Mar 2012 – Espalier Apple Trees

Trees are my one indulgence and this month once again I’ve been seduced by fruit trees. There’s the blossom in the spring, canopy of
leaves in summer and in autumn a glorious harvest. We planted our main orchard five years ago and within that short space of time the trees have matured and provide us with copious amounts of apples. Every year I add to my collection of fruit trees, last year a quince, the year before a mulberry tree. This year I’m obsessed with the espalier style of growing fruit – training the branches horizontally to form a lattice.

When we first moved to West Cork we brought with us the miniature fruit trees that had sat in pots on the patio of our old house, where I used to dream of a life in the country. I planted them behind a hazel fence on our southern boundary in very poor rocky ground. The hazel panels had a predicted lifespan of 10 years, but within a couple of years they had begun to rot, so I pegged down the branches of the little trees to promote bud break and to
replace the fence I planted a native hedge. This month as I was clearing the grass around the trees I saw that at last the branches between them were knitting together to provide a boundary to the garden. Inspired by this and the fast approaching life span of our picket fences, I set about replacing the
fences behind the cottages, with espalier trained fruit trees – two varieties of apple, pears and a row of Brambly apples. National Tree week was the perfect time to start with offers on at our local nursery. The effect was immediate with the trees and posts forming a pretty trellis. The post and wire between
them also seem to support the trees far better than a single post. Beneath them
I have planted a holly hedge for the outer boundary and wild rose and lavender
to encourage the bees to pollinate the blossom.

Hugh Fernley Whittingstall of River Cottage fame once said, when bemoaning the onset of his 40th birthday, ‘Delayed gratification has never been my thing. But now I have a reason to yearn for, rather than fear the hastening of age. Because the older I am, the more productive my orchard will be.’

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