Bent fruit
September 17, 2007 1:52 AM   Subscribe

An espalier is a plant trained to grow flat against a wall, fence, or trellis. Developed by the Romans, they were popular in Middle Age Europe as a source of fruit in castles and monasteries because they could be grown against the keep's stone walls leaving open space unencumbered. Now they are an excellent choice for apartment and condo dwellers with small yards. For larger yards espaliers can be used as a decorative feature, to provide shade or to increase the variety of trees under cultivation. University of Florida PDF detailing the technique.
posted by Mitheral (16 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best of the Turn Off Your Computer.

Now I wish I had a real yard to plant in.
posted by lekvar at 2:01 AM on September 17, 2007

Brilliant. My yard will thank you for this!
posted by twistedonion at 2:25 AM on September 17, 2007

I can't look at stuff like this. It's a practical use of space if fruit is all you're after, but it's ugly.
posted by pracowity at 3:50 AM on September 17, 2007

Why don't planting fruit trees so close to your house threaten the structural integrity of your foundation? At my parents place an oak tree's roots moved the basement wall several inches. It took a couple 10's of thousands of dollars to restore the integrity of the foundation.
posted by substrate at 4:43 AM on September 17, 2007

I think the Key would be planting it in a container which would restrict both root growth as well as the size of the tree?

Other solution would be to use a dwarf variety of fruit tree.
posted by twistedonion at 4:54 AM on September 17, 2007

No no no--the point of an espalier isn't to save space. The point is to use the thermal mass of the wall to grow more/better/earlier-and-or-later-in-the-season/in-a-colder-climate fruit. Also, you can incline the wall to get more direct sunshine especially in the winter.

Except I can't find the image of that that I'm looking for. Maybe "espalier" is the term for the space-saving take on the idea I'm looking for...
posted by DU at 6:27 AM on September 17, 2007

Fantastic! I've seen this but didn't know it had a name - thanks for the great post!
posted by agregoli at 7:00 AM on September 17, 2007

substrate, the reason it's not a problem with trees like this is that dwarf fruit tree root systems are not very robust and remain very shallow. In fact, most dwarf fruit trees require staking for the entirety of their lives to prevent them from being blown over in storms.

Great post, Mitheral.
posted by cog_nate at 7:11 AM on September 17, 2007

Wow, that pear tree (decorative link) in the cloisters is so pretty! I've been putting off making the long subway trip up there, but now I have another reason to go.
posted by rmless at 7:51 AM on September 17, 2007

There is a problem with trying an espalier as an apartment dweller - preventing the roots from freezing in winter. I have a bright white wall that only gets 3-4 hours of sunlight in summer (not enough for fruiting) so I opted for a very heavy pot and a clematis. The large heavy pot will help the roots stay protected, but even at that the clematis can handle it. No fruit, but it suits it better. If I could get away with a pretty espalier, I'd do it for sure.
posted by Salmonberry at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2007

I recall an article a long time ago in the HY Times advocating the planting of a vinelike Bitter-orange plant not for the fruit but for the effect the spiny plant gave in keeping people from climbing in windows...
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:53 AM on September 17, 2007

Beyond espalier, there's pleaching, in which several trees are closely planted and bent or woven together. The more extreme practitioners call it arborsculpture or plantware. Others grow furniture.
posted by mumkin at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2007

None of the resources mention a problem with roots. I'm guessing like cog_nate said that the minimal above ground growth is mirrored underneath.

DU several of the articles mention the extend growing season as a benefit. I wonder if cordon isn't the term you are looking for. A cordon is a single branch grown straight or at an angle.

mumkin writes "Others grow furniture."

Ya, I did a post on that previously.
posted by Mitheral at 9:23 AM on September 17, 2007

No, the picture I saw was these...I guess "embankments" is the best word. Basically an angled, concrete platform that the vines (I think this was a vineyard) were growing on. The embankments were lined up in rows so that the southerly ones just barely didn't shade the more northern ones.

I also read about them in a "history of solar power" book, so that would explain the emphasis. I wonder which reason actually gave the impetus to create them.
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on September 17, 2007

This thread is useless without pictures.

posted by blue_beetle at 11:30 AM on September 17, 2007

I've been thinking of trellising grapes on the two sunny sides of the house, more to act as a natural heat barrier to reduce my air conditioning costs than as a food source. I suspect training it rigidly would be wise; I could force it to provide even coverage.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:00 PM on September 17, 2007

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