How ‘Lady’ Williams founded a great Australian apple

An 80-year-old apple tree stands at Bolonia Farm outside Donnybrook, Western Australia (Mars Domestica) It is the center of the global industry.

This tree produced an apple that no one has ever seen or tasted, now called Lady Williams. Without Lady Williams, there would be no apple cultivars such as Sundowner, Pink His Lady, Bravo, etc., who, along with Lady Williams, have contributed so much to the world apple industry.

Bolonia Farm’s apple trees are now listed on the National Trust Register, but the woman behind Lady Williams is lesser-known. Yet, as her son Bob recalled, Maud Williams was important to the story of this tree and the apples it produced.

Featured Chance Seedlings

Since the 1930s, Maud, her husband Arthur, and their two boys Bob and Ron have grown apples and stone fruits and 40 cows on a 12-acre orchard.

Maud collected ideas for growing plants from catalogs and women’s magazines, testing her taste for the unusual, her son Ron remembers. Maud wasn’t content with roses and petunias, growing feijoa and hydrangeas instead.

The original Lady Williams Apple Tree at Boronia Farm in Donnybrook.(Courtesy: State Library of Western Australia)

Witnessing the novelty of gardening, it was perhaps not surprising that she identified the very special qualities of the tree in the bright red apples that unexpectedly sprouted next to the tank stand on the side of her house.

The fruit was firm and crisp, suitable for long storage and ideal for the Australian export market. The Williams family fetched a good price for cases of apples grown from this tree and, over time, propagated new trees from the original tree.

The tree was an accidental sapling, a spontaneous creation whose parent cultivars were likely Granny Smith and Rockwood.

Some of our most common apple varieties started out as accidental seedlings.

Apples frequently produce accidental seedlings. However, many factors come into play when a seedling is produced and becomes known as a variety. Especially those who recognize the value of unique apples in modern conditions.

Only a very small chance of a sapling turning into a cultivar that impacts the fruit industry. To do that, you need people who make the necessary investments of care, time, or money — just like Maud did.

In an inconvenient location, the unfamiliar apple tree was nearly cut down many times, but it survived thanks to Maud’s protection and care. I remember receiving a harsh excuse from my mother: “Stand up again, bandage up, take off again.”

The apple was given the name Lady Williams, reflecting Maud’s importance in creating this new variety. This was the name Lynette Green, a girl who lives on the farm next door, used for Maud.

Maud’s recognition of the quality of the fruit of this tree and her initiative to protect it was about to enable an amazing new phase for the Australian apple industry.

Five pinkish red apples sitting on a bed of green weeds
Lady Williams apples would not have become a popular variety without Maud Williams’ keen eye for the rare.(Commons-logo.svg Wikimedia Commons)

Pink Lady’s parent, Lady Williams

The Lady Williams Apple was introduced commercially in 1968, the same year Maud died. By the early 1970s, Lady Williams had become the focus of attention for the Washington State Department of Agriculture and its new apple breeding program. There, a team led by horticulturist John Cripps was experimenting with a combination of Lady Williams and Golden Delicious.

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