Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Espaliers and Other Things

We put in another trellis last week, not for berry bushes, but for the deliciously crispy sweet apple known as the Cox's Orange Pippin. This is the apple to have if you're having a cheese and apple sandwich, I'll have you know, but they must be pretty obscure here these days because we import them from New Zealand. Now I like New Zealand but the idea of eating an apple that travelled thousands of miles to get to my stomach makes me feel a little, err, spoiled. Not that I have a hair shirt complex or anything, but it does seem odd.

I'm going to attempt to - drum roll please - espalier this tree. I've never done much in the way of fruit tree pruning, so it should be an interesting experience (sheila clears her throat nervously).

This photo doesn't really do justice to my inept trussing and hacking job efforts so far, but we've put in 3 cabled guidelines, two 4X4 cedar posts, and some bamboo sticks as guides for the branches.

I'm using Christopher Brickell's wonderful Pruning and Training book as my crutch guide, because the idea of cutting the leader off of a perfectly decent-looking tree, not to mention removing branches not in My Espalier Plan, is completely counter-intuitive to me. I'm having a hard time finding this exact book because it seems to have been reissued under several different titles at various points in time, but the library has several of those various copies, so I can revolve my requests privileges until I've either memorized the book or gone mad.

It also has a lot of very useful advice if you have, like I do, old and ineptly pruned over the years pollarded apple trees, not to mention how to properly train a berry fan.

(stop that snickering, this is cool stuff and yes, I do have a life outside the garden)

Here is a diagram of a two branched espalier. The idea is that you get a young tree, set the guideline about 18" off the ground and either find the nearest branches or clip the, gulp, leader just above this line. Wait for the sprouts to come out, train them along that line, wait for another branch to emerge and train that as your new leader, waiting for it to reach the next set of guidelines. Then you do this all over again once the leader reaches that line.

Now you know the reason for my trepidation. Not only am I commitment-phobic, but this is going to take several years. And a lot of careful pruning and observation.

But I speeded up the process by chickening out and getting a tall tree with lots of branches deciding to use an older tree, so I don't have to cut too deeply. I merely removed several branches not in My Espalier Plan (talk about rationalizing severe pruning), staked one set of branches to a guideline, then staked a second pair, then let the leader dangle over the top a bit, while I wait for the weather to get cold enough to prune it some more.

But wait, there's more! Did you know that to properly espalier an apple tree one must use spur-bearers only? Not tip-bearers? Yes, boys and girls, there is such thing as a tip bearing apple out there, and I had no bloody idea. Thus my single espalier. The Summer Red reposing so beautifully down the hill from the Cox, the Summer Red which was going to be the anchor of Sheila's Espaliered Fence, is a tip bearer. Which means that it bears its fruit on the tips of the branches, as opposed to places all along the branch.

I learn something new all the time.

Other things I learned yesterday in the garden:
Nasturtiums like my compost bin.

Pansies thrive no matter what chews on them.

My yard is much more photogenic than I am.


Heather said...

Those big trees sure make a gorgeous backdrop. ;-)

Vivian said...

Wow. You must have the most beautiful garden.

sheila said...

It's very photogenic on a sunny day, that's for sure.

Vivian, someone who reads my blog (and lives here near me) came over once, and said, in some surprise: "THIS is your yard?" Maybe I'm just a good photographer!

shaun said...

Ooh, we really wanted to try this. We actually thought of trying a peach tree -- supposedly DH had found one we could grow here, and both of us have Michigan roots and memories of plucking them fresh.

Nowadays,raking is more work than we can handle, and I just have to enjoy gardens like yours from afar!