"Espalier" is a French word, but it originally came from the Italian root word spalliera or the Latin spalla. Both of these words indicate leaning or resting a shoulder against something. So, it makes sense that the word "espalier" involves training a plant to grow against a wall, fence, lattice, frame, or trellis.
"Espalier" can be used in two different ways: to refer to the horticultural practice, or to refer to the trees or plants trained with such a method. So, you could say "He practices the art of espalier," and you could also say, "He has many espaliers in his garden." In the 1600s, "espalier" was used to refer to the wall or frame against which such plants were leaning. Today, the word most often indicates a vine, tree, or other plant that grows along a vertical flat plane.
Espalier vs. Topiary
For a topiary, the plant or tree's desired shape or silhouette is created pruning. A topiary is focused mainly on the shaping of the outer form of the tree or shrub. However, an espalier is trained and shaped at its core, its skeletal structure, if you will. A topiary is usually more three-dimensional, a stand-alone piece of living shaped art, while an espalier clings to a wall or other vertical surface and is often more two-dimensional in appearance. The espalier is trained using some pruning, but also with a distinct method of tying the stems and branches into place until they are trained to remain there.
While the practice of espalier has distinct aesthetic value, it also has very practical uses. Gardeners and arborists often use it to induce greater production for fruit-bearing trees. With careful training, they can induce more branch growth at multiple levels. With the support of a frame or wall, branches can be extended much farther outward than they would if the plant was free-standing.
The training of an apple or pear tree against a wall can also enhance the exposure of the fruit to the sun's rays, which is helpful for lush growth and quicker ripening. Plus, with the flatter arrangement of the branches, the fruit can be more easily viewed and picked.
Espalier can be practiced in a number of different styles. There are formal patterns that have been designed and followed for centuries, and then there are more free and creative styles that modern arborists often use, training vines or trees into whimsical geometric patterns. Some of the most common formal patterns included the stepover, the Belgian fence, the palmette, the cordon, the Verrier candelabra, and the Drapeau Marchand, to name a few.
If you'd like to try your hand at espalier, you'll need tutorials and information which you can find online; and you'll need some supplies and tools, which you can locate easily on the Kurtz Bros., Inc. website. Contact us anytime for advice on lawn care or gardening equipment.