Overlooked quinces bring early color
Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Some of my treasures are the numerous flowering quinces scattered over Tennessee Dixter.
On the other hand, Michael Dirr, professor of botany at the University of Georgia and one of the foremost plant experts in the country, disdains flowering quinces as “trashy” in winter and brief in bloom.
I usually agree with Dirr’s acid opinions, but in this case I differ. I think the flowering quinces are much underused and not often appreciated.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that only a few gardeners know any other quince than the old japonica of their grandparents’ day. You know, the one with the orangy pink blooms that clash with forsythias and pink oriental magnolias in the sere late winter or early spring garden.
Flowering quinces are generally one of two species, Chaenomeles speciosa or Chaenomeles japonica (hence the old moniker japonica), and both are oriental. Don’t bother yourself with the difference. Just look for varietal names.
Let us take up Dirr’s complaints. He says they are trashy in winter, collecting under their canopy old cigarette packs and beer cans. Well, so can a rose bush or mock orange, both of which have a more gangly growth habit than any flowering quince.
Brief bloom time: Well, four weeks or more ain’t bad, especially when it comes at an otherwise barren time of year. In fact, cold weather during bloom time simply extends it longer, providing it doesn’t get cold enough to freeze the flowers. Even if it does, latent buds will open later to salvage some of the show.
The old-fashioned japonica does indeed have a color that is hard to blend with others. White does it well, however, and in fact we have a gigantic old white quince near our orangy one that makes peace with it.
Newer varieties, however, have it hands down over older ones. Among our latest aquisitions is Toyo Nishiki, a Japanese name if ever there was one. This variety is hyped as having pink, red and white blooms on the same plant. Some of them do, but our half-dozen specimens seem to open white and age to pink.
One, in a hypertufa trough, is “bonsaied” to a small size and, after only two seasons, is making quite a Japanesy show with its crooked branching.
Popular for some years now is Cameo, a double-flowered semi-dwarf (to 4 feet) salmon variety that, fortuitously, blooms right with Korean azaleas, Azalea poukhanense.
The latter, just about my favorite azalea, has large orchid flowers that contrast perfectly with the quince nearby. These are in some shade, incidentally, proving that quinces will perform there. They are usually recommended for full sun.
A fine dwarf variety is Texas Scarlet, growing to about two feet tall by maybe 4 or 5 feet wide. It sports red blooms that, to be honest, fade to a similar color as the old japonica.
Akin in habit is Jet Trail, a pure white that has the same dimensions as Texas Scarlet. It is, in fact, a sport of the latter. Either of them is great for pot culture. They are tough enough to be left outside all winter.
Apple Blossom is what I believe our large white one is. It is 15 or more years old and probably 12 feet across by 10 feet tall. The japonica, nearby, however, is one of the first things we planted 35 years ago and is easily 18 feet across by 10 feet tall.
Flowering quinces are of notoriously easy culture, existing in just about everything from sand to clay. Fertilizer will speed them along, but they will grow fast enough without it. Some varieties are bothered occasionally by fireblight.
The early bloom is their greatest value. Big banks of them on a large property would make a convicting show, but even one can brighten up a small property as early as February.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.14.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path