It’s almost spring and there’s lots happening in the garden right now, but I have to say the flowering quince and pipevine swallowtails are stealing the show!
There’s nothing subtle about these flowers, ushering in spring loud and clear, shouting to the world that spring is here!
Bright orangey-red blooms cover the bare, gray tangle of branches and last for up to 8 weeks in my garden (sometimes longer!)
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I could count on one hand the plants worth keeping when I moved here three years ago. But the flowering quince was definitely one of them. Well, to be more precise – five of them, as there are five giant shrubs at the very bottom of my front garden.
When I first moved in, they weren’t in bloom and just sat there being their overgrown, messy (but green!) selves. I had a lot more on my plate to deal with than them, so I ignored them for the year.
Boy, was I thrilled when the next spring rolled around and saw THIS!
Since then, I’ve worked a bit on pruning them back and taming the tangled ball of branches they had become.
I don’t prune much (maybe taking 1/3 off of the longest branches) as I much prefer naturally shaped plants versus those sheared into unnatural shapes – ugh.
I prune and tidy up right after the blooms disappear, as the following year’s flowers form on the new wood and need the entire summer and fall to ‘harden off.’
If I pruned them later in the year, I wouldn’t necessarily hurt the plant, but it would sacrifice the following year’s flowers.
Here’s another one of my shrubs – amazing, isn’t it?
Chaenomeles speciosa (pronounced ky-anom-aleez) are hardy in zones 4-10 and are fairly drought tolerant once established.
Mine have thrived in this garden for who-know-how-many years with no irrigation at all.
I can only assume they’re doing so well because their mature roots may have grown deep down to reach the higher water table in that part of my garden.
Not sure if this is the reason, but in my HOT summer climate, to be receiving no irrigation at all and to thrive is nothing short of a miracle.
Flowering quince are also deer-resistant, thanks to sharp thorns, which also makes them the ideal gathering spot for the many birds in my garden.
Tucked safely away in the thorny branches, the birds chatter away, feeling safe and secure that nothing can get them.
Later in the summer, odd-shaped bitter-sour, yellow fruit forms that I leave on the shrub for any hungry wildlife to nibble.
And last, but not least, the branches make fantastic cut flowers, slowly opening over the course of about 10 days.
I also have a newer variety, ‘Doubletake Peach’, from Proven Winners, that grows to a mid-sized 4-5’ x 6’ shrub.
It has soft peach-colored flowers and is thornless, making this variety a fantastic plant for the middle of the border.
Mine is still a small plant, sent to me in a tiny 4” pot, but even so I’m still getting a few pretty peachy flowers.
The ‘Cameo’ variety grows even shorter, topping out at 3’ x 5,’ with larger apricot-colored blooms.
In the photo (below) it’s growing in my client’s garden at the front of the border.
Or, if you prefer white flowers, you might try Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Snow’, which has newly-opened flowers tinged with soft pink before aging to pure white.
If that’s too large for your garden, there’s another white-flowering quince called ‘Jet Trail,’ which grows to a smaller 3’x3’.
During that first spring in my new garden, I fell in love with the hundreds of colorful blooms that covered my quince bushes.
However, there was more to come – SO much more.
One morning I went outside and found dozens and dozens of pipevine swallowtail butterflies feasting on the quince nectar.
I had never even seen one of these butterflies before, much less this many at the same time.
There were so many that they were literally flying directly into me in their distracted frenzy. I thought I had died and gone to butterfly heaven!
After doing a bit of research, these butterflies are similar to monarchs in that the baby caterpillars rely 100% on a host plant to survive– which isn’t quince.
The pipevine caterpillars require an ample source of our native Dutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia californica,) which just so happens to grow in abundance all around the wilder areas of my neighborhood.
When hiking, I always love finding the small, odd-shaped ‘pipes’ that dangle among the heart-shaped foliage.
After gorging themselves on the vine, the little caterpillars transform into vibrant green chrysalis for a few weeks, until…
Huge, metallic blue and black butterflies emerge, ready to feast upon my quince!
Other favorites include lilac, lavender, common azaleas, phlox, teasel, dame’s-rocket, lantana, verbenas, lupines, thistles, and California buckeye, to name just a few.
And to celebrate the arrival of spring, below is a video of a beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail feasting on one of my lavender plants.
If you’d like to see more amazing late-winter, early-spring flowers, click here.
Happy Gardening, my friends!