The process of manipulating the growth of woody plants into a flat (2-D) plane by trimming and tying branches. Commonly used with fruit bearing trees against structures; horizontal clipping encouraging fruit production and radiant heat from walls prolonging growing period. Used for both form and function in a landscape as focal points, delineate areas, screening and fruit production. (Follow my pin board for examples)
Designing for Espaliers:
The practice of training fruit bearing plants dates back to the Romans/Egyptians, but it was the Europeans, specifically the French who have influenced and perfected the designs we see today.
- Great for small spaces with limited space for growth. Planted root bulbs can be planted next to building foundations with 4 inches between plant and wall.
- Instant impact when purchased as fully trained specimen.
- Provide structure and form in the garden during the winter.
Variety of woody plants can be used for Espaliers. I recommend finding something that isn’t too vigorous a grower if buying an established espalier, or else you will be trimming all the time. Also look for good horizontal branching structure.
Here is a list of Ornamentals good for Espaliers:
- Gingko biloba
- Fagus sylvatica culivars – i.e Tricolor beech
- Acer palmatum cultivars –
- Pyrus calleryana- Callery pear
- Tillia- Liden
- Katsura- Katsura
- Cedrus atlantica – Blue atlas Cedar
Of course there are the fruit bearing woody plants that this method was developed include varieties of apples, pears, plums, peaches, etc.
There is a lot of documentation on how to train an espalier, however training a mature espalier will take up to five years with the faster growing varieties. I recommend purchasing a fully trained tree, however it will be an investment. There are some amazing growers specializing in espaliers and are craftsmen at creating the technique.
Your local nursery may have one of the traditional espalier designs and varieties in stock or can order one for you. (Always ask if they will order you a specific plant if not in stock. You might have to wait a bit, but you can get the less common plants this way.)
If you would like information on training your own espalier I recommend - Pruning and Training Plants : A complete guide, David Joyce. This book breaks down pruning and training by the plant type so you can get the specific information based on the plants natural growth characteristics. Also The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler (pg 28-29) has a great step by step.
Examples of Espaliers:
The practice of espaliering has been traced back as far as the Egyptians, but it was the French that have perfected the methods we follow today. There are many different styles defined, but I have listed the most common methods below with examples. I have listed the most popular designs below, but there are many more designs.
Cordon – This is the historical method for growing espaliers. The horizontal method is best for producing fruit, but there are also the simple vertical designs. Can be grown against walls, fences and stand alone.
- Vertical Cordon
- Oblique Cordon
- Horizontal Cordon
- Single “U” Cordon
- Double “U” Cordon
Candelabra - I have often seen this grouped within the Multiple Cordons categorized as a Multiple Cordon/Triple U Cordon. This is great for growing up on vertical walls, and is named for the shape looks exactly like a candelabra. Note I have also seen the Palmette Verrier called a candelabra, I am researching to fine the definitive answer on this one)
Palmette Verrier and Palmetter Oblique – The distinguishing feature of the Palmette Verrier is the central stem with side branches turning from the horizontal to the vertical in a 90 degree angle. The Palmetter Oblique also features a central stem, but has oblique or diagonal branches. The Goblet is a version of the Palmetter Verrier, but instead of the 90 degree turn up, the branches are trained at a curve from the central stem.
Belgium Fence –This design features multiple trees (at least five) trained together into a design that intercept on the oblique/diagonal. Spacing is key on this design to ensure balance in the pattern is symmetrical.
Free form/Informal designs – Like any design rules, great things can happen when they are broken. The only rule with informal espaliers is to keep the 2-D plane and allow the branches to follow any pattern you desire.
If you like the green vertical walls, here are some additional terms/design methods to research:
- Pleaching (see previous blog post – here)
- Green Walls (such as woolly pockets)
- Natural Climbers (Examples include – Ivy, Roses and Wisteria)