all images courtesy of Maria Zampini
Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat (I’m taking this on faith, of course, as I prefer my kitties fully-furred), there’s more than one way to fit a beloved plant into a small space. In Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening For Small and Large Spaces, Rebecca and I describe many strategies for working in small, tight spaces: choosing vertical plants; layering up, not out; and using your walls, fences or arbors as another place to garden. A classic way to achieve the last example is through the practice of espalier.
Espalier is the age-old garden custom of training trees and shrubs to grow flat onto a wall or fence. It is most commonly done with fruiting trees like apples or pears, but thanks to Maria Zampini, garden writer and president of UpShoot LLC in Madison, Ohio, I’ve learned it is also a wonderful way to show off the beauty of weeping ornamental fruit trees in smaller gardens.
While I love their glorious early-spring blooms, the traditional mushroom shape that Snow Fountains Weeping Cherries are often trimmed into has generally left me cold – too reminiscent of a four-year-old boy’s head with a bowl cut. But Maria is passionate about the versatility of this classic plant, explaining that it can be used a dozen different ways in the landscape. “Unstaked, it acts as a ground cover, or can be planted to cascade over a wall. Let the limbs lie on the hot pavement – they can take it,” says Maria. “It is also superb as an espalier along a building fence or trellis.”
As an espalier trained to follow the lines of the house, courtesy of Brian Decker of Decker's Nursery in Ohio
Maria’s has also experimented with training weeping crabapples, and is particularly fond of Malus ‘Molazam' Molten Lava, a cultivar introduced to the trade by her father Jim Zampini. Grafted or otherwise, this is a terrific choice to add multi-season interest to a small space, as delicate white blooms are followed by tiny red fruit and lovely display of yellow fall color.
Maria and her family have introduced other high-performing ornamental fruit tree cultivars suitable for espalier or other small-space landscape uses, including her personal favorite, Malus Weeping Candied Apple. To learn more about their selections, available at nurseries nationwide, visit Lake Country Nursery.
Thank you, Maria, for sharing your lovely photos, and encouraging me to revisit a garden staple with fresh eyes.