Planting a medlar and a quince tree

Just in time for Christmas, the fruit trees I ordered several months ago have turned up, ready for planting. I’ve wanted my own quince and medlar trees for years, but have been living in rented houses, places with no garden and abroad for all that time. When we bought our first house this year, one of the first things I did back in the early summer was to order a pair from Keepers Nursery, where they claim to have the world’s largest selection of fruit trees.

Usually, the trees would have been delivered for me to plant earlier in the year, but this autumn was long and warm, and the trees didn’t fall dormant (and plantable) until much later than usual. The quince tree (it’s a Meeches Prolific, which is bred to fruit heavily – see the picture at the top of the post) is recognisably a tree already; it’s two years old, and has lovely goblet-shaped branches. I think we’ll get good flowers from it in the spring, and if we’re extremely lucky we may get some fruit next autumn.

The medlar (macrocarpa) is only a year old, and is a single, whippy stick with roots on one end at the moment. The twig lashed to the garden cane (to be replaced later by a proper tree-stake) in the picture is my baby tree. There’s no hope of getting any fruit from it next year, but I’m extremely excited about it; medlars are a very slow-growing, long-lived tree, and specimens over 600 years old are known in England. It promises to be beautiful. This one is on a semi-dwarfing root stock, so it won’t get enormous, but it’ll do well in the poor soil at the front of our house.

I know you all know what quinces are, because my first ever post on this blog was all about quince jelly. Medlars, though – well, they’re a forgotten fruit in England these days, having a botanical place somewhere between the pear and the hawthorn. (This picture is from a tree I found growing on a hillside in France this September.) I first came across a tree when I was at university; ouside the Law faculty in Cambridge is a standard tree about ten feet high which I used to park my bike by. It was a beautiful tree with large pinky-white blossom in the spring, and a mysterious fruit which looked like a bit like a small, brown pomegranate with an open end in the autumn. I later found out that it was a medlar with the help of an old botanical in the University Library, and collected some fruit after a frost to let it blett (the fruit of the medlar is not edible until it has sat in a dry place for a while and gone soft and brown). The taste was sweet, delicate, acid-winey and completely addictive. Given that you can’t buy medlars in the shops, and that I didn’t intend to go within five hundred yards of the Law faculty once I’d managed to graduate and escape its bloodsucking, cobwebby clutches, I decided I’d buy a tree at the first opportunity.

The medlar is an ancient tree; in 700BC the Greek botanist Theophrastus was writing about it while munching at a well-bletted specimen. It has literary pedigree too; Shakespeare mentions it in four plays (although not in particularly glowing terms – fruits which have one end which looks a bit like a dog’s bum, to be consumed when they look rotten, make for easy metaphor).

Both of these trees are self-fertile, so I only need one of each variety to make sure I get fruit like these quinces from my Mum’s garden (just as well, really; my garden’s not very big and I seem to have gone a little mad this year and given about 33% of the bedding space up to mass garlic production). Expect some glorious blossom pictures in the spring.

I’ll do my best to update as usual over the Christmas period, so keep an eye out for mulled wine, a home-made dill sauce for salmon, sausage rolls, and the enormous sirloin of beef I’m cooking on Christmas day. A very merry Christmas to all those of you who are swearing off using computers for the holiday period.

17 Replies to “Planting a medlar and a quince tree”

  1. Have got a few medlars on our fairly new tree, not enough to do anything with – can they be dried out for Xmas decorations? do you know how?

    Mrs Baggy
    ps made your quince jelly last sunday (also a fairly new tree) got 4 jars, son aged 13 has eaten 1 jar already.

  2. I’ve also got a medlar and quince tree for Christmas – long last! I come from part of the world where both quinces and medlars are common treat, and not being able to buy them in shops here, I couldn’t wait to have my own garden and plant my own trees. What a pity I didn’t know about the medlar tree in front of the Law Faculty Building – for four years I lived just down the road (Darwin College), but didn’t spot it. May check it out next time I’m down in Cambridge.

  3. Hello. I’ve just bought a 2 year old quince tree too, and was wondering how yours has done since you planted it just over three years ago (in other words, what have I got to look forward to?!).

  4. Hello fans of medlar and quince,
    In Asia Minor these two trees are prolific and the locals brew a nice cider to enjoy with the fruit. They place the quince fruit and medlar in wooden cask. Fill the barrel with fresh water and weigh down the fruit with a porcelain or glass plate. In about 40 days germination occurs and you have your cider.
    If you add as much as you use, it will last all winter.

  5. Last autumn here in Australia, I bought a guince tree from a nursery that was going out of business. I took a fair bit of care in planting it, and have found since that it likes a LOT of water. Anyway, this summer it set 6 quinces and 4 have survived to maturity. They are huge, compared to any of my previous experience with quinces, which leads me to ask whether anybody knows what the world’s record biggest quince might be?

  6. We’ve two quince trees growing on chalk down in Hampshire and after 10 years they’re regular fruiters with 20-30 fruit each. A neighbour has a Medlar (she didn’t know what it was, it came with the house) and it’s a very pretty (small – say ft) tree with delicate single flowers similar to Quince (also pretty trees). We planted a 2 year old Medlar last Autumn and it’s taken well and blooming.

  7. I have a couple of quince trees and one medlar. Just made some quince paste with four quinces. Roasting quinces really (and quite pleasantly) aromaticized my house! Was hoping someone would know of medlar recipes as I have about 30 fruits on the tree. Nice blog post, by the way!

  8. Every autumn I keep an eye out for medlars, but I have never been able to spot one…of course I'd never searched at the Law Faculty! Many thanks for sharing the info – though others must have preempted me and left me with slim pickings!

  9. As I read your desciption of the "medlar tree and its fruits"I see that you are also falling in the falacy or mis conception that one can not eat the fruit until it has almost gone rotten. THAT IS FALSE. I have been enjoying the delicious taste of the fruit of the medlar tree in my garden for years DIRECTLY FROM THE TREE.
    Furthermore I have seen the fruits been sold in the supermarkets under the spanish name«níspero».

  10. I have planted a quince and a medlar in all gardens where I have lived and have good crops from both. I enjoy experimenting with different recipes, Medieval medlar sweetmeats were a great success last winter . Recipe from Historical foods web site

  11. Hello! Can anyone tell me why my Medlar (nottingham) has dropped its fruit early? June to be precise… it flowered in April, the fruit began to ripen but dropped after turning brown and crispy! bit distressed as i was looking forward to eating them! It was purchased from a local garden center, its about 6ft tall. Would really appreciate some feedback, also i have kept it in a large pot for the time being as i am moving house very soon, the pot however is large and well drained.

  12. Hi, I’ve read your blog about medlars and I had the same draw towards them as they are so old and taste great. I bought a medlar and a quince last year and the quince is doing well and its leaves are just turning now. The medlar though has not been so well. Around early summer all the leaves went brown just after being eaten by something that I could not see. I don’t know whether it has died as the leave are still firmly attached. Do you have any advice on what I should do? I really hope it hasn’t died.

    1. There’s no way you’ll be able to tell until spring (although you’d be surprised at how robust fruit trees can be). It sounds like it needed more water than it was getting back in the summer – let it sit dormant over the winter and hope to see some shoots next year!

  13. I recently brought seeds back from Sicily and planted them in pots. In Sicily they told me they were Nespoly. The plants are all six inches tall. I’ll plant they in the garden in the spring. When will they produce fruit? What type soil should they have and when to feed them.

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