Espaliers are satisfying way to garden
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Espaliering plants on a wall is an old technique started by the French. It is useful in at least two ways: Fruit plants can yield larger crops when thus grown, and the decorative effect resulting from training a tree or vine in one plane yields a satisfying effect.
Incidentally, Webster’s dictionary gives the correct pronunciation as “esPALier,” not “espaYEA.” The latter, however, might be correct in France.
I have several plants espaliered, one on a brick chimney face, another against a blank house wall, and others along a wooden fence. The first two have been fine successes; the latter abject failures.
I hied on home and bought from the famous Stark Brothers catalog two apples and a pear tree for growing against our wooden fence that backed a flower border. That particular border, it so happens, is made up of mostly red flowering plants, with a few oranges and yellows. The ripening apples and pears in autumn would set off the flower colors.
Now, these years later, the trees have formed the upright spurs and brought a good look to the fence, but, alas, our total crop has been two Arkansas black twig apples, three or four Fujis, and a pear or two. The trees simply refuse to bloom.
I have tried spring, summer, fall and winter pruning, root pruning, and every other gimmick the books talk about to force the trees into bloom. Nothing. If they were ever going to bloom, it would have happened by now. In fact, the skimpy crop that did occur happened about the second or third year after planting.
The end result of my espaliered fruit trees has been the same as with the free standing trees I have: No fruit, though in the latter case it is marauding varmints, primarily deer and squirrels, that prevent our getting any enjoyment from the trees.
On our chimney face grows a Hibiscus syriacus, or old-fashioned rose of sharon, not among the elite of the shrubs recommended by most experts. However, in the present case, the plant provides the large mallow-like flowers for three months, from June-September. What else will do that?
Just in front of the chimney is a small ornamental pool with a fountain slowly trickling water into a basin. A peaceful ambience indeed during the summer months.
I have very few original ideas, but I have never seen this shrub espaliered in any other garden, except a couple of others where I recommended it. Joe and Diane Mahan have a fine espalier — no, two of them — used similarly against a retaining wall at the end of a driveway.
My rose of sharon is the variety Minerva, a pale purple with a dark eye, and one of the fairly new ones that are almost sterile triploid hybrids. I say “almost,” because they will produce an occasional seedling, but nothing like the open pollinated ones.
A more ubiquitous shrub for espaliering, and probably the most common of all here, is pyracantha. There are several nice old pyracantha espaliers around town. Roland and Ailene Parkhill have one which Roland manicures to perfection, and there used to be a very large one at the home of Ewell Orr. I can’t remember if it is still extant.
The primary attraction of pyracantha espaliers is the orange or red berries during fall and winter, though the spring bloom, a dull white, also is useful.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 6.17.08
Garden Path, Jimmy Williams