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Roger's Pick: 'The art of espalier'

An espalier (pronounced “es-PAL-yer”) is any plant trained to grow in a flat plane against a wall, fence or trellis.

Espalier has considerable merit in today’s smaller gardens as decorative accents and when there are space constraints in the landscape, like along a narrow fenced walkway.

Some plants are more suitable than others and one should look for those that produce flexible lateral branches and attractive fruits, flowers, bark and foliage.

First, you should consider which of many patterns you might use and match the right plant to work within that pattern and exposure.

Espaliers can be a challenge to train and require many hours of patient maintenance. Pre-trained espaliers are available in the nursery trade and make it easier and faster for the average gardener to have an espalier.

One classic style of formal patterns is cordon, which selects a tree to grow as a single stem and then selects vertical lateral branches to be trained horizontally.

The U-shape pattern is similar to the double cordon except that the lateral branches are trained to grow vertically as well in a U-type of shape.

Palmette has two distinct variations of its fan-shape pattern. Verrie is the most popular formal pattern and is attained by training the branches of a tiered cordon up into a candelabra shape. Oblique is also formed like the tiered cordon with the lateral branches trained at the same angle.

Fence patterns, such as the Belgian fence, are complex lattice patterns formed by combining at least three single horizontal cordons with their branches trained in opposite 45-degree angles forming a broad ‘V.’ Two single vertical cordons at the ends are necessary to complete the pattern edges and are recommended for the experienced gardener taking baby steps leading up to this style.

Supporting a plant espalier usually requires a trellis or some other method of attachment. The framework also provides a guide for training the branches and serves to create the illusion of a complete espalier long before a plant is trained into a particular style.

Plants can also be attached by using masonry staples or concrete nails; even strong mollies inserted into pre-drilled holes of stucco or the grout lines in brick walls can work.

On a wooden fence, nails and plastic ties are utilized and removed after the desired form is strong enough with good caliper of the branches.

Once you have selected a plant, pattern and support framework, the next step is the planting. Plants to be espaliered should be installed six to eight inches away from the wall or support framework in well-drained, nutritious soil.

The training technique used will depend on the pattern selected and the number of laterals on the plant.

If you are following a design, carefully bend the branches into the desired position and secure them with strong plastic ties available at a garden supply or hardware store. Never use wire of any type, for this can cut into the branches, causing long-range problems.

The following are a few of my recommended types of plants to consider in training plants into a lovely espalier.


• Cercis (Redbud): Deciduous and has wonderful springtime blossoms

• Citrus (lemons, limes, kumquats, oranges): They give fruit and flowers to enjoy.

• Prunus (apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines): Fruiting plants are deciduous and should bear in the summer

• Hollies: With shiny green foliage and red berries for the holidays


• Camellia japonica and sasanquas: Evergreens with some fragrant pink, red and white flowers in wintertime; best in shade to semi-shade areas

• Red-Tip Photinia: Bright red-tipped foliage against the older green foliage provides a striking colorful contrast.

• Gardenia: How wonderful to walk by a blooming and fragrant wall of gardenias.

• Myrtus communis (myrtle): Evergreen with white flowers, small foliage and black berries


• Jasmine: Many types have clean green foliage and fragrant flowers.

• Petrea volubilis (Queen’s Wreath): Evergreen with fabulous cascading blue-lavender flowers in summer that drip like wisteria

• Grapes: Assorted red and green fruits for the table or the glass

• Roses: Use rambling or climbing roses, which offer a great bounty of blooms in all colors, in perfumes and rose hips in fall.

Roger Boddaert is a landscape designer and Certified Arborist who can be reached at (760) 728-4297.


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