The Queen handed her signature Launer handbag to a lady-in-waiting and grabbed the shovel during a visit to the National Institute of Agricultural Botany

By Stephanie Petit Simon Perry
July 09, 2019 01:05 PM

Queen Elizabeth took matters — and a shovel! — into her own hands.

During her visit to the National Institute of Agricultural Botany near Cambridge on Tuesday to celebrate 100 years of crop research, the 93-year-old monarch refused help from NIAB chairman Jim Godfrey when it came time to plant a hornbeam tree.

“No, no,” the Queen, dressed in a bright pink coat over a flower patterned dress and matching hat, told officials. “I’m still perfectly capable of planting a tree.”

With that, the Queen handed her signature Launer handbag to a lady-in-waiting and grabbed the shovel. The sapling was already half-planted — standard procedure for such royal tasks — and she piled dirt into the hole.

Once the job was done, Queen Elizabeth nonchalantly leaned on the shovel with a smile.

“She wasn’t scheduled to plant the tree, it was just to supervise the planting,” Tina Barsby, chief executive of NIAB, told reporters. “But she handed her handbag to her someone and seized the spade. She obviously wanted to do it!”

The Queen’s visit to the National Institute of Agricultural Botany included learning about new building facilities and meeting plant breeders to talk about new research to improve crop resilience.

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Queen Elizabeth
Chris Jackson/Getty

Members of the royal family have made it an often-lighthearted tradition to plant trees wherever they visit, especially on foreign tours. In fact, the monarch was shown a picture of Queen Mary planting a mulberry tree at NIAB’s original site in Cambridge when she opened it with King George V in Oct. 1921.

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Kate Middleton
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But Prince Harry — who visited Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy forests when he and Meghan Markle toured Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji last year — has made it part of a more serious campaign and message to secure and rejuvenate the world’s forest.

During a visit to a primary school in March, Harry planted a wild cherry sapling in recognition of the achievements of the QCC and the Woodland Trust charity in providing 74,000 trees across the U.K.

Prince Harry
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Even the youngest generation of royals is already practicing to carry on the tradition. When Prince George was not even 2 years old, he was already planting trees with his grandfather, Prince Charles, at his country home of Highgrove House.

Prince Charles
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The Queen’s son spoke candidly about a special present he planted for his first grandson just after his birth in July 2013 in the documentary Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70.

Speaking from his arboretum at his Scottish home of Birkhall, Charles gestures to dozens of trees that were planted when the little prince was born five years ago, and says: “This is George’s wood.”

“As I get older, all I really long for is to plant trees,” Charles, who has a lifelong commitment to conservation and the environment, continues. “I hope it will be quite amusing for George, as they grow up, and he grows up.”

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