Espaliers add artistic touch to the garden

Loomis nursery’s specialty trees include six varieties of apple
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Have a small space in the garden that needs something special, or a patio wall or fence that could use some dressing up? A fruit tree or flowering shrub that has been espaliered may be the answer. Espaliers can bring formality to the garden. They also appeal to homeowners looking for edibles in the yard, but on a smaller scale. At Sierra View Nursery in Loomis, owner Lara Hawthorne said she’s seeing an increased interest in these garden art pieces. “They’re perfect for those postage-stamp yards because they are fairly two-dimensional,” she said. “A lot of designers are putting them into landscapes.” Hawthorne carries espalier trees with six kinds of apples — braeburn, gala, gravenstein, golden delicious, red delicious and Fuji. “We chose these varieties because they do well in this area,” she said. The method also works well for pears and can be used for cherry trees, although less successfully, she said. Espalier is a French intensive gardening method that’s been around for centuries. “We’ve been doing the espalier fruit tree for a number of years,” Hawthorne said. “Rather then selling bare root, you put them into a container and start training them.” It’s a lot of work initially, especially the first year, “which is why we like to start them off. We get them shaped,” she said. “While they’re young, they grow exceptionally fast.” The big growth burst runs through the spring. By June, maintenance chores ease a little. The branches need frequent clipping to retain the tree’s shape. It also creates a fuller arm that will produce more fruit. It’s important to keep the shape uniform, particularly the bottom tiers. “You don’t want them growing into the upper tiers,” Hawthorne said. “For the top, you can keep (the shape) or let them grow up.” You can also add wiring to create more elongated branches. In general, espalier trees need about a 18-inch-wide by 6-foot-long space in the garden. They’ll also thrive in large containers. Hawthorne recommends a wine half-barrel as a good size. Other than clipping to retain the shape, little extra care is involved. “They have the same needs as other trees,” Hawthorne said. Espaliers need a location with full sun. Good soil is equally important. Hawthorne uses her own special soil mixture. The trees will produce in the foothills and lower elevations that receive enough chill hours — that can range from 400 to 1,000 hours depending on the variety of apple. The espalier method also works well with flowers. “We have a beautiful crop of loropetalum — Chinese fringe flower,” Hawthorne said. “I started them from 12-inches high. They’re in 15-gallon containers now and they’re about 4-by-4 espaliers.” Camellias and small growing vines do well as espaliers, as does pyracanthus. Hawthorne has even created an espalier arbor at the nursery. The arbor, which has three apple trees on each side, has been growing for several years. Now the branches form a perfect oval over the top. “You walk through and pick the apples from underneath. It’s kind of fun,” she said. Apple trees are particularly well suited to arbors and espaliers because the wood is flexible. Sierra View is a wholesale nursery specializing in providing plant materials to landscapers and for large projects. But Hawthorne does sell the espaliers individually. Cost for the 15-gallon size is $120. Meadow Vista landscape designers Joanne and Max Naegele’s exhibit at the recent California State Flower, Food & Garden Show included some of Hawthorne’s espaliers. The unique trees generated a lot of interest, Joanne Naegele said in an earlier interview. “Everyone was really excited by those six-way apple espaliers,” she said. “Each limb was a different apple variety.” Reach Gloria Young at