Espalier is a means of controlling the woody growth of, usually, fruit trees and training them in a two-dimensional way. The branches are pruned and then trained against a wall or along trellis or wires.
This restricts the growth and aids food production – walls retain heat overnight, maximum sunlight is absorbed when the branches are trained separately along wires.
It is a practice which has been in use for hundreds of years. A vertical main stem, the central leader, supports horizontal tiers.
A cordon consists of a single stem, usually grown at an angle, with spurs on which the fruit is borne.
A fan has a short trunk with stems trained in an arc.
When an espaliered tree has only one tier it is called a stepover tree and looks good edging a path in a vegetable garden.
Once the tree has filled its allotted space, new terminal growths should be cut back in late spring.
These restrictive forms of fruit growing are time-consuming but highly decorative – they look very well against the end wall of a house for instance, especially in the Spring when they are in blossom.
I am delighted to see so many of the old walled kitchen gardens of big estates being renovated and it is here that you are likely to see a variety of fruit trained in this way.
If you have such a walled garden near you, Spring is a great time to pop along and see if they have espaliered fruit trees looking at their best in flower, or later in the season loaded with fruit.