Espalier wall

Espalier using pyracantha.

Espaliers, pronounced “es-PAL-yays,” have been around for centuries.

It started with the Romans in their castle courtyards where they would train fruit trees and shrubs to grow on a supported frame along a wall as to not interfere with their open spaces. The word espalier is French, which comes from the Italian word “spalliera,” meaning “something to rest the shoulder against.” Originally, it referred to the actual trellis but later to mean the frame and the greenery growing on it.

Espalier varieties

Fruit trees, such as apple, pear and peach, are commonly used, along with shrubs, such as juniper, gardenia, bougainvillea and pyracanthas. Espaliers are not only nice because they don’t take up much space, but they add interest to plain, open exterior walls. I planted a pyracantha espalier in a Belgian fence pattern in my backyard years ago and have enjoyed it ever since. It’s green year-round and gets red berries on it in the winter, as well as adding interest when you look out the kitchen window. Other than some occasional trimming, it’s low maintenance with a high wow factor.

Designs

Traditional patterns like the horizontal T, fan shapes, the candelabra and the Belgian fence are common. The benefit to designing espaliers is that you create the design based on your tastes, wall size and sun exposure – think of them as custom yard art.

DIY steps

Step 1: Plan your pattern. I suggest going online for ideas to get started.

Step 2: Choose your location. It should be an open exterior wall or fence with adequate light.

Step 3: Choose your tree or shrub.

Step 4: Install 3/16-inch eyebolts, 6 to 8 inches long, or use 3/16-inch wall mounts 6 to 8 inches long on masonry with lag shields for sturdiness. Allow 4 to 6 inches between the tree and the wall for maintenance purposes. Thread 14-gauge or thicker galvanized wire through the eyebolts to form a tight network of guide wires.

Step 5: Plant your tree or shrub about 4 inches from the structure facing the direction of wire.

Step 6: Train branches to grow along the wire using soft ties as necessary. 

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