By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
I was raised in an area where my family could go out and pick fresh apples, pears, and peaches during the summer.
As my children grew up they too experienced the joy of picking your own fruit from the many trees that their Pappy had in the orchard.
But this year, as my children fly the nest, I plan to reproduce my dad’s orchard in an urban setting or in my case on less than 1/5 of an acre.
The first thing I have done like any gardening project is to plan my garden or in this case my orchard. I decided I was going to use a European style of orchard management that utilized bending and training fruit trees to grow in a small area.
My small area consisted of the land along my privacy fence. At first I could not believe I could grow fruit in a space that I dreaded every year having to weed eat and to me a wasted space. So I jumped into my planting mode and begin to plant apple trees on the north side of my privacy fence. Next the peaches went on the south side and finally my son’s favorite fruit pears went on the east side.
The next step was the most painful for me and that was the shaping the trees into a manageable shape for the urban environment. I decided to mix the training approach among the different types of fruit trees. The apple trees trained through the process called espalier. This process consists of training the trees to grow up my privacy fence in a flat ladder shape.
To aid in this progressive process, I ran fishing line down the fence and secured the branches to it. This helped me see where I needed to prune the tree to aid the shape. While I realized this process would take between 3 to 4 years to happen I felt it was worth the wait to recreate that way of life for my kids.
The other approach I used was “festooning”. Festooning is a process where branches are bent to the trunk forming a hoop shape. The pear trees got the luck of the draw for this approach. To perform this process I gradually started to bend the branches to the trunk and secured them with garden string. I then pruned the tops of these branches in the fall.
The peach trees went through the process of espalier or festoon depending on their individual shape. But as luck would have it when my trees were done I was ready to add some to my front yard landscaping.
My endeavor into recreating my father’s orchard has been a success so far. My trees seem to do well with their new shape and home along my privacy fence but…as any gardening task goes there is always more work to do. Trees in general require maintenance and pruning to stay healthy and fruit trees are no exception.
To keep these trees in shape requires additional training in the spring and pruning in the fall every year. But for me, it is worth every moment I spend in the garden with my fruit trees and childhood memories. So give festooning or espaliering fruit trees a try and create your own orchard on your own piece of gardening heaven.
So until we blog again, Apples are red, peaches are orange, espaliers and festoons are the way to the orchard. Apartment, urban, and rural alike can enjoy the harvest of one’s labor without a fight. So plant the tree, bend and weave, the branches along any fence, wall or even tree line, until they turn into a shape that is more manageable without losing grace.