“In a marshy spot in the garden we had excavated a pit, forming a pond, around which stood a grove of pine trees. It looks as if, in five or six years, a thousand years have left their mark here – one bank of the pond has collapsed, new trees have sprung up among the old, and such is the air of neglect that all who look are afflicted with a sense of sadness. Old memories come flooding back…”
Ki No Tsurayuki, The Tosa Diary (ca. 936, translated from the original Japanese 1955).
Espalier is simply the exercise of keeping a plant to a flat plane so it has height and width but no depth. This makes it an ideal technique for narrow spaces. It does not have to be against a hard surface like a wall or fence, but there need to be cross wires or a frame to tie the plant to. Plants do not naturally grow in a two dimensional shape so you have to prune wayward growths and tie in branches often. It is possible to espalier any woody plant which establishes a permanent structure of trunk, stems and branches but it tends to easier if it has a central leader, is not going to grow too large and has flexible rather than brittle new growth. If it is too brittle, it can snap easily. Camellias are ideal candidates as are dwarf apples, figs or wisteria. I can’t see any reason why citrus couldn’t be espaliered but it is always easiest to start with a young plant. You can’t really rush espalier. It takes time to grow and train a plant properly.
Use a flexible tie, not string or wire which will cut into the bark of the plant. We like the balls of stockinette tie that you buy at the garden centre. Black is the least intrusive colour but they all fade with time.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.