Toyo-Nishiki QuinceChaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Nishiki’
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Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Nishiki’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Toyo-Nishiki Quince is a bushy deciduous shrub growing as much as 10 feet tall and wide, with many branches and glossy dark-green leaves. It flowers in late winter or early spring, depending on your climate zone, and the bare stems are smothered in hundreds of blossoms that vary in color from pure white, through pink to reddish tones, often also marked and streaked with darker shades. Hardly any two blooms are identical. Flowers are followed by apple-size fruits that are pale green and fragrant. Too hard to eat, they make wonderful jellies and preserves that keep that magical aroma. It is a great garden shrub for early blooms, and can easily be trained to grow on a sunny wall.
Full sun is best for the Toyo-Nishiki Quince, which is hardy in zone 4 in a sheltered spot, and grows well in warm zones. It will grow in almost any well-drained soil, preferring richer ground but still doing well in sand or heavy clay. It has no serious pests or diseases and neither deer nor rabbits bother with it. Prune immediately after flowering to keep it more compact, and it can be trimmed in late summer as well.
Sometimes plants that were once incredibly popular and widely grown, almost disappear from our gardens. One, the flowering quince, was simply called ‘Japonica’, a reference to its origin, and there were many different varieties available. There has been a revival of this plant in recent years, with new varieties, but you can enjoy the full heirloom beauty of the original when you grow the Toyo-Nishiki Quince, a classic variety created in Japan before WWII. Cut a bare branch in late winter and place it in your favorite Japanese vase to enjoy the same beauty as we see in ancient Japanese scroll paintings, as the blooms open in the warmth of your home. Enjoy the game of guessing what color each blossom will be, because this is a magical variety that produces flowers that vary from pure white through pale pink to reddish-pink, all on the same branch, and even within the same flower. Go all out and turn it into a captivating bonsai tree, or do as Europeans do and grow it on a wall between the windows of your home. Everywhere from a formal garden to a wild garden there is a place for this beautiful shrub, which perfectly captures the charm of another time.
Flowers white, white-and-pink, pink or red on the same branch, single; fruits large, apple shaped, umbilicate.
The Toyo-Nishiki Quince is a medium-sized deciduous shrub that will grow between 6 and 10 feet tall, and just as wide, if left untrained. The young stems have a smooth, red-brown to gray-brown bark, which becomes rougher and darker with age. There are sharp spines along the branches, and the smooth, glossy leaves are about 3½ inches long, slender ovals, with a finely-serrated edge. They are a healthy dark green, and one of the good things about this shrub is how the summer leaves stay healthy, never yellowing or becoming mildewed, as some spring-blooming shrubs can do.
The flowers are carried in clusters all along the older stems, and this is one of the earliest shrubs to bloom in the garden, opening in winter in warmer zones and certainly between February and April, depending on your growing zone. Each bud opens into a bowl-shaped blossom with five overlapping petals, and this variety is striking because of the random coloring of the blooms. Some are pure white. Others are pale pink. Still others are dark pink, and all these colors may be marked on the back or front of the petals with stripes or patches of darker coloring – almost every bloom is unique. By late summer the plant will be carrying round fruits about 2½ inches across, like green apples but with a deep indent at the base. They are speckled with light-brown spots and may develop pink tones when they ripen. The fruit is hard and sour, but it makes beautiful jellies and preserves, with a delicious flavor and a rich perfume. These can be eaten as jam, and many people also enjoy them with cheese and cold-cuts.
You can grow the Toyo-Nishiki Quince at the back of a shrub bed or at the edge of a wild area, and let it grow naturally. It can also be grown as a hedge, and perhaps it is most beautiful trained against a sunny wall or fence, with some regular pruning.
The Toyo-Nishiki Quince is fully hardy from zone 5 to zone 8. In zone 4 it will grow and bloom on a sunny wall, and in zone 9 it will grow too, especially in the north-west.
In full sun and warmth is the best place for the Toyo-Nishiki Quince, and that is where it will also bloom earliest. It will also grow with a couple of hours of shade each day, but perhaps not bloom so vigorously. It grows easily and well in almost any kind of soil, including clays, and grows best in ordinary loam soils that are well-drained. Established plants have some resistance to drought.
Pests, diseases, deer and even rabbits avoid the Toyo-Nishiki Quince, so protection and spraying is not needed. Once established no care is needed, but for most gardens you will want to do some spring pruning, and this is needed for plants growing on walls and fences. Prune immediately the last blooms have finished, cutting back new stems from the previous year to an inch or two long. This encourages the development of short stems packed with blooms. Prune again in late summer, taking out any branches that aren’t needed, and shortening back new ones to neaten the appearance. That summer pruning will not affect blooming in the following spring. Older plants should have some old stems removed at the same time, and replaced with newer, more vigorous ones.
When it was ‘Japonica’ this plant was thought to be a kind of pear, and you should be aware that it is not the true quince, Cydonia, which has larger fruits that are yellow, not green. Today it is known as Chaenomeles speciosa, and once there were many varieties available. Before World War II there was a thriving plant trade between Japan and Europe and North America. Japanese nurseries advertised widely in the West, and shipped your purchases directly to you from Japan. One especially active business was Hakoneya Nurseries, in the city of Numazu, in central Japan. Owned by Kochiro Wada, he published an English catalogue called “Japanese Garden Treasures” every few years. At one time Mr. Wada was even a member of the American Rhododendron Society. The quince variety called ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ first appeared in their 1941 catalogue, the year that ended with the Pearl Harbor attack. The variety was named after a popular Sumo wrestler.
You will simply love the classic Oriental beauty of this charming plant, and its variable flowers. Enjoy it however you grow it, but order now, because rarities like this are always in short supply. So, as the ancient proverb says, buy now, or miss out forever.