Friday 23 February 2018

Japanese quince puts on exceptional show

LIKE many other plants, Japanese quince has been taking advantage of the remarkably mild winter weather that has occurred, at least until last week. It ventures forth a few early flowers in January in all but the coldest years and it has been exceptional this year.

It produces bright red flowers on bare stems. The rounded buds first swell and take on a red tinge and open to really beautiful bowl-shaped flowers. The most sheltered buds open first, either on the sunny side of a bush or close to the warmth of a wall, as this is often grown as a wall shrub.

Japanese quince continues to flower until early summer, the red flowers being slowly obscured by the leaves. The Japanese quince was once much more popular and widely known as 'japonica', its botanical name being Chaenomeles japonica. There is a Japanese species and a bigger Chinese species. Most kinds grown in gardens are hybrids of the two.

The Chinese species has more colour variation with pink and white forms as well as red. Chaenomeles is related to the true quinces, and produces fruit that resembles knobbly small apples, green and later turning yellow. The fruits can be used for preserves.

Good varieties include 'Crimson and Gold' which has dark red flowers and golden centres and makes a compact bush; 'Nicoline' has large red flowers, sometimes semi-double; 'Pink Lady' has dark pink flowers and flowers early; 'Rowallane' has bright red flowers, and 'Knap Hill Scarlet' has large red flowers. 'Apple Blossom' also called 'Moorloosei' has white and pink flowers, and the lovely 'Nivalis' has pure white flowers.

Chaenomeles is easy to grow and should be planted in reasonably poor well-drained soil for best results. If the ground is rich, it tends to grow too vigorously with fewer flowers. This vigorous growth often requires the plants to be cut back and this should be done from an early age, especially on wall-trained plants.

Pruning can be done immediately after flowering in late spring to encourage the production of buds for the following year. Even though Japanese quince is spiny, if possible, prune the plant with secateurs, taking out part or all of a branch at a time, rather than clipping the whole plant with hedge-clippers which tends to turn it into a hedge with reduced flowering.

The stems are flexible and it can be trained on a fence, wall or railing, showing the flowers beautifully. Apply some potash in spring to reduce vigour and increase flowering. Choose colours in flower and plant right away.

Sunday Independent

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