Espalier, pronounced either “es-pah-lee-er” or “es-pah-lee-ay,” depending on how French you want to sound, is the ancient horticultural practice of controlling woody plant growth—originally for the purpose of fruit production—by pruning and tying branches to a frame so that they grow into a flat plane. The plant is usually, although not always, grown against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis and frequently in formal patterns.
Espalier as a technique is believed to have started with the Romans. During the Middle Ages the Europeans refined it into an art. The practice was used to produce fruit within the walls of a castle or a monastic cloister so as not to interfere with the limited open space and to decorate the fortified structure’s walls.
Vineyards have used the technique in the training of grapes for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years.
Espalier In Landscape Design
Espalier has considerable merit in today’s landscape design where the technique of growing fruit tress or ornamental plants is primarily used as a decorative accent.
An espalier becomes a living sculpture in the garden where the espaliered plants and trees can cover unsightly, boring, or blank, windowless walls or to create a visual screen or barrier—bringing an otherwise boring wall or space to life.
I have used espaliered plants as part of my landscape designs to add height in foundation planting, between widely-spaced windows and in tight, confined areas where spreading shrubs or trees cannot be effectively maintained.
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