If you’re looking for a plant for your garden that combines spring flowers with a worthwhile crop of fruit then look no further than ornamental quince. These colour shrubby plants are ideal trained onto a wall or fence, or grown as a free-standing shrub and will gladden your heart with their chalices of delicate petals, surrounding glorious golden stamens.
Chaenomeles japonica (the Japanese quince), C. speciosa (the Chinese quince) and various hybrids including C. x superba are all most notable for their blooms, which are beautiful enough to earn them a place in any garden. But the rounded yellow aromatic fruits in the autumn are usually carried in sufficient quantity on established plants to make them a useable crop. While the fruit are much smaller than those of the common quince, Cydonia oblonga, they make up their weight in quantity.
Can ornamental quince be used for cooking
My first memory of ornamental quince is a plant that grew in my aunt’s Norfolk garden. Planted on a west-facing wall, it caught the afternoon sun and the bricks re-radiated any stored heat back onto the branches and flowers on cold spring nights to ensure a wonderful crop of fruit. And by day the warmth of the sun encouraged plenty of bees to visit to pollinate the blooms.
And I remember the stickiness on the outside of skin of the fruit when they were fully ripe and we picked them in late October. From the yearly bounty my aunt made a deep amber quince jelly which was spread on thin slices of homemade bread for ‘afternoon tea’, when we took a break from weeding, pruning or planting. For this was the person who nurtured my passion for plants from an early age.
She’d been through the Second World War when there was a need to improvise with growing edibles and so was a consummate veg and fruit grower. But she loved purely ornamental plants too, and so the ornamental quince remained a great favourite throughout her gardening life.
How to propagate ornamental quince
Her plant was an old one by the time I came along and by that time she’d take off rooted suckers to give to friends and family. And low stems were also bent down to the ground and held in place with a large stone or half brick so they’d produce roots or ‘layer’ themselves.
That particular plant was an unknown variety with startling orangey-red flowers, that were a real talking point in March and April when they were at there best. But there are forms and varieties available in white, through pink, apricot and orange to red, all of which can be propagated in the same way.
Where to plant ornamental quince
While my aunt’s chaenomeles grow on her west wall, these adaptable shrubs are quite happy growing on any aspect, in full sun or partial shade. They aren’t happy in full shade or under the drip line of the foliage of trees. They are quite at home in all except the most acid sand, but benefit from the addition of plenty of well rotted compost to help with moisture retention when planted at the base of a wall.
Like many other plants, they will get harbour a secondary infect of black, sooty mould if planted under trees or shrubs that are prone to aphid infestation. But thankfully, other than that, they are generally pest and disease free – if you exclude occasional leaf scab and leaf spot.
Which are the best ornamental quince to grow
One of my particular favourites is the variety C. x superba ‘Crimson and Gold shown in the picture above. It really shines out in the cool spring daylight and is a welcome colour at a time when there is so much yellow, lilac and white around in the garden. I have it growing as a lax, free-standing shrub, as well as tied into horizontal wires attached to a wall.
I’m not so keen on the white flowered forms which can be turned brown by frost, but if I had to choose one it would be C. speciosa ‘Yukigoten’ which is creamy-yellow rather than pure white like the more commonly available C. speciosa. ‘Nivalis’. And as for the orange and peachy shades, then C. x superba ‘Orange Trail’ and C. japonica ‘Sargentii’ have abundant flowers of a good size.
For a good, strong pink, then C. x superba ‘Pink Lady’ takes some beating, while the peachy tones of C. x s. ‘Cameo’ have an old-fashioned charm. There are double-flowered forms available, but these lack the oriental appearance of the single flowered varieties as well as having fewer stamens. This means they have less (and in some cases, nothing) to offer to spring bees and tend not to fruit so abundantly.
But it is the single-flowered, orangey-red forms that appeal most to me, for they remind me of starting out in gardening and a wonderful aunt who nurtured her ornamental quince as well as me.