A very subtle bush has bloomed amid the hard gray stones just outside the walled garden. Looking at the colorful display from the horse chestnut allée, I can’t decide which is more graceful: the aged stone wall, stark and solemn, or the brilliant orange-red of the bush climbing its frame of gray. A closer look at its flowers may disappoint if your nose is like a bee or bird, searching for a scent. But you’ll surely forgive the lack of aroma once you see, up close, the full spectrum of color it offers—the cheerful red and orange shining like a desert sunset, the yellow pollen, and the purple sepal that embraces the flowers as if someone with violet gloves is holding a living trophy.
“What is this riot of color?” you may ask. It is a flowering quince, a hardy shrub native to Japan , China , and Korea with slender, spiny branches and crenellated leaves that are oval or lanceolate (a fancy word for spear-shaped). It’s known in the botanical world as the genus Chaenomeles. The name comes from the Greek chaino (to gape or to open) and melon (apple). A member of the rose family, Chaenomeles does have a small fruit that resembles an apple, and apparently when the botanists were handing out Greek names they thought the fruit split open. In fact, it doesn’t do so very often, and given how hard and astringent it is, you probably wouldn’t want to eat it raw, though some people make jam out of it. Instead, it’s the lovely flowers that most people treasure.
When the wind picks up, you might see the white and yellow heads of narcissus (more commonly known as daffodils) bobbing from side to side in the grass. Compared to the blazing tulips you’ll see around the formal garden, narcissus come in a limited range of colors—white, yellow, orange, and sometimes a hint of pink. But I wouldn’t want to experience spring without them. They’re deer-resistant and much easier to establish than tulips. If you leave them alone to grow in your garden and allow nature to crossbreed them, you will be surprised at the new varieties that seem to pop up every year. And their scent isn’t to be missed. Though legend has it that the flower is named after Narcissus (who fell in love with himself and was turned into a flower), garden writer Anna Pavord says in her book Bulb that the flower was given its name by the Roman poet and doctor Pliny, who believed the daffodil’s powerful scent had narcotic properties.
Text by Luis Marmol
Photographs by Richard Warren.