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Archive for August, 2010

Espalier-Tips for Getting Started

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The term espalier was originally applied to the method used for training fruit trees in open ground, either as permanent features or in preparation for placing them on walls.  This type of artistic pruning is perfect if you want to grow ornamental trees or shrubs in a small space.   Plants are grown flat like vines and trained against a wall, fence, building, trellis or on a set of fixed wires.  There are many different methods and styles of espalier, both formal and informal.  Some look like giant fans and others are more formal and geometric in shape, for example a single trunk with branches that are trained to a resemble a candelabra.  Plants in containers can also be trained as espaliers.  Fruit trees like dwarf apples, pears, quince, and figs  work well because they are productive and they offer ornamental fruit and/or flowers.    Other good candidates for espalier include Camellias, Cotoneasters, Viburnums, Forsythia, Flowering quince, Witchhazels and Magnolia grandiflora.

Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'

Getting Started

 1. Select a tree or shrub that branches in a way that fits the type of espalier you want.   Formal patterns such as diamonds or a  candelabra will take longer to train than informal designs like a fan.  If you can’t find a specimen that has the  form you desire, start with a young whip (one long slender trunk with no side branches) or a small shrub or tree and prune off all the side branches.  As the plant begins to put out growth you can train each branch.  Prune off young branches  that grow in the wrong direction.  Continue to prune throughout the growing season.  Attach young pliable shoots to the support with twine or special attachments designed for vines. 

Loquat espalier

  Some nurseries sell plants that have already been trained to grow in a particular pattern.  This will give you a head start but may not be as satisfying as creating your own design. 

2. Provide a structure to support  your espalier.  Whether it is a formal or an informal design, install a trellis, lattice or wire fence at least six inches away from the wall or fence it will grow against.  This will provide better air circulation and  make it easier to prune the plant.  In addition, the building will be easier to maintain.  Wire works well for fruit trees,  and lattice or trellis is good for shrubs.  To create a wire support use two sturdy posts, 7 or 8 feet tall, spaced at a distance that you think the espalier will eventually reach.  Anchor the posts and then using staples, attach the wire between the posts.  The first wire should be about 3 feet up from the ground.  Additional wires should be placed about one foot apart. 

free standing Espaliered Pear

In a small space espaliered plants, trees and shrubs can lift your garden up walls and fences, while providing you with the opportunity to show off your imagination.  And in larger spaces espalier can create dramatic backgrounds and accents.

Sources of Inspiration-Alaska Gardens

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

It’s August in the South and with temperatures in the 90’s and very little rain,  it’s hard to get inspired about working in my own garden, although my ‘Tardiva’ hydrangeas and Phlox paniculata ‘David’ get gold stars for blooming and blooming despite heat and lack of rain.

Fortunately I am still thinking back to my recent trip to Alaska where in addition to all the wildlife; a grizzly bear chasing a caribou in Denali National Park, Black bear catching and hoarding salmon in Valdez, sea otters, moose and all  types of birds; we saw beautiful wild flowers including monk’s hood, delpheniums, yarrow and lots of Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium.   This two week trip was the result of my invitation to speak to a gardening group in Homer, AK. After my talk my family and I decided to take a two week trip.    

But, before I tell you anymore about this amazing trip and all the wonderful plants and people I met, let me say how happy I am to have photos to go along with this story. Normally this would not be a big deal but upon my return from Alaska I promptly deleted all my photos (about 400) when I reformatted my memory chip.  It’s hard to fathom that my Canon Rebel did not give me any warning message, you know where they ask you are you sure you want to do this, or if you do this, you will delete all your photos?  I assure you there was no such message.  I talked with someone else who had the same experience.  Anyway, my savvy computer consultant was able to retrieve all my photos and I will be much more cautious in the future.

Brenda Adam's garden and view of Kachemak Bay

In Home, AK I was fortunate to stay with talented garden designer Brenda Adams and her husband Bill.  Brenda has created a magnificent and colorful garden that is further enhanced by the stunning view of Kachemak Bay and the glaciers and mountains beyond.   Although the growing season is short, the summer days are long (18 or more hours in July, depending on where you live) and blooms are abundant. Primroses, Delpheniums, Hardy Geraniums, Astrantia and the biggest Ligularia’s I’ve ever seen.  And while Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ may be the Perennial Plant of the Year in the lower 48, Brenda has much more success with Alopecurus pratensis ‘Aurea,’ also known as Gold Meadow Foxtail.  This reinforces the importance of growing where you are planted, selecting plants that will thrive in your region.  Geraniums get to be large, ‘Dark Reiter’ is a particularly lovely plant I admired but in my garden I’ll stick with what works for me, Geranium ‘Rozanne.’  Other combinations I liked and may try include one at another garden that Brenda designed and maintains-Euphorbia ‘Fire Glow,’ Iris sibirica ‘Silver Edge,’ and Calamagrostis ‘Overdam.’ 

Hardy Geraniums and Primroses

Alopecurus pratensis 'Aurea' in Brenda's garden

The other private garden that I was fortunate to visit is the creation of Les Brake and Jerry Conrad in Willow, Alaska.  Les is the gardener and Jerry is the artist responsible for all the beautiful wood creations-gates, (he uses a lot of alder)  benches and even an award-winning outhouse.  While I drooled over giant Thalictrums and delpheniums Les also had some combinations that may even work in my climate.  I’m not a fan of barberry but Berberis ‘Crimson Velvet’ paired with the Poppy called ‘Lady Bird’ is a knockout.  Les likes to group hot colors closer to the house and further away from the house he uses more muted colors.  Another gem, Dianthus ‘Oeschberg’ looks wonderful paired with a yellow Lilium.  All this happens in a concentrated period of time.  Looking at all this lush growth, it’s hard to believe that snow cover can be 120 inches per year. 

Les Brake's garden in late July

Berberis 'Cimson Velvet' and 'Lady Bird' Poppy

As beautiful as Alaska is it has its own challenges when it comes to gardening.  The day after I visited Les he had planned to work on his compost pile but changed his mind after a neighbor reported seeing a grizzly in the area.  And while deer may not be a problem Brenda has moose in the winter that come right up on her back deck.  So maybe I’m not ready to move to Alaska quite yet but I can’t wait to go back for another visit.  Special thanks to all the folks that made my visit so memorable.  In addition to Brenda and Bill Adams, Les Brake and Jerry Conrad;  Roni Overway, Barbara Landi and Saraphine Bailey drove me around and made sure I was fed.  I also appreciate Neil and Kyra Wagner showing me their garden and what they are working on with permaculture and sustainable gardening.  If you want to know more about what they are up to visit  And, If you don’t have plans for next summer Home has their annual garden weekend which includes speakers and tours of private gardens.