Form Meets Function in Elegant Espaliered Trees

Form meets function in elegant espaliered Trees. 

Have you ever seen a Tree that’s been trained to grow flat against a wall? This is the art of Espalier (ess-pal-YAY), a practice that has been embraced since the days of the ancient Romans. Sleek, sophisticated Espaliered Trees are more popular than ever and are perfect for today’s modern landscapes. In this article, you’ll learn why this fascinating craft is so appealing and how you can use Espaliered Trees in your landscape.

Why Espalier?

The art of Espalier was perfected in England and northern France during the 16th century. There, it was used to extend the growing season in cool climates and encourage Fruit Trees to bear more heavily. Apple and Pear Trees were trained to grow flat against warm south-facing walls, allowing them to soak up every bit of the sun’s heat while taking in the reflected heat released from the warm stone walls.

Want to take advantage of this age-old wisdom on your own property? You can grow an Espaliered Apple or Pear or other Fruit Tree against a warm southern wall for an extra-long harvest. You can also use this strategy to successfully grow Trees that are borderline cold-hardy in your area, whether they are Fruit Trees or not. A Tree that may be a little too tender to make it out in the yard may survive in the protection of a warm, bright microclimate near the house. Additionally, it has long been known that branches that grow horizontally produce more flowers and fruit than those that grow vertically. Therefore, Espaliered Fruit Trees can be shaped to bring forth the highest possible yield in the smallest amount of space.

Space Savers

Early Espaliers were often cultivated in monastery courtyards, where space was at a premium. This special training allowed for a great variety of Trees to be grown in limited space while resulting in plentiful harvests. Espaliers helped gardeners make use of all possible growing areas—nothing went to waste.

In your own garden, an Espaliered Tree may be the answer if space is tight. Want a Bloodgood Japanese Maple but lack the space for a full-sized one? An Espaliered Bloodgood Maple is slim and takes up hardly any room at all—and it will give you that same great burgundy-red color. A Ginkgo that could get 80 feet by 40 feet if left to its own devices stays as flat as a pancake in Espalier form. A Tri-Color Beech that could reach 30 feet by 20 feet or more in its natural form becomes a tidy, compact Espalier Tree that fits into the smallest of gardens. Fruit Trees trained as Espaliers, like the Red Delicious Apple, don’t get big and bulky like standard Fruit Trees. They don’t shade out other Trees planted next to them, and they keep the harvest at an easy picking height—no ladder required!

Espaliered Elegance

Of course, Espaliered Trees are wonderful in the garden for the touch of elegance they bring. Espaliered Trees can give beauty to a chainlink fence or lend new life to an old wooden fence that you’d like to hide. They can break up the broad expanse of a brick wall or a plain green hedge with striking, structural branching patterns and colorful foliage, flowers, and fruit. For example, see our Forest Pansy Redbud Espalier (a Bower & Branch® exclusive) below. This will become a living mural in your garden, featuring sweet lavender-pink blossoms in spring, ruby-red leaves in summer, and butterscotch foliage in fall on charcoal-gray branches.

Espaliered Trees make decorative room dividers as well, delineating spaces in your outdoor living area in a unique way. Instead of being planted against a wall, an Espalier or a series of Espaliers may be trained as a freestanding element. These living panels enclose an area and make it feel intimate. The panels may be pruned to let in more light if a more open and airy mood is desired.

Types of Espaliers

There are several ways in which Trees can be trained in Espalier form, each lending a slightly different feel to the garden:

  • Horizontal Cordon. This is the most popular. It is created by choosing a central leader and then selecting branches to extend out from it in long, horizontal tiers. This style can be open and see-through or dense and substantial, depending on how close together the tiers are placed.
  • Candelabra style. This one is a bit more complex and formal. This Espalier starts out like the Horizontal Cordon, but its branches turn upward at 90-degree angles so that the tiers become shaped like nested football goal posts. The Candelabra is a head-turning outline for a bare wall in need of some pizzazz.
  • Fan. This style likewise makes an impact on the blank canvass of a wall. This Espalier Tree’s branches radiate from a single point low on the trunk to create a fan-shaped pattern that can be either stiff and formal or more organic, following the natural contours of the Tree’s branches.
  • Belgian Fence. This style is instantly recognized by its criss-cross branching pattern and diamond-shaped gaps. A well-maintained Belgian Fence projects a neat and orderly image mixed with Old World charm.

At Bower & Branch, we’re especially fond of the unique Espalier our growers have created, the exclusive Pink Heartbreaker® Redbud Heart Trellis (below). You can use this one-of-a-kind heart-shaped Espaliered Tree to dress up a blank wall or fence, or you can plant it as a freestanding specimen. Try taking a page from the landscape architects’ playbook and site the Pink Heartbreaker® Heart Trellis to frame a focal point or a pretty view in the distance.








Installing Espaliered Trees

The intimidating thing about Espaliers is the careful training required in the early years of growth, but if you get a mature Espaliered Tree like those offered by Bower & Branch, the hard part is already done for you. Installing the Tree is relatively straightforward. If you’re planting an Espalier in front of a stone or brick wall, attach the branches to 14- to 16-gauge guide wire. Use a masonry bit to install lag shield anchors in the mortar and screw long eye bolts into them to hold the wire, leaving about six to eight inches of space between the wire and wall to allow for air flow and reduce the incidence of disease. Plant the Tree and tie the branches loosely to the wire with inconspicuous green plastic gardener’s tape.

For freestanding specimens, guide wires may be run between 4 by 4s anchored in the ground. Consult with your Certified Bower & Branch Garden Center Professional if you’re not sure if your Tree needs this extra support. For the finishing touch, add some lights, following the contours of the Tree’s bold structure, so that your Espalier specimen makes a statement even after the sun goes down!