Espalier: Tips For Limited Garden Spaces

The art of espalier is a horticultural and artistic feat that requires skill and patience. It involves training various types of trees by pruning and grafting them, resulting in beautiful patterns and shapes. Originally performed in the Middle Ages, espalier is a fun and worthwhile craft that uses both agricultural knowledge and artistic technique to create a gorgeous result. The trees grown in a garden using espalier are usually much smaller than a traditional tree, making this practice ideal for smaller gardens or for garden areas in cities or patio spaces.

History of Espalier

Originally, espalier was used to form walls or dividers in Europe in the Middle Ages. The trees were also grown within castle walls in this manner in order to provide fruit within a confined space without allowing the tree to completely engulf or take over the area. Some research shows that espalier growing methods were used even further back, dating to ancient Egypt. The French word espalier traditionally referred to the trellis in which the tree was grown on. Today, the term refers strictly to the growing technique itself.

  • The Art of Espalier – This article discusses the art form, as well as its history.
  • Early Espalier – Informative photos and examples of espalier in early America and Europe.
  • About Espalier – An overview of the technique as well as a brief history.
  • Types of Espalier/History – A wonderful web page that describes the origins and forms of espalier from around the world.
  • Tradition – The tradition of espalier in Europe.

Types of Espalier Techniques

Most espalier trees are grown against a solid wall, usually brick or stucco. They can also be trained to grow against a trellis or other free-standing object to help hold them up. Freeform espalier is much more difficult and takes a lot more work, however espaliered trees in a garden can be quite breathtaking. In France, the technique for free flowing espalier trees is quite popular. Trees grown against a wall are more common in urban areas. No matter which technique is used, this art form can be demanding and take a lot of work, but the results are well worth it.

Types of Trees/Plants To Use

Fruit trees are the most commonly types of plants used in espalier, however Japanese Maple and other species are also a good choice. For fruit trees, apple, olive, fig, and pear tree are excellent species. Ivy is also a typically choice for espalier and can be easily trained. Flowers such as camellia, hibiscus, and magnolia are also beautiful and simple. Colorful fruit or flower producing trees give espalier a more spectacular look. Since the compactness of the trees is key, it’s no wonder those during the Middle Ages chose to grow them this way in order to obtain fruit easily and in smaller confined spaces.

  • Species to Use – This article contains a good list of species of plants and trees that can be used for espalier.
  • 20 Favorites – A list of 20 favorite choices of types of plants to use for espalier in any garden.
  • Apple Tree Espalier – This article explains how to properly grow an apple tree espalier.
  • Fruit Trees – Features some beautiful examples of fruit trees grown with the espalier method.
  • Selecting a Tree – Simple advice on choosing the right tree to espalier.

Tips for Successful Espalier

Espalier takes patience and a lot of dedication. There are some things the every day gardener can do to help ensure that their tree grows properly. The plant should only be grown from about six to ten inches away from its support at the maximum. The support can be a trellis or wall. Young plants are best because their branches can be trained. Remove any unwanted growth right away before planting, and plant the tree on the south or eastern facing side of your home or building. The side branches or shoot should be grown to at least one foot before pruning, and always prune any unwanted excess growth as soon as possible. Patience is truly the most important factor in espalier, as it can take five years or even more to get the desired look.

  • Starting an Espalier – Explains how to begin an espalier garden so that it is successful.
  • Espalier Success – One grower lists their techniques and what they did to get a healthy collection of espaliered plants.
  • Pruning Advice – Some information about pruning apple and pear trees for espalier.
  • Espalier Guide – A very informative, helpful guide to growing espalier trees, as well as diagrams.
  • How to Espalier a Tree – This simple guide shows how anyone can grow a tree into a beautiful espalier form.

While espalier is not a common way to grow trees, it has caught on in popularity, particularly with the growth of urban gardening in cities. This ancient technique of growing trees in a small, compact format can produce beautiful results. Espalier takes patience, dedication, and a willingness to work hard in order to get the wanted results. Time and effort are well worth it when the beautiful trees begin to take shape and grow into an amazing pattern that will beautify any garden.