Chaenomeles

Flowering quince provides a boost of colour to late-winter gardens

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Once the colourful blooms of the Japanese flowering quince, or chenomeles, appear it’s a sure sign that spring’s on its way. Their vibrant to pastel tones in glowing red-orange, through pink to white are a dramatic contrast to the shrill yellows of daffodils and forsythia, adding to the colourful cacophony of spring. They’re also useful for feeding hungry bees and other early pollinators stirring into life after winter hibernation, and on bright, fine days can be abuzz with competing insects.

After the flowers they produce hard, aromatic, tennis-ball sized fruit, which turn yellow, sometimes flushed red in autumn, and when ripe can be used for making jams and jellies. The yellow autumn colour of some types adds to the autumn scene. Most of the varieties we grow in gardens come from two species, dwarf C. japonica from Japan, the much larger C. speciosa from China, and a hybrid between themC. superba, which has spawned the largest number of varieties. 

These durable deciduous shrubs produce their long-lasting blossom at the base of bare, stubby-spined branches, just before the narrow, shiny-green leaves appear. Adaptable, chenomes will grow in most situations, in sun or in colder, shadier north or east-facing locations in most soils, even heavy clay. They are also tolerant of pollution, so ideal are for city locations.

While choosing your preferred colour, also keep in mind their growth habits. Some are compact, growing to around 3-4ft, others are much larger at 2.5m (8ft). Some are more upright, rather than spreading, lending themselves to being grown and trained against a wall or fence. They can also be clipped into an informal hedge. Prune chaenomeles immediately after flowering, reducing wayward stems to 2-3 buds and thinning out congested growth and old stems, to encourage fresh new shoots, which will flower the following year.

Below are the best varieties to try - click the images to find out more…