Frequently Asked Questions
Is espalier a recent gardening development?
A fig tree growing in one plane can be seen painted on the wall of an Egyptian tomb. This may be the oldest evidence of espalier according to Alan Edmunds, author of Espalier Fruit Trees: Their History and Culture (n.d.) Historians note that fruit trees in the 16th century were trained in France to grow next to walls to take advantage of the extra warmth of the wall. The French word “espalier” can be traced back to the Italian “spalliera,” referring to a support for the shoulder or back, likely referencing the shoulder-height trellis upon which the plants were trained.
Which president of the US included espalier in their kitchen garden?
Espalier came to the United Kingdom in the 17th century as a method to grow temperate fruits in a colder climate. By the mid-18th century, espaliers were a cardinal feature of European formal gardens, as seen at Versailles and Fontainebleau. The colonists brought the method to America. Espaliered plants were maintained at George Washington’s estate, Mt. Vernon, as they still are now. The plant-shaping method called espalier has gone in and out of fashion for gardeners ever since.
What is espalier?
Espalier is a plant-shaping method to grow woody plants in one plane on a permanent framework, often in an artistic design. Woody plants are those that grow year after year above ground and have bark. In temperate climates, the espaliered plant is often fruit bearing, such as trees of apple, pear, plum, or cherry. But there are also Gingko espaliers, Magnolias in elegant forms, and evergreens in an espaliered trellis design.
Where can espaliers be grown?
Espaliers can grow in any climate. Firethorn espaliers can be seen in the New Mexico desert climate as well as cherry espalier fans at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Virtually anywhere perennial plants can grow, so can espalier.
Espaliers can be grown in large estates such as Versailles in France. Espaliers are seen at public gardens like Filoli in California. Small urban gardens show off espalier very well. Apartment and condominium dwellers grow espalier in containers on a permanent trellis; figs are a popular option.
Who can grow espaliers?
From novices to horticulture experts, anyone who likes a challenge can grow espalier. As long as a person has the humility to be a learner, the potential to be an espaliest is there.
Why bother with espalier?
Modern gardeners, especially urban and suburban gardeners, love the espalier plant-shaping method because it offers these gardening benefits:
When growing your own fruit, you can get the most fruit possible from trees planted in small spaces.
In city gardening, even on rooftops, espaliers use every inch of space available.
Espalier alleviates gardener boredomit’s challenging and rewarding.
Espalier can extend the growing season by weeks by being in a protected location.
Fruit can be harvested several years sooner than is usual for fruit trees.
Espalier is efficientit casts little or no shade on surrounding plants.
Espalier is beautifulit softens the appearance of walls and can be a focal point of garden designs and views while it displays the finer details of plants: stems, bark texture and color, leaf shapes, flower, and fruit.
There is a year-round design effect.
A quick, living fence can be established of espaliers as a privacy screen or as a backdrop for other plants.
What are the special challenges of espalier?
Each plant has an innate habit of growth: usual height, circumference, branch architecture to name a few attributes. Appreciating how a plant wants to grow and guiding it into a predetermined shape in one plane is the first challenge. But the larger issue is keeping the espalier branch design within its designed parameters as well as enjoying flower and fruit displays. Knowing when not to prune is as crucial as the reverse.