In a shady part of the forest garden, sandwiched between apple trees and an east facing stone wall, we have some interesting and more unusual edibles. One of these is flowering quince. With its beautiful red flowers in spring, this shrub, Chaenomeles japonica, thrives in rather difficult conditions.
In rather deep shade a lot of the time, this shrub is not only beautiful. Like its neighbours – Mahonia japonica and Berberis Darwinii, this flowering quince also produces edible fruits. These fruits are high in vitamin C and though they are too bitter and sharp to enjoy raw from the shrub, they are great in the jams and jellies of the season.
The fruits are quite like crab apples in shape and form, but with.a somewhat more floral taste. One interesting thing about them is that they are very high in pectin – higher than apples and ordinary quinces. I pop a few in with blackberries when making blackberry jams, to help them set.
It is not necessary to choose between edible and ornamental plants. Often, you can have both. Flowering quince fruits might not be the best tasting edible fruit before being sugar sweetened. But they are useful and healthy additions to a more grown diet nonetheless.
This shrub is such a useful plant because it can produce fruits even in locations where other more traditional fruiting shrubs and trees will not perform well. Those new to forest gardening are often surprised by the number of fruits that can be grown in shade. In our garden, low light levels are the main challenge in this spot. But Chaenomeles japonica can also cope with cold, exposed locations, and areas with poorer soil too.
I am not saying that this is the right choice for every gardener. But I wanted to draw attention to this useful plant to show how thinking outside the more traditional choices can open up an interesting range of new possibilities.