Creating a Life of Plenty

A Master Class in Gardening: Part 3, Mount Vernon’s Espaliers and Cordons

espalliers and cordons

Espalier is the horticultural and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth for the production of fruit, by pruning and tying branches to a frame, frequently in formal patterns, flat against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis, and also plants which have been shaped in this way. Regular readers know that I have two dwarf apple trees maturing in my back garden on trellises.  This year the blooms were lovely and I have one small fruit clinging to life on one of the trees. I have been training and pruning the trees in the late winter and early spring to maximize limb and leaf growth.  Since the trees are entering their 5th year this winter I will be switching to pruning this summer and then leaving the trees to produce fruit next year.

Espaliers, trained into flat two-dimensional forms, are ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. While Washington’s estate is quite large, the espalier technique as well as training fruit trees en’ cordon was employed to be efficient with space utilization and to take advantage of the micro-climates created by his walled gardens.  Most wall surfaces contain an espaliered tree of some kind and in the lower garden, fruit trees trained on cordon fencing delineate garden pathways while providing visual appeal and fruit for the table!

Will and I are planning a small pond for the back garden next year.  This trip has inspired me to employ a cordon method to mark boundaries and keep people from accidentally slipping into the pond as well as providing either pears or cherries for the table.

Happy Gardening!

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