I just spent 5 days over the holidays in Plain Washington, near Leavenworth, with a bunch of friends hunkered down in a cabin surrounded by snow and cold temperatures. It was obvious that it was still the dead of winter. On the way home, as I reached the lower elevations, I was amazed to see how many plants were coming out of dormancy and starting to bloom. Yes folks, spring is almost here. I spotted crocus, snowdrops, daffodils and a Winter Daphne who’s fragrance I could almost smell as I drove by. A Witch hazel, cornelian cherry, several varieties of hellebores and, just starting to crack color, a delightful buttercup winter hazel with its primrose yellow bells. The last plant I noticed just up the road from my home was one that I consider to be a true harbinger of spring — flowering quince.
Japanese flowering quince is what I like to call a real “old timer” shrub. It is tough as nails and can survive all over the country in temperatures down to minus 20 in the winter and over 100 in the summer. It will grow in full sun with adequate drainage, is drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, bug and disease free. It makes a great early spring cut flower and will draw in pollinators and hummingbirds when not much else is blooming in the garden. BUT, it can be a garden thug with its long thorns and tendency to spread 15-20 feet and grow 6-8 feet tall. I have seen old clumps that have literally taken over a front yard.
Now, thanks to Proven Winners, we can all enjoy a flowering quince without the fear of impaling ourselves on thorns or having to hire a backhoe to reclaim our gardens. “Double Take Flowering Quince” is a vast improvement on this old timer in many ways. It is thornless for starters, which is huge when it comes time to prune or even clip a branch to force for some early color. The flowers are much larger than the species (up to 2.5 inches across) and are mostly double so they make a bigger splash in the garden or in a vase in the house. The plant is much more well-behaved, reaching only 3-5 feet tall and spreading 5-6 feet around, so it will fit much more easily into our smaller yards.
There are three colors currently on the market: “Orange Storm”, “Scarlet Storm” and “Pink Storm”. All have flowers 2-2.5 inches across with 25-40 petals per flower and unlike the species, the flowers are often all the way to the tips of the branches. For a burst of early spring color these newbies are hard to beat. As for maintaining them in the garden, you can either do some selective thinning every spring after they bloom which will keep them in scale with the rest of the yard or you can plant a row of them and shear them into a hedge. Whatever you choose to do, be sure and cut a branch or two to bring into the house for an attractive center piece on the dining room table. Pick them now while they are in a tight bud stage and they will burst open and bloom for a couple of weeks.
You will only find quince in the garden centers this time of year so if you are thinking of trying one out it would be best to shop early. If you snooze you might lose.
Educational Opportunity: This Saturday, February 27th, at 10am here at the nursery join Master Gardener Missy Anderson, 'The Queen Bee', to learn everything you want to know about our non-stinging native Mason Bees. She'll teach you about hosting, proper care in all seasons, healthy propagating and more! Come join us to learn how to effectively benefit from these flying friends and what we can do to help protect and save them.