Espalier (Es-pah-lee-yay) is a horticultural term derived from the French word for trellis, and is used to describe a plant that has been trained to grow flat against a trellis or wall. This is particularly desirable when space is limited, because, as we know, Camellias can be ‘space gluttons’, and in smaller gardens the solution for lovers of Camellias is to grow them using this technique.
When selecting a plant for use as an espalier, look for one with open, sprawling growth and several leading branches. Plant the camellia against the wall or trellis, then tie the branches back in the desired position using soft plastic ties or twine – don’t use wire as it can cut into the branches. Prune off any unnecessary growth, training the leaders to grow horizontally or at an upward angle, with the best displays generally being symmetrical. Try to keep any major pruning until after flowering and your espalier will reward you year after year with a display of flowers that will always be in clear view.
Most sasanqua varieties are suitable, although any camellia can be trained as an espalier.
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The word espalier initially referred to the actual trellis on which the plant was trained to grow, but over time has come to be used to describe the technique. An espalier collects almost as much sunlight as a regular tree, yet has far less mass. This makes them ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. They may also be planted next to a wall, which can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight, or be planted so that they are facing north and absorb maximum sunlight. These two factors allow an espalier to succeed in cooler climates, where a non-espaliered tree of the same variety would fail.