Spotlight on the Fruit Trees of Sleepy Cat Farm
One of the goals that we try to meet here at Sleepy Cat farm is to introduce unusual plants to our visitors, while at the same time keeping stride with the owner’s original vision of keeping the gardens in some way connected to each other.
One way we can do that is in our orchard, which is currently inhabited by 44 fruit trees of various types. The more common ones like Peach, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Apple and Nectarine include some unusual varieties not readily found in markets.
Other fruits normally not grown in this area serve the dual purpose of being ornamental in the garden, yet practical for their edibility. We utilize our Limonaia to overwinter Figs, Kumquats and Meyer Lemons. Spring through Fall these will grace the outdoor gardens in ornamental terra cotta urns of prodigious size. Many of these fruits are turned into delicious products such as jams, vinegars, liqueurs, and preserved fruits by the owner.
One fruit tree in particular to focus on is the Chinese Quince, Pseudocydonia sinensis. I first encountered this tree in the Rose family beds while working as Plant Propagator at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. One day several of the gardeners and I witnessed a visitor attempt to bite into what seemingly looked like delicious fruit—bright yellow, fragrant and blemish free. Much to our amusement, the interloper was in for a shock as Chinese Quince fruits are rock hard. Normally, Quince used in fruit production is mostly grown in California and is in the genus Cydonia. Flowering quince, used in the cut flower trade, is in the genus Chaenomeles. All are members of the Rose family.
Regardless of the nomenclature, I focus here on Pseudocydonia, the Chinese Quince because of its versatility as a small ornamental tree. It is one of the last trees to color in the fall, and turns a deep reddish burgundy color, which is striking with the yellowish fruit superimposed upon it. The fruit will persist well into winter, and being so hard it is rarely damaged by birds or animals. A bowl of Chinese quince will perfume a room for quite a long time with its unique floral scent.
The bark on this shapely, 15-25 ft tree is beautifully mottled, a peeling multicolored tapestry, much like our Stewartia trees. We have located it inside our berry wedge structure located at the top of the orchard, as a focal entry point.
Quince fruit is very acidic and creates its own pectin, so reduced with sugar make can beautifully reddish colored Quince paste called Membrillo.
In the Spring, the bountiful white blossoms attract early pollinators and provide beautifully long flowering branches which can be forced indoors in late Winter as well. Truly a plant for all seasons.
All photographs courtesy of Curtice Taylor