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?