I HAVE NEVER known what you do with quinces, and have regretable memories of some quince liqueur we once made with too much cardamon in it. Theoretically a slice or two of quince improves an apple pie, and quince jam (which we also made once,) had a distinctive flavor.
There are flowering quinces, of course, Chaenomeles lagenaria, which provide the crimson, scarlet, pink, apricot or white (depending on variety) flowers of earliest spring, and these commonly produce a few fruits that can be used in the kitchen.
But there is also the real quince tree, which can be kept the size of a large shrub. I think the varieties of quince are probably much the same. The flowers are very like those of the apple, and the tree or shrub has few pests.
Raspberries -- I am now thinking of additional chores for you in the month of March -- are worth having if you can manage the space for them. They like deeply dug and well manured earth, and are planted 20 inches apart.
Like other brambles, the raspberry sends out suckers, so you soon have a royal tangle if you neglect them. It is convenient to confine the red raspberry to a row only a foot wide, dutifully whacking off (or transplanting elsewhere) any new plants that pop up outside that row.
Once a cane has fruited, you cut it to the ground, either in the fall or in earliest spring. Gardens would save themselves some misery if they would get it firm in their heads that fruit is borne generally on year-old wood, or on the new growth that springs from year-old wood. It is especially worrisome to let brambles (blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries) grow long indefinitely. The old wood is cut out every year, and thus they are manageable.
The red raspberry, 'Heritage' is especially popular for its ease of management, since you cut everything to the ground in December.
Fruit is borne on the growth made from scratch during the spring and summer.
Boysenberries should be supported by a frame or other support up to 5 feet, since they are wonderfully vigorous. Their fruit is the size of pigeon eggs, black and sweet. The flavor suggests a faint mix of blackberry and raspberry. There is a form without thorns, that should spare urban tempers.
Gooseberries do not properly belong in gardens this far south, and I associate them with bleaker climates. They are popular in England where, of course, people are used to eating anything, as all visitors well know.
The gooseberry is a prickly creature, and possibly you remember Mrs. Galskell's acount of the cow that learned to eat them off the bushes, though the prickles made the poor animal moo considerably. But the fruit was so delicious (to the cow) that it persisted.
You can get gooseberries canned or bottled in the stores and make the relatively tasteless dish called gooseberry fool, sometimes served in the houses of Englishmen right here in this capital.
It is hardly a fruit to compare with the peach, the plum, the strawberry, etc., and yet many people acquire a taste for it.
I have eaten locally grown gooseberries (the variety 'Pixwell') in early July and must say they were dandy. The fruit turns from greenish to pinkish (approximating the color of certain mouth washes) when ripe. You plant the bushes five feet apart, and no special care is required and no spraying is necessary. They endure moderate shade.
Often I have thought a couple of gooseberry bushes would be nice, just for the gardener to pick a handful fresh off the bushes, to eat while weeding about in late June.
Gardeners keep complaining to me about figs. The one thing the fig insists on is sunlight. Often in fairly shady spots the fig will endure and provide its beautiful foliage, but its proper place is on a wall facing south, without overhanging trees.
If the varieties 'Celeste' or 'Brown Turkey' are planted in such a spot, there is no way to prevent their producing plenty of figs.
Gardens get upset when the tiny figs (produced directly on the woody stems of the shrub) fall off. Many figs produce three sets of these tiny figs, but in our climate only the middle set grows to maturity. My advice is to stop fidgeting over what the fig does, and concentrate on what you do. Give it a south wall and forget it and you will have figs.
In bitter winters, the tree or bush may be frozen back to the ground. There is really nothing I can do about that, you know, and some gardeners love to dwell on problems. Some whimper about squirrels, others about ants, others about wasps.
I cannot bring myself to kill wasps, though terrified of them, on the theory that entirely too many yokels are anti-insect and, for that matter, anti-life, and one should take care not to join them. If I killed a million wasps a year, I'd be just as terrified of them as I am by killing none, so what good would killing them do me?
You simply pick your figs and grapes when the wasps are not on them. Surely that is not too mysterious a routine for an ordinary bright gardener?
There seems to be some confusion about cherries. The great tree cherries cannot be managed in small gardens, to begin with, so forget them.
Even if you had space for one, the birds would eat them all, and if gardeners with lots of room were to plant sweet cherries, it would be a fine thing for our feathered cousins.
But assuming you want to eat them yourself, there are some, like 'North Star' and 'Meteor' that are sour, and said to be food for pies. Others, like 'Black Velvet' are supposed to be sweet and lovely to eat while wandering about the garden. They are all on the small side, and the quality of any cherry we can grow in the small garden is perhaps notably inferior to the fine cherries they grow in Michigan, say, for the commercial market.
I could live the rest of my life without even seeing a cherry pie but if I had a bit of room I might grow Hansen's' or 'Black Velvet.' Nurserymen like to say they make beautiful shrubs.
They do not. Their foliage is ordinary and trite (if the Designer of cherry foliage will forgive my saying so) but of course their modest white flowers in spring are charming enough, and the gardener happily gobbling up fruit he has grown himself is not likely to complain of the quality.