Mary Lowther has her fruit trees espaliered on a south facing wall. (file photo)

Mary Lowther column: Espaliered fruit trees make efficient use of little space

I was careful to plant my fruit trees against a south facing wall on the sunny side of the house

By Mary Lowther

If we were meant to eat only vegetables then why does fruit taste so good? There’s nothing like trotting out to the garden midsummer to browse on fresh raspberries, unless it’s late summer when we pick the warm nectarines. Our clever foremothers figured out ways to grow fruit on very little land by trimming them into two dimensions along a fence or wall.

Berries don’t take up much room either, and can fit into a small yard like mine. Our yard is 0.17 acres and more than half of that is wasted on the house. Half the remainder gets only six hours of sun in the height of summer, but my raspberries and blueberries produce abundant sweet fruit there as long as I cover the blueberries with mesh to keep out those ungrateful birds that I feed all winter.

I was careful to plant my fruit trees against a south facing wall on the sunny side of the house because they require as much sun as they can get. They are dwarf varieties David bought at Dinter’s and we planted them close together because we’re greedy; five trees for a 30 x 2 foot bed. As a result their roots have spread out too far sideways, interfering with my vegetable beds, so I have to dig out these beds to cut off the roots every couple of years. So far this amputation hasn’t seemed to bother the trees or affect the crop.

According to fruit tree guru Bob Duncan, espaliered fruit trees should be seven to eight feet apart in rows that are about six feet apart. He has a novel way of training his cherry trees which I intend to try out some day but mine are already entrenched into the traditional style, running along wires that hold them a foot away from the house.

I fertilize and water my fruit trees and bushes the same way as vegetables but because they’re perennials they have their own beds.

Did I mention my grapes? They take up a third of the greenhouse and David installed wires to hold them up, too. I find that here in the wilds of the Upper Cowichan where we don’t get as much sun as those southern lowlanders in Victoria, grapes grow much sweeter in the greenhouse although they can be grown outdoors. In sunny Sooke the gardener at Royal Roads had a window put into the greenhouse to allow a branch of a grape vine to grow through. The grapes on this branch ripen later than the rest of the vine inside, extending the season.

I’m not good at pruning my grapes yet because last year we didn’t have any. I think I pruned them too hard, emulating a fine grape grower in Oak Bay who trimmed his grapes down to one foot high each fall and every year the vines filled his greenhouse with bunches of grapes that dripped from the walls and ceiling. One evidently has to make compromises with the climate, so this winter I’m leaving a bit more on each vine to see what happens.

Down in the subtropics of North Saanich, Bob Duncan has lemons ripening outside his front door as we speak. Full sized lemons on a dwarf tree, six feet high, heavy with fruit, outside! He also grows enough orange trees in a greenhouse for his wife to make and sell marmalade with, but that sounds like too much work to me. I’ll grow the trees, but David can make the marmalade.

That’s assuming I can spare him from the big garden we are clearing in the acreage across the street, where I will have an acre and a half of space and 600 feet of fruit trees. If that keeps him too busy I will have to decide which grandchild to invite for a visit.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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