espaliered tree with pink blossoms pruned to grow horizontally across white stone wall
Photo: Lynn Keddie/GAP Photos

Plant Arms Outreached

It might seem strange to back a tree up against a wall, smooth it flat, and persuade its branches to spread sideways. But the art of espalier—growing trees or shrubs in two dimensions—is a time-honored fix for the space-challenged garden.

Do you dream of apples on a pint-size lot? Yearn to camouflage your garage wall or draw a line between your outdoor living and dining spots? Espalier (pronounced ess-PAL-yer and derived from an Italian term for support) lets you tuck fruit where it otherwise wouldn't fit, swap an eyesore for a flower-bedecked focal point, or divide large areas into smaller ones with graceful, lacy screens. The practice dates back to medieval times, when it allowed the cloistered residents of warring cities to feed themselves without venturing beyond the safety of their walled compounds. In America, it arrived with the colonial era: George Washington, for example, espaliered pears and apples at his Mt. Vernon home.

Shown: This tree's pink-blossom-covered limbs are pruned to grow horizontally, against a stone wall. With apple and pear trees, a masonry backing helps retain heat, encouraging fruit to ripen faster.
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