Espalier is a French term, pronounced “eh-spal-yay”, for the ancient practice of specialized pruning to train woody plants, like trees, shrubs, and vines, to grow in a predetermined shape. This process was originally created to allow fruiting plants to grow in limited space, however, mere function has evolved over centuries to become a beautiful “high” art form, similar to the gorgeous art of the Japanese bonsai or European topiaries.
Creating an espalier takes time, patience, and the right choice of plant, space and design. Because of the somewhat complicated nature of creating espalier, I won’t go into specific instructions, however, I will give you a simple description of how it’s done.
1. Choosing Your Space
The first step is to decide where you want to plant your espalier. That will help you choose the right plant and design for that space. The space could be a wall you would like to highlight or cover, or a decorative trellis. Or, as seen below in the photo, your creation can be used to segment areas to add visual interest. Your imagination is the only limit to what you can do with espalier.
2.Choosing a Design
Now that you have chosen your space, you can choose a design to fit the space. There are several popular designs, but your imagination is really all it takes. Some of the more popular designs range from the rather simple easy to create to more intricate designs that require a great deal of knowledge and patience to produce. The photos below show three common espalier designs including the candelabra, the Belgian fence, and the horizontal cordon.
The photos above show images of just a few of the popular espalier designs but there are many more. The most important aspect of choosing an espalier design is to consider what you want the plant to do. Do you want a focal point, a living fence, or something else? After you choose the right design, you must choose a plant that will accommodate both the design and the space you have chosen.
3. Choosing the Right Plant
Espalier design uses woody plants to create living works of art. Woody plants can be trees, some shrubs, and even vines. When using fruiting or flowering plants, care must be taken to prune at the correct time or the plant will not be able to produce properly.
Common espalier trees include pear, apple, and crabapple because their soft wood is easy to manipulate but cherry trees with their harder wood can also be used. It is best to use semi-dwarf or dwarf fruit trees due to their restricted size rather than their full sized cousins when attempting to create an espalier unless you have a large area to fill. Non-fruiting trees like magnolias can also be used to create spectacular espalier designs. Shrubs commonly used in espalier include juniper, gardenia, privet and viburnum and vines like grape, jasmine, and wisteria, create beautiful living art in your garden and landscape. Always be sure the plant you choose can accommodate the space and design you have chosen.
4. Structural Support
After choosing the space, the design, and the plant, you must create the structural support necessary for your creation to come to life. This may be include driving in posts and running the necessary wire supports, drilling anchor holes in brick to sink the bolts into, or simply securing your new trellis to a wall or fence in order to support the weight of your mature creation.
Once your basic support structure is up, you need a way to fasten your plant to the structure. Common plant fasteners include garden twine or wire, plastic clips, and VELCRO brand adjustable plant ties. There are numerous variations of garden fasteners to use on your plant but make sure the material you use doesn’t cut into the plant stem or you could damage your plant and endanger your project.
Extensive and persistent pruning is a big part of espalier. This must be done with correct timing for each plant in order to allow fruiting and flowering plants to produce. Also, pruning is best done frequently to clip off unwanted sprouts and support the sprouts you want rather than waiting. If you wait too long before pruning you put your project at risk. Having to cut out large amounts of foliage because you waited to long may have detrimental effects on the health of the plant and the design you have chosen. It’s best to frequently prune and adjust supports in order to create the living art you see in your mind’s eye.
For more information about espalier, research the specific plant you would like to use in your project to find more detailed information on when and how to prune your plant and which designs the plant of your choice is well-adapted for. As always, make sure your sources are reliable when completing your research.
Gardening is all about being creative. If you would like to create your own espalier, do your research and choose your space, design, and plant wisely. With a little planning and a lot of patience, you can create your own living art.
Quote of the Day
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
-Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist