Walking through many old gardens I have stumbled across plants, especially fruiting one, that have been trained in various shapes. Some have been shaped so that they form an arch for you to walk under. Others have been trained against a wall, sometimes free form and trimmed as they grow, and sometimes rigorously pruned to take on a specific shape. Some of the most common forms are fans, candelabras, and horizontal cordons. This technique was originally used in France for apple and pear trees. The technique of Espalier provided the monks who started it with many advantages, the first was that it helped constrain the size of the plants so that in the limited space of a cloister their fruit trees did not take up as much room. The second benefit was that the heat of the sun was retained by the wall the plants had been trained against. This allowed the plants to fruit and ripen more quickly and it also helped plants that were marginally hardy to push through a cold winter.
There are few nurseries today that take the time to properly train Espalier. Fortunately I have a great friend named Peter Thevenot who had made it his mission to reintroduce the Espalier to the American landscape. With the trees that he is producing he is well on his way to fulfilling that goal. Peter operates a specialty nursery in East TN call River Road Farms, their sole purpose is in producing these perfect Espalier specimens you see above. This picture is of an Keiffer Pear trained in the shape of a horizontal cordon. A plant like this can take 4 -5 years to train before it is ready to leave the nursery. There are other nurseries that are growing Espalier but Peter and his staff take the time to do things right; there are no overlapping branches to speed up the process. If a bud doesn’t come up where it’s need they wait, and sometimes continue to wait until they get a bud they can work with exactly where it’s needed.
So I would like to sings the praises of River Road Farms and my friend Peter who are accomplishing their goal of producing the finest quality Espalier available. I haven’t found any finer nor a nurseryman more passionate.