Espalier By Example

Espalier (pronounced es-PAHL-yay) is the name for a plant, usually a tree, with horizontal branches trained to grow in tiers on a framework or trellis to the left and right of the main stem. Espalier is the name for both the plant and the framework or trellis where the plant is trained. The term espalier comes from the French word, epaule, meaning shoulder.

Carefully pruned, espaliers grow on a flat plane and are ideal where space is narrow or tight. Espaliers can add a dramatic, living, decorative element to a wall or fence. Since espalier trees require support, they are usually grown against a wall, but they can also be freestanding, on a more open system of posts and wires. An espalier can take many shapes aside from the horizontal cordon. Candelabra, fan, heart, lattice (Belgian fence) or even free-form shaped designs are possible.

An Inside Out espalier project

One great use of an open system espalier is as a garden divider or privacy screen. This is exactly what Inside Out Services created for the Residences at City Center to provide privacy for tenants enjoying the outdoor kitchen area. Inside Out Services Plantscaping technician, Christina Wright, worked with Cornus “Milky Way” and Cornus chinensis, otherwise known as a Kousa Dogwood, for the espalier in this project. The trees were obtained from Ruppert Nurseries, where Christina was formerly employed. While at Ruppert, she was responsible for the construction of espaliers using trees grown at the nursery.

The process for the Residences at City Center involved taping tree branches to a trellis crafted from bamboo. Two large pieces of bamboo were placed 6” on either side of the trunks, set 12-18” into the ground. Smaller pieces of bamboo were then attached horizontally to the vertical pieces with black tubing. These smaller sections acted as tiers for attaching the tree branches.The branches were laid vertically against the bamboo tiers and attached with green tubing*. Espaliers can take at least one year to establish.

espalier using dogwood trees

espalier trellis

There were several challenges in creating this espalier but the largest was the shear size of the root balls. They were big! And fitting them into elevators to transport up to the roof was quite the feat. Since a forklift was not practical, the next best thing in the form of a “ball” cart was enlisted. The Interior Plantscaping crew also had to cut off bamboo to transport it to the rooftop. But in the end, the ingenuity and determination that Inside Out teams are known for prevailed!

Citrus also makes for interesting espalier

Because fruit trees send off fruit-bearing branches horizontally, dwarf fruit trees or those grafted onto dwarf rootstock are popular as espalier specimens. Apples, pears, figs, cherries and citrus trees all make for attractive espaliers. Other candidates include woody shrubs and vines, and many ornamental flowering trees. 

Constructing and training an espalier is a commitment in terms planning, skill and time. This type of installation is considered a permanent garden feature, as it can take three to five years of patient pruning and training to become established, however, Christina expects the espalier at Residences at City Center to be well-established in about one year.

While espalier installations do not require as much fertilizer as a typical garden planting, they do require frequent watering and lots of trimming, tying and tweaking. But The Residences at City Center can rest easy, as our crack Interior Plantscaping team has all their espalier maintenance needs covered!

A little espalier history

Historically, evidence indicates that espalier dates to ancient Egypt, where the tomb of King Amenhotep II features paintings of fig trees trained flat up against a garden wall. In medieval Europe, espalier was used in walled gardens not just to save space, but to conserve heat and thus extend the growing season.

By the mid-eighteenth century, espalier became a common feature in many formal European gardens. “The King’s Vegetable Garden” (Potager du Roi), adjacent to the Palace at Versaille, France still features the espalier artistry of Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie, gardener to King Louis XIV.

George wasn’t just into cherry trees

The colonists brought espalier methods to America. At Mount Vernon, George Washington’s gardeners planted apples and pears to create living walls as borders for the kitchen garden and to provide food and cider. Today, fruit tree espalier is still on display in the formal Upper Garden at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

*No trees were harmed in creating the espaliers for this project!

 
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