Many gardeners think that quinces come from small bushes growing against their walls that have red flowers in spring. Of course the true quince is a small tree with large white flowers and that shrub that often spends its entire life trying to peep up from below the windowsill to get a squint at Coronation Street is the Japanese quince, a related, but very different shrub. The fruits of the Japanese quince are much smaller than the true quince but have a similar fragrance and can be used in a similar way – jellies or grated into stewed apple. True quinces (cydonia) are not the easiest trees to please and prefer a nice warm, sheltered spot – the most popular is called ‘Portugal’ for a good reason and all do best in the south of the UK.
Although best known in its red-flowered form, there are lots of chaenomeles cultivars and some are a bit easier on the eye, not that there is anything wrong with bright red flowers on a hardy shrub in March – bring ’em on! All these shrubs are hardy, thrive in sun or part shade (though they are better in sun) will grow on most soils and are floriferous in the border as shrubs or trained against a wall. They are especially useful in cold areas and on east-facing walls. I have planted a lot in my time but my favourite, for many years, has been C. speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’. This is a relatively small, twiggy and compact variety that will only grow to about 1m high and wide and a bit more when grown against a wall. Some chaenomeles have a habit of being gawky because of long, strong shoots but this one is more elegant in habit, though you still have to expect those thorns.
The flowers are not among the biggest but are semi double, profuse and I love the colour. It is such a soft apricot, like a smooth, apricot mousse, enhanced by a bunch of yellow anthers. Once your plant has reached a decent size the stems are lovely for cutting to put in a vase with daffodils and, because the stems usually have a happy wiggle, just a few will make an instant Ikebana. And of course there will be a crop of small yellow ‘quinces’ in autumn.
Unhappily I see that this first flower of the season had some visitors before I got a look in!
Chaenomeles do not need regular pruning but it makes sense to give them a trim, if necessary, in spring, after flowering but that will reduce your fruits in autumn. The regular pruning of wall-trained chaenomeles should be to shorten the sideshoots and growths growing away from the wall in August. You can prune them as much as necessary but you should leave four to six leaves on the shoots so that flowering spurs develop so you get blooms the next year.