I have had a long love/hate relationship with a hedge of flowering quince; also known as the Chaenomeles speciosa or the Texas Scarlet shrub.
Nearly fifteen years ago, our inherited foundation plantings of azaleas sited in full, southern sun had finally cut bait. Eager, but not well-educated, I went fishing for new plants that could take the blazing sun, yet offer some color and interest. The cultivar’s name alone hooked me, and I reeled in three tiny shrubs.
I spaced them correctly, and followed all of the directions for proper planting and care. Alas, no flowers the following spring. Nor the next. Not until their third year did they reveal any blossoms, but they were almost hidden in the foliage. Truly, not the spectacular showing that I had envisioned. I did some research and found that renewal pruning—like an almost breakup—would result in better flowering. No such luck on my part, as the hedging looked stubby, and then resulted in no better flowering the following year. Author and expert Michael Dirr, in his most eloquent way, has said that while flowering quince “in full flower was beautiful, however, during the rest of the year (fifty to fifty-one weeks) the planting was intolerable … almost unlikeable.” I agreed completely. But, with other areas upon which to focus my attention, I just left them alone for a number of years.
Then, this spring, these plants brought forth a new hope—that they had changed and were worth keeping. Flowers—yes, they made flowers—lots of delicate, rich, red blossoms along interesting, sculpturally craggy stems. Lovely, long cut branches were spectacular in a tall vase on the mantel. Yes, they showed their worthiness of the space in my small garden.
That is, until now. Obviously, my years of hatred and neglect and then sudden adoration has thus resulted in some sort of backlash. The quince has produced, of all things, quince! And not just one or two, but dozens upon dozens. Quince are not desirable like sweet cherries, small plums, or even a crabapple—they’re bitter and sour. They are weighing down the branches and falling and rotting on the ground. I’m not even considering making the effort of cooking and canning quince jam.
After all of the on-again, off-again feelings about these plants, I now realize that it’s finally time to cut bait and put an end to this relationship and start anew.
And really, it’s me, not them.