When I was browsing through the new June issue of Traditional Home the other night, I was struck by photos of a beautiful, English-looking garden that is in Birmingham, Alabama. The feature that stood out to me the most in the garden design was the plants that were covering the walls and growing in a formal, trellis pattern:
This practice of growing and shaping plants into patterns flat against a wall is called espalier. Often, the branches are tied to a frame and shaped into formal patterns, like the trellis one above. Any type of woody plant, tree, or bush can be used, but fruit trees such as apple and pear are very common. Espalier is not only a way to adorn a plain wall, but also a practical solution if you are short on garden space.
It is thought that the espalier technique dates back to early Roman times, and it was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. Castles from that time were built around courtyards, and castle occupants would grow fruit trees on the courtyard walls using the espalier method.
Here are some images I found of espalier, showing a variety of patterns and trees:
Espalier can also be done in informal ways. My in-laws have an espalier that they trained on the back of their stucco garage. My father-in-law did it himself and calls it “doodling” since it isn’t in any formal pattern. I love how it looks. He used a bushy plant called a Cotoneaster. Plastic anchors glued to the stucco wall train the plant, which is secured to the anchors with twist ties. My in-laws have had the espalier in place for dozens of years. My father-in-law prunes it about once a month during the growing season. Here are photos of their free-form espalier:
It is even pretty in the winter (below) where you can see robins enjoying its red berries!
All these lovely garden photos are making me long for a garden of my own! If I am ever lucky enough to have one, you can be sure it will include some espalier!