Branch out in style

By Meg Liptrot

Espaliered fruit trees are a tasty touch in formal gardens, says Meg Liptrot.

Espaliered fruit trees are an ornamental but productive addition to the garden.
Espaliered fruit trees are an ornamental but productive addition to the garden.

Deciduous fruit trees lend themselves to beautiful landscape design for the patient and talented gardener. Some of the most famous historic gardens in the UK, such as Audley End and Heligan, make use of fruit trees in ornamental yet productive designs in their walled kitchen gardens. Fruit trees are trained against walls in fan, cordon or standard espaliers. The warmth of the wall aids the ripening process and it protects fragile blossoms and young fruit from wind or frost.

I fell in love with this type of garden reading Gardens Illustrated magazines when I first studied horticulture. Call me old-fashioned, but nothing beats these gardens in my eyes for edible garden gorgeousness.

Walled gardens have a timeless appeal that will surpass any design trends. It is easy for even the beginner gardener to achieve a similar effect in their own gardens. Apple trees such as the Ballerina range are dwarfing and grow in a colum. They are easy care, providing instant espalier gratification. To make a statement, plant several at least 2m apart, on the sunny side of a wall or on either side of a pergola or gateposts.

If you have a boring backyard, dividing zones up into "rooms" using hedging and espaliers can work a treat. Training fruit trees in a horizontal espalier along a post and wire fence, or in a fan shape on a masonry wall, will transform your garden and make it good enough to eat. You can enhance views and create tantalising glimpses through arches or pergolas to other areas in the garden, catching the eye with sculptures or feature plants.

A garden I once worked on had an old plum tree in the centre of the lawn and the owner wasn't sure how to go about achieving enough productive vege garden space. I developed a simple potager-style formal design with stained macrocarpa beds just beyond the reach of the branches. The potager beds were designed in a half-cartwheel shape that started beyond the outer perimeter of the tree's branches. Shell paths with diagonal pavers divided the beds.


The warmth of the wall serves to aid in the ripening process and it protects fragile blossoms and young fruit from wind or frost.

The remaining half-cartwheel was marked out by a clipped rosemary hedge. The circular lawn with plum tree and garden bench took centre stage. Along the fenceline on the west and east boundary, I espaliered red and green pears on one side, and another plum on the other to aid pollination of the old tree.

Do your homework to get the results

Root stock is grafted on to most deciduous fruit trees and will dictate how the tree grows -- from dwarf through to orchard size. Different root stocks suit particular soil types from light sand to heavy clay, so this part of your research is key to getting the best result. Ask garden centre staff which root stock will suit your soil type and height requirements.

Think about how much time you have for the maintenance and management of your tree. Most deciduous fruit trees require pruning at formative stages of their development so they grow into a more open shape, and espaliers even more so. The more horizontal or vase shaped you can get your tree, the more fruit you'll get. Correct training should be done over several years, even if it's at the expense of fruit early on.

Edible Garden nursery in Palmerston North specialises in heritage fruit trees and supplies Koanga Gardens' selection.

It recommends MM106 and Northern Spy rootstock if you wish to espalier an apple tree. For pears, it recommends Quince BA29, and for stone fruit choose St Julien or Pixie root stock, which have a dwarfing effect. Stone fruit are best trained into a fan espalier because their brittle wood is hard to train horizontally. Check out the website for more information on pruning espaliers and a great selection of fruit trees. www.ediblegarden.co.nz

Pick of the crop

The Luisa plum is self-fertile and a heavy cropper.

• Among the newer introductions, I would single out the plum Luisa. It is large, yellow and of exceptional eating quality. Luisa is self-fertile and a heavy cropper. Plant Freedom or Billington nearby to cross-pollinate for more prolific crops.

• Goldmine, for my money, could be the best nectarine ever. It's been around for at least 50 years and has juicy, sweet white flesh. Very productive.

• Golden Queen is a classic peach which is hard to beat. Firm, deep orange flesh with lovely flavour. Also a tried-and-true favourite for bottling.

• Double-grafted plums are wonderful where space won't permit two trees. For red-fleshed plums, the Omega/ Black Doris combination is a winner.

-- Jonathan Cox, Palmers Remuera

- Herald on Sunday

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