As long as I am on the topic of pruning woody plants, I would like to devote a little time to a discussion of espaliered trees. An espalier is any tree which has been trained to grow in two dimensions. Espaliers can have great height, and great width, but with next to no depth. They are pruned flat. This training can take a long time. They are great trees for very shallow places.
The history of growing espaliers dates back centuries, to a certain French monk, Fr. Lergendre, who was entrusted with the important job of providing food for his monastery. In those days, providing food meant growing it. Some of his discoveries were made out of sheer need. He wanted to grow lots of fruit trees, as he had lots of people to feed. The trees planted closest to the monastery walls fruited more heavily and more reliably, as the flowers were protected from late frosts by the heat generated from the walls. As his space was small, and his need great, he moved them closer and closer to the walls. And closer and closer together. There were many varieties he wished to grow. Eventually he cut the back branches off of the trees all together. Amazingly, the trees he eventually trained to grow flat against the walls produced more fruit than trees cultivated in the open. His work over a lifetime was detailed in a book he wrote, “Palmette Legendre”, published in 1684. The art of training fruit trees to grow against a wall in formally pruned shapes has persisted to this day.
Having worked for Al Goldner in the 80’s, I inherited his love of espaliers. He actually grew them on his farm in Howell. Many a time I have gone to look at an old existing landscape with a mature espalier, and known it was his design. We buy them from a number of different growers, in different shapes and sizes.
This redbud was an experimental espalier subject for one grower. It will have flowers on the main trunk this year. Almost any tree can be grown into an espalier, provided that the training and tying begins at an early age. A framework of bamboo or wire must be in place, so each branch grows the desired length and in the desired location. The process of making a branch turn from the horizontal to the vertical takes a lot of time, and must be started when the branch is young and flexible.
We have a collection of 7 old fruiting pear arbors. The eighth pair has already found a home. They are outrageously beautiful. We do construct a steel hoop armature for every arbor, so the vertical branches can be tied in place. These espaliers have sufficient age and strength that they will not need that armature for long. This is plant material that can make an entire garden. Like every other plant, any gardener can grow a tree arbor, provided they have some time and patience.
We also have a collection of 40 espalier apple trees of more modest size and dimension, and a small collection of espaliered grapes. If you have an interest in growing, training and pruning, an espalier might be a perfect addition to your garden. Interested further? I have written several essays about espaliers. If you type the word espalier into the search line of this blog, you’ll find them.