Thursday, August 14

WHY IN DESIGN column about Espalier in the garden: the history, beauty & practicality of this art form

image via RiverRoad Farms
photo via espalier board

Espalier trees have me thinking back to my favorite childhook book, 
A Secret Garden.
The magic of a hidden garden or courtyard garden comes rushing back, and these special corners often provide a respite from our lives.  This book was one of the first I remember to illustrate in words the beauty of such a treasured space. 
Let's talk about espalier in the garden...
What is espalier?
"it is the horticultural and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth for the production of fruit, by pruning and tying branches to a frame, frequently in formal patterns, flat against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis, and also plants which have been shaped in this way."
photos via espalier board
When I first traveled to France many years ago I became enamored with these flat trees that seemed to drape over many of the country's historic homes, buildings, fields and fences.  Seemingly growing wild in this strange manner, I soon learned more about these gorgeous wonders.  As summer winds down, I reflect that in my very next life (when I have the time and energy to give) I yearn to hone a career as a landscape designer, working in gardens all day long.  I love the idea of that.  Today, let's pay homage to the espalier, maybe learn a tidbit about the practice.  Adding one to my garden is at the top of my "to do" list for next spring. Training a fruit tree to grow in this manner allows it to thrive in an uncrowded way giving each bloom more room and light and is perfect for a small garden.   Basically, you train the branches to grow in this unusual fashion, first in a vertical manner then guiding the branches horizontally.  

Now, shaping plants and flora is certainly not original to espalier and we have been shaping for thousands of years from grape plants for wine vineyards, to the Japanese Bonsai to grafting trees, Pleaching and Topiary.  Each one of these art forms has their own history and practical purposes.  For espalier, the training begins with cutting the unbranched tree to a short 15-18 inches above ground only allowing the top three buds to form...the middle branch is trained vertically with the two others in a V-shape.  One form of espalier is commonly referred to as a "Belgian Fence", where the espalier trees are lined up a row 2 inches apart, and the result is visually stunning.  
Belgian Fence espalier via catapultnature
Although the word espalier is French, it is derived from the Italian word spalliera, which means to rest the shoulder against.  Since the 17th century the word has morphed slightly from at first meaning a trellis of sorts to now reflecting an entire practice of training plants.  The Romans started it, and the practice continued throughout history becoming an art form during the Middle Ages throughout Europe in order to create flat trees inside castle gardens and courtyards and continues to be used all over the world today.

the photograph above courtesy RiverRoad Farms
For more information on espalier trees, check out this
espalier video from River Road Farms in Tennessee
 of course as can be seen from these lovely photographs, espalier is not utilized on fruit trees and in fact can be assigned to many different plants and flowering blooms.
I love this simple HOW TO make espalier 
provided by Better Homes & Gardens magazine!

Happy Nesting 
XO Tamara