flowers start as clusters of 5-7 deep maroon buds, opening to flowers approximately 4.5 cm across, showing a central vein to each petal of pale lavender. The ribbed fruit, 1.5—2 cm across and 2-3 cm long, are a deep orange-red, flushed with crimson, and are subject to apple scab.
It is also known as cv. ‘Sunglory’.
The Malus × adstringens ‘Almey’ at Hyde Hall was planted in 1987 by Dr & Mrs Robinson, prior to the RHS taking over the gardens.
Malus ‘Gardener’s Gold’ was first propagated by Ivan Dickings at Nottcutts Nurseries, Woodbridge, in 1990. Ivan Dickings, who started in the Propagation Department in 1954, became its Manager in 1978, and was made an Associate of Honour by the RHS in 1997. The variety ‘Gardener’s Gold’ was purchased by Thornhayes Nurseries, Cullompton, which provided the specimens at Hyde Hall.
This sturdy disease resistant variety has deep pink buds opening to white flowers, up to 4.5 cm across. The decorative fruits, up to 5 cm long and 4 cm wide, ripen to a deep golden yellow, and remain on the tree long after the leaves have fallen.
The Malus ‘Gardener’s Gold’ at Hyde Hall was planted in 2002.
Malus × micromalus, or Midget crab forms an upright, many-branched bush or small tree.
It can reach a height of 4-5 m, and 2.5-3 m wide. The single, pale pink flowers are approximately 4 cm across, opening from deep pink buds. The fruit are approximately 1.5 cm in diameter, yellow flushed with red, and slightly ribbed.
Wild plants of this species have been reported in China, and named var. ‘Makino’.
The Malus × micromalus at Hyde Hall was planted in 2002.