2011-04-07 / Features

Flowering Quince Reinvented

The Potting Shed
By Carole McCray

McCray McCray Flowering quince has a short bloom but an effective display in early spring. It’s a roundtopped deciduous shrub growing 6 feet tall and 10 feet across. Old-time gardeners know the shrub as Japonica; more sophisticated gardeners refers to it as flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa).

The mention of flowering quinces evokes images and memories of quintessential, springflowering, heirloom plants. Flowering quinces are known to have been cultivated for more than 400 years, but admiration for quinces certainly dates back thousands of years. A member of the rose family, flowering quinces are spring show stoppers that usher in the growing season with the likes of magnolias, flowering cherries and forsythias.

The old plants became a tangle of branches, but they persist for years without pruning. Flowering quince produces stout thorns, and it is not unusual to see hedges made from it. Now there are newer forms with double flowers in shades of pink, red or white and the good news is that improved varieties are bringing this classic back into popularity, thanks to Proven Winners.

Chaenomeles Scarlet Storm Chaenomeles Scarlet Storm Because of the shrub’s spiny thorns, flowering quince was not very popular, but that has changed. Tim Wood, new products manager with Proven Winners Color Choice, said, “ I think every gardener can agree it’s never fun to have your hands ripped to shreds in the garden.”

Europe used to be the hot bed of shrub breeding, but not anymore. It’s been relocated to Mills River in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Dr. Tom Rainey, professor of horticultural science at North Carolina State University, and his breeding team at North Carolina State have taken the thorns out of flowering quince. Called the Double Take Series, these new thornless varieties also offer doubled-flowers in dramatic red, pink and orange hues. In addition, the flowers contain higher petal counts, and resemble camellias more than traditional quince, creating a burst of color in your garden in stark contrast to anything else in the landscape.

Some of the key features of Double Take Series:

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Early spring color (February – April).

Thornless—no more pricked fingers.

Hardy in USDA Zones 5-8.

Part sun to full sun.

Low maintenance; drought-tolerant when established.

Fruitless and that means no more dropped fruit requiring clean up.

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall; can fit gardens large and small.

Dr. Rainey’s blog titled “ Storm Warning” was aptly dubbed since the new flowering quinces have the following names – Scarlet Storm, Pink Storm and Orange Storm and are included in the Double Take Series.

Double Take ‘Scarlet Storm (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Big dark red, velvety double flowers.

17 to 25 petals per flower.

Unlike many flowering quinces, tends to have flowers all the way out to the tips of its branches.

Occasional repeat blooms.

Double Take ‘Pink Storm (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Large double flowers, 2-inches in diameter.

29-40 petals per flower.

Salmon or coral colored flower.

Flowers resemble sweetheart roses.

Double Take ‘Orange Storm (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Big, bright orange camellia-like blooms.

Double flowers with 31-49 petals per flower.

Occasional repeat blooms

Dr. Rainey notes in his blog how flowering quince is a diversion from forsythia, often seen overrunning the spring landscape. He said, “The colors are rich and warm you up on a cool spring day and get you pumped about being out in your garden.”

Flowering quince makes a colorful hedge. Dr. Rainey recommends showing off its flowers at eye level by training it up a wall. As a great cut flower, he thinks its elegance is enjoyed set in a vase.

The Double Take Series may be hard to find retail, but better garden centers and mail order nurseries may begin to carry them on a limited basis in 2011 and more widespread at retail starting in 2012.

Today’s gardeners will discover flowering quince, an old-time favorite becoming popular once again now that it is reinvented.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands easdt of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Garden Writers Association Awrd for her article on Native Seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners.

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