Garden Poetry

Do you grow poetry in your garden? I’m guessing you might. One of my favorite poems to read to my children when they were young was “The Owl and the Pussycat,” by Edward Lear, famous for his nonsensical but lyrical creations. Do you remember these lines from it? They dined on mince, and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon; And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon…. OK, so that poem isn’t precisely growing in my garden, but every time I glance at my flowering quince bush this time of year, I can see the owl and the pussycat dancing around it. And I don’t even have a quince that produces anything you can eat.

A branch from my quince

A branch from my quince

The actual quince TREE is a cousin of the apple and pear. Bright yellow when ripe, the fruit is more like a twin to the pear. I’ve heard people mention quince jam in novels. They figured occasionally in Greek mythology and were also treasured by the Romans.

Quince fruit

Quince fruit

My flower quince BUSH doesn’t produce edible fruit, but it’s one of my favorite plants because it’s almost the first bright splash of color as winter eases. In February or early March, when everything is still drab and gray-green, a few daffodils show their bright yellow, and then this quince bush along the fence bursts into a bright salmon-pink color. The flowers are dense, almost rose-like, and the leaves are dark and shiny. It prefers a spot with full sun. Michael Dirr in his plant encyclopedia described it as “oafish,” and a “tangled mess of stems,” and some people think it looks messy. My plant is young, so I’m going to continue to prune it when it becomes aggressive. I think it’s elegant–and so do the hummingbirds. The flowering quince is native to China, Japan, Bhutan, and Burma. It usually bears red, pink, orange, or white blossoms.

Flowering quince bush

Flowering quince bush

And the owl and the pussycat eating quince with a “runcible” spoon? Edward Lear coined that word in 1871, the year the poem was published. He used it freely, “a runcible hat,” a “runcible cat.” A runcible spoon has come to be identified as a spoon with 3 prongs at the point, used to eat pickles–or slices of quince.   Photo credits for fruit and quince bush photos: <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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