the ‘cameo’ quince and the snowplow: beauty (ouch!) meets the beast

Chaenomeles speciosa 'Cameo'I BOUGHT A QUINCE SHRUB last year, seduced in part by its peachy-colored flowers and also by the fact that even here in deer country, I see big old Chaenomeles specimens standing near the roadside, without protection, the apparent survivors of many years of possible browsing. I wanted something low-care and at least somewhat deer-resistant for a spot outside my giant fence. Little did I know that it would not be deer, but the snowplow, that would be this charming plant’s greatest obstacle to survival.

My choice was the Chaenomeles named ‘Cameo’ (above photo) as this double-flowered cultivar is called. It is variously identified as Chaenomeles x superba (a hybrid between the Japanese species C. japonica and the taller C. speciosa, a Chinese type, says the Missouri Botanical Garden) or simply C. speciosa (by woody plant expert Michael Dirr, author of the industry “bible” of woody plants). Dirr says it’s one of his favorite quinces, and “a long a prized plant in the Dirr garden.”

Of course nobody agrees on the habit or size of ‘Cameo,’ either, with wholesale nursery Monrovia calling it “good for a mounding groundcover or on a slope,” at a mature size of maybe 3 feet high and 5 wide, about what Missouri Botanical lists. Nonsense, Dirr apparently believes, writing that it’s twice that. Hardiness? The opinion poll says Zones 4 or 5 to 8 or 9.

As ever, with this kind of conflicting “expert” help, it’s a wonder that gardeners ever know where to place a plant or how much room to leave–which is why I never believe plant labels but go home and compare several sources at a minimum. But who cares with ‘Cameo’? This one had me at its extravagant flowers, which come early, before the foliage is fully open. Quinces also produce wildlife-friendly fruit of a couple of inches in length later in the season.

And, again, blessedly it’s not top-rated deer food: The Rutgers University tool I love for predicting deer resistance rates it “seldom severely damaged,” a “B” on a scale of “A” through “D,” where “A” is the best news from the gardener’s point of view.

As for pruning: Do it after bloom, if needed, remembering that these are informal, somewhat messy creatures so don’t expect otherwise. And don’t make your cuts with the blade of a snowplow, but some finer instrument, yes? I can testify that my accidental pruning was not the best technique, and also will share this:

If you plant a young shrub along the roadside in snow country, it’s probably best to mark its presence with a visible “pen” of mesh or at least a few tall stakes in the early going, to give the poor thing a fighting chance.

Do you have any flowering quince in your garden to recommend? Or perhaps any data to add to the debate on hardiness, size, or habit details?

Categoriestrees & shrubs
  1. Kate says:

    When I moved to central MA nearly 25 years ago there was a beautiful dark salmon quince bush in the side yard. I adore it and might finally try to transplant some of the shoots this year. Due to space restrictions I’ve trimmed it now and then, interesting to compare my still fairly compact (5 ft tall or more) one to the one next door (both houses were once owned by the same people and servants lived next door) planted at the same time and never once trimmed–it’s monstrous.
    Of course now I’m dreaming of the lighter pink flowers………

    1. margaret says:

      I love the peachy one in the photo, but mine is still a baby, Kate. Hoping for a big old monster someday.

      Hi, Kim. Not any quickie simple way to root cuttings and get a shrubs in a hurry, I’m afraid. Any way you can divide it — any portion of the base you could chop apart with some roots maybe? (Sounds violent, doesn’t it?)

  2. Louise says:

    I got an ornamental Japanese Quince last summer because I loved the flowers. Later I ordered a true quince tree to get quince for jam making. Betsy, I used two from the new ornamental bush with raspberries for a good jam. I eagerly await my tree blooming and producing fruit in the next year or two.

  3. Richard Burt says:

    Cameo quince has provided me with some of the most beautiful flowers in my garden- but the growth habit is terrible. It really should never have been allowed on the market. Its growth is not like any other quince. It is more like a ground cover-a wild one at that. It suckers. The low branches grow down and the whole mess just keeps suckering. One day I will shovel prune it-but as I said-the flowers are beautiful.

  4. Angela says:

    Hi Margaret! I found this post while searching for Cameo quince. I had one of these GORGEOUS shrubs for many years in my garden. We sold that house last year and I took as many of my favorite things I could possibly transplant. (I am a landscape designer and plant collector, so it was an impossible task) The quince sadly did not make the trip and I am desperately looking for another. YES— they sucker! NO! they are NOT low, mine would easily get to 6′ if I let it. YES! It has the most gorgeous, showy flowers I have ever seen. I would post photos here but your system does not allow for that. PS– I LOVE your podcast, I listen in the car. And I’ve enrolled in your garden club but am never around for the live shoe but listen later.

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