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Modern espalier

My favorite thing to find in the garden is fruit trees in bloom. The smell, the pop of delicate blossoms, and tiny burgeoning fruits.

Unfortunately in most small gardens, fruit trees spend most of the year as thorny tangled messes whose branches lazily droop into nearby vegetable beds. The kindly gardener has to tip-toe around her lemons lest they reach out and tear her sleeve, or worse, with their sharp spines. Nevermind the dangers when it comes time to harvest the brightly colored fruits. It seems we have been misguided in turning our lawns into mini-orchards instead of practicing the very simple and time-tested art of espalier, which is far more useful in the context of urban food production.

The practice, now seemingly exotic and affiliated with camellia and rose aficionados, was once a very common means of producing fruit within walled gardens and along property borders without losing open space. More often these days, espalier is only practiced in vineyards or to extend growing seasons in less-than-ideal climates by taking advantage of a wall to absorb and reflect heat onto trees.

Though the practice can be very formal and artistic, it can also be very simple and give anyone with a small sunny patch the chance to grow fresh fruit and still have space for vegetables. Like our avocado, we have several citrus trees planted in our gardens and have been researching the many ways we might shape them to maximize growing space and beauty. The added bonuses of increased and earlier fruit production, and ease of harvest, make espalier a must-have skill for the urban grower.

Below you will find links to some of our favorite examples of modern fruit tree espalier. Many thanks to the featured gardeners for sharing their ideas.

From left to right: Pacific Edge, Home Citrus Growers, Merrywood, Rural Intelligence, bobbi_p, Northwest Edible Life

Related – Horizontal Cordon

A similar practice of training creepers horizontally across the face of a building or wall would be great for fruiting vines like passion fruit, grapes, and kiwi. One stem is trained to a desired height from which it is allowed to extend a pair of horizontal branches. This further saves garden space and can act to shield a home from hot summer sun.

From Fassaden Grun

Margie is the founder of IG and is passionate about the therapeutic benefits of working with nature in the garden. She enjoys mangosteen, the rainy season, hammocks, and wild visitors in the garden.

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