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Plan & construct a fruit espalier

Helen McKerral

Helen McKerral

June 6, 2013

Well, that title’s a bit cheeky really, because my friend Andrew of Andrew Quixley Eco Gardens handled the construction, though the plans were a joint effort. I wanted the frames to be features that would add height and structure to the garden, and will add more later, using the same materials. Andrew suggested 10cm square cypress pine – cheaper than hardwood (but still expensive!) and almost as durable, and weathering in the same way to an attractive, subtle grey if left untreated. The wiring will be stainless steel (see How to construct a fruit espalier Part 2).

Fruit espalier construction Helen McKerral1The espaliers are in three main sections:
1. A 2.5 metre high, ten metre long section for plums, peaches, and nectarines, with a “lower” (because of rising ground) two-metre-long section for a dwarf persimmon. These two sections run more or less ENE-WSW and are on the southern side of the vegie garden, bordering the native section. At the western end, the frames are linked with
2. two north-south rows, about two metres apart and about six metres long, with double wiring for bramble fruit and
3. The northern boundary “fence”, comprised entirely of espaliers.

There’s also a low, short frame for a single dwarf apple tree beside the path to the back seating area.
When tensioned, espalier wiring places almost as much stress on posts as does fencing, so it was important to include bracing elements at both ends of the lengths to prevent the uprights pulling inwards, especially for the boundary fence. And because the fence spans a considerable distance, an archway in the centre provides extra support and, together with a post further along, allows the two-tier horizontal wires to step up the slope so the top one remains about navel height above ground level. The arch and post also allow for more effective wire tensioning.

Fruit espalier plan2

My quick sketch is not to scale at all, and the proportions are wrong as well, but you’ll get the idea. The photos show the arch complete, but the two frames are still topped with temporary timbers until additional lengths of cypress arrive; they will be cut in the same way as the arch.

Fruit espalier plan1

The stone fruit espalier is similarly constructed but on a smaller scale, and not in a straight line. The (dwarf) persimmon frame at the eastern end forms one brace, and an archway at the western end provides the other.

The archway itself forms one end of the two berry espaliers. The berry espaliers step up the slope to the north, so there has to be a post halfway along. Two galvanised pipes replace the top espalier wire at the northern end to brace the structure – I felt the overall effect would have been too bulky with timber, and timber would be impractical for bramblefruits. The same pipe is used to brace the apple espalier at the back of the garden.

Fruit espalier construction Helen McKerral3

To save on labour costs, Geoff and I dug the holes – no mean feat, as each one is at least 700mm deep (deeper when the post is atop a backfilled retaining wall) and about 35cm square. And regular readers of this blog will remember how stony our ground is! We used an auger, a crowbar and also borrowed a post hole digger pincer, which was useful in removing the dirt.

Fruit espalier construction Helen McKerral4Andrew’s team chamfered all the edges of the posts before concreting them in place, and then chamfered the tops of the posts for a softer, more rustic finish. As well, they calculated the distance between the wires and made certain everything was level, then drilled holes through the posts, ready for wire to be threaded, and they screwed in the stainless steel eyes ready for swaging (see How to construct a fruit espalier Part 2: wiring).

Fruit espalier construction Helen McKerral2We’d discussed the espalier fence with the neighbour before we even bought the land – like us, she dislikes traditional solid corrugated fencing that boxes off land into little parcels and disrupts the flow both visually and, in a more literal sense, for wildlife. The ambience of the area is still rural, with country fencing between many of properties, even the suburban-sized ones. So our neighbour was thrilled with the idea of espaliers. Neither of us have a dog, so there’s no need for a gate in the archway: that can always be added later if necessary, together with additional wire or mesh along the fence.

The espaliers are a working compromise between function and aesthetics. All of the frames would be more productive if they were higher, but you’d also create shading, and in some areas they’d be too big for the space. All in all, I’m very happy with the effect, and it will look even better when the espaliers grow.

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therese dodd
therese dodd
10 years ago

Love your website. So easy to read. I work at a school in western Australia, working with children growing a vegetable garden. Your website gives me so many ideas. If your ever near Joondalup I would love to meet you. Our garden is extensive with chickens, frogponds, herb school. We are now trying to put in fruit trees and a bush tucker garden. The children love it and now have an idea of where vegetables come from. Lets hope we get some more rain.
Kind regards Therese Dodd. Beldon Primary School WA 🙂