These early-blossoming flowering quince shrubs shrubs create a real spectacle
Once the flowering quince, or chaenomeles, burst into bloom you know the gardening year is about to get into full swing. Colourful and reliable whatever the weather, these deciduous shrubs flower on bare stems from February, into March and beyond. The three species all come from the east. C. japonica comes from Japan, while C. speciosa and C. cathayensis come from China (C. speciosa is also found in Korea). Many of the varieties available have been developed from C. superba, a hybrid between C. speciosa and C. japonica. The bright, cupshaped flowers, which form at the base of older stems, come in a range of tones from bright scarlet, pink, salmon, apricot, pale yellow and, of course, white. After the flowers come oval to squat yellow-green fruits. Once ripe, these are best used to make jams and jellies, but can be cooked. The large-growing Cathay quince, C. cathayensis, has the biggest fruits of all, reaching 15cm (6in) across.
They grow in most soils and situations, even heavy clay in sun or partial shade. Once established, they need little care, but growth can become a unkempt and is best pruned to shape. After flowering, cut out all the thin, wispy branches to leave a more open structure composed of thicker shoots. Over-long growths can be cut back by about a third to reduce the height. You can also selectively remove shoots that are three to four years old to encourage new growths to form. Chaenomeles is also good for training up walls or fences, even those which are north or east facing. They’re susceptible to fireblight, so don’t grow them if this is already a serious problem.