Espalier trees are an aspect of formal gardens that I greatly admire and would love to better understand.
My first glimpse of espalier trees – trained to grow flat against a wall or trellis – was during a trip to the great Château at Chenonceau, in the Loire Valley. Our hotel had a walled vegetable garden used to supply its restaurant and, evidently, a gardener talented and patient enough to also spend years taming trees and vines to grow in two dimensional sculptural shapes against the ancient stones.
While collecting photos of formal topiary gardens I rediscovered espalier, which seems logical since it is yet another highly refined and historically noteworthy form of landscape architecture. The shapes are as amazing as the living walls I admire so much. As a non-gardener I would never aspire to attempt this arcane technique let alone have the patience or skill to pull it off. But there are books and expert websites on the subject for those who might be equally bitten by the espalier bug. And I was delighted to also discover an entire vocabulary associated with the various shapes that can result from the various growing and pruning techniques.
So here I am, once again, drooling. I expect I need to remedy this latest obsession with a trip to England for garden tours but unless the Red Sox start playing baseball across the pond, I could never convince Mr. AM to go. So a fangirl I shall be. One look at the majestic, horizontal tiered quince tree at Anglesey Abbey [top], a Jacobean-style house in Cambridge on 114 acres, and you might share my fascination with the scale and precision possible with a large tree.
This pear tree, in the herb garden at The Cloisters Museum in New York City, is another beauty fashioned into a candelabra form (palmette verrier) as an example of the way trees were trained to grow in castle courtyards. Note the professional-looking wrought-iron trellis against which the tree is set.
Katherine Aby’s Espalier Services website has this indispensable chart of the various shapes. Ms. Aby is the author of a book and the espalist at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboreteum.
A spectacular candelabra tree at Robert Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois makes me want to take a detour south to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to tour this National Natural Landmark built as a private home in 1900.
In England, landscape architect Luciano Giubbilei created a formal private garden flanked by a stand of very tall, slim trees shaped into high horizontal forms but planted between two rows of low hedges. Towering even above the monumental stone sculptures they create a green screen perhaps two stories high.
Grapevines, ivy, climbers and other vines lend themselves to the criss-crossed “Belgian fence” design found against this garden wall in Woolahra, near Sydney, Australia.
And for those who might favor a more natural espalier form (if there is such a thing) consider the skeleton of this dormant tree at Wrest Park, a 90-acre English Heritage property with a French style mansion and significant gardens.
For the sake of sentimentally marking the place I discovered the art of espalier, I’m including this photo of me taken on my visit to the Château de Chenonceau so long ago.
(Source: flickr/lizupton, flickr/ggnyc, espalierservices, flickr/jpmatth, LucianoGiubbielei, glamourdrops, flickr/jaypeg)
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