Common name: Japanese quince is so-named because it is related to the quince used for making quince jelly. It is also known as flowering quince or simply japonica.
Botanical name: The botanical name of the Japanese quince is Chaenomeles japonica. There is also a Chinese species ‘speciosa’ which is more vigorous and several times taller. As closely related species do, these two species interbreed and a number of hybrid varieties have been raised.
Family name: The Japanese quince is part of the quince group of species within the bigger family Rosaceae. This accommodates a vast number of genera and species, including roses, apples, pear, hawthorn, cherries and many others. Rose family plants famously have five single petals to the flower as a distinctive family feature.
The Japanese quince is one of the prettiest spring shrubs. The first flowers are often produced as early as January on bare stems and a few well into May. It often produces hard, deeply lined fruit that is edible but only when cooked for jams and jellies, similar to the true quince, Cydonia. The best known variety, ‘Crimson and Gold’ has bright red flowers and golden anthers at the centre of the flower. It is very striking and the flowers are carried in large numbers along the branches. The variety ‘Apple Blossom’ has large white flowers flushed with pink.
‘Pink Lady’ is an early flowering variety with dark pink flowers. ‘Knap Hill Scarlet’ has large bright red flowers. ‘Rowallane’, an Irish variety, has scarlet flowers on a low and spreading bush. ‘Nivalis’ has pure white flowers, as does ‘Nicoline’, a lovely sight in spring.
The early flowering of Japanese quince makes it attractive for garden use because it brings a touch of colour at a sparse time of year. It can be grown either as a wall shrub or standing alone in the open. It is not a convinced upright, sturdy shrub but has some distinctive branches and suckering roots.
Taking this observation on board, it will be necessary to adjust the growing habit by pruning some of the lankiest branches each year after flowering making sure to avoid cutting away quince fruits, if they are to be used in the kitchen.
Site and soil conditions
Japanese quince will grow in any soil. Wet or too rich soil are not ideal and feeding will cause masses of stems and leaves to grow and not flower as well. Some potash would be a good idea on heavy soils, especially limy ones. Although it will flower on a shaded wall, plant it in a reasonably sunny position especially for early flowers and more free flowering.
Freesia is a spring-flowering bulb but not for growing outdoors, Although tried, it always failed for the simple reason that they are not hardy and cannot tolerate anything in the way of frost or even low temperatures short of damaging frost. This is not particularly surprising because the plant originates in South Africa, along with many other bulbous plants.
There are few finer scents in the world of plants than the sweet perfume of freesia. Although perfumer soften make claims of success that they succeeded in replicating the freesia scent, nothing compares with the plant itself. Apart from that, the plants’ flowers are beautifully shaped like flaring trumpets and the colours striking shades of blue, red, white, orange, yellow and lavender.
Strangely, for an otherwise practically perfect plant, freesia has one little drawback and that is a tendency to have sprawling flower stems and indeed leafy stems. This can easily be dealt with by inserting some thin canes with string until flowering is over.
Given the right conditions, namely a dry greenhouse soil with some light shade for part of the day, freesia can last for decades, approaching 30 years in at least one case, and that without any special treatment whatsoever, just the odd splash of water or liquid feed when a general programme of feeding was being carried out. Remarkable!
Fruit, vegetables and herbs
Often early sowings do not do as well as the later ones but some kinds do need to be sown as early as possible, especially onions from seed, peas and sprouts. Plant garlic and shallot sets without delay. Onion sets can be put in now too. Control weeds.
Trees shrubs and roses
Evergreens, both broad-leaved and coniferous, both can be planted as the sap rises over the next two or three weeks. A good watering at planting and two weeks later is usually all they need. It is too late for bare-root planting now as growth is well advanced, not from pots.
Use lawn mosskiller now if there is heavy moss growth. If new areas of lawn are to be sown, the ground should be cultivated if possible. If there are weeds present, these could be sprayed off first. It is too early to use lawn weedkillers for weed control in existing lawns.
Greenhouse and house plants
Feed and water heavily all greenhouse plants, if not already done. Immediately sow seed tomatoes for greenhouse growing, also sweet peppers and chilli peppers, or else wait and purchase plants in mid to late May. Watch for signs of greenhouse pests as the air warms.
Bedding flowers can be sown in warm conditions indoors now, but do not delay more than a week or so. Lifting and dividing of herbaceous flowers should be completed soon because of the advanced growth of many kinds. Canna, begonia and dahlia can be started into growth.