How to create quality wire supports for walls and fences

A traditional starting point for training climbers on walls and fences is a system of tensioned horizontal wires. Ideally these wires should provide a permanent structure that needs little maintenance over the years, whilst creating a firm fixing for tendrils, shoots, branches and canes to be attached to. In this post I am looking at the best solution I have found so far: the Gripple Trellis System. Continue reading

Late season apples

Apples in December

In my garden I have tried to include fruit varieties that extend the season as widely as possible. This is the first year that I have been able to pick apples in December extending my record to seven months of fresh fruit this year. As you can see, they are a good size, and in pretty good nick considering they have hung on the tree for six months. I picked them on December 3rd after several nights of frost. They were still firmly attached and could have been left even longer I expect, but the birds were taking an interest and I had lost a couple to furious pecking despite my attempts to cover them with netting. How do they get underneath? Continue reading

Trained fruit at West Dean Gardens

  • Free standing trained forms – pears in spectacular open drum and cone formations
  • Wall-trained forms – pears, apples and gooseberry in varied espalier forms
  • Arched pear pergola – pears trained in a series of arches to create a pergola tunnel
  • Glasshouse fruit – desert grape vines in several forms and glasshouse peach fans


West Dean Gardens in West Sussex include one of the finest restored Edwardian kitchen gardens anywhere in the world. If you want to see trained fruit (and veg) at its best it should be on your itinerary.

The photo above shows a view down one side of the walled fruit garden, which is laid out in quadrants, transected by two long paths. Each quadrant contains a small orchard of free-standing apple trees, growing among rough grass and wildflowers (right hand side of image above). Continue reading

Fan Trained Fig – Brown Turkey


Fig – Brown Turkey – freshly planted – Spring 2015

Unfortunately, I had to remove the fan trained plum that grew in this spot for the last five years. Although it was magnificent and had an excellent form, it suckered violently. One shoot came up through the fence panel, forcing the slats apart. It grew six foot tall and one inch thick in a single season! Removing it was quite a challenge and required access from the neighboring garden. Other suckers appeared up to ten feet away – in the middle of vegetable beds and even lifting the brick paving of the path. It was incorrigible. The only solution was to remove it. Lesson learned. Continue reading

Step-over apple Beauty of Bath

Step_over_apple_1A six year old step-over Beauty of Bath apple trained along a narrow bed under a window at the front of my house – just coming into flower in late April. The basic form is just two horizontal branches trained outwards, then pruned for fruiting spurs. The spurs on mine have got rather crowded at the left hand end and only have a few flowers. They could do with pruning – a job for next winter. I will prune them hard back to 2″ from the trunk, encouraging new spurs to form.


Basic step-over form (click to view an index of other trained forms)

Apples, pears and grape vines are suitable for training this way. Continue reading

Fan Trained Pear


If you purchase trained fruit at a garden centre they often come attached to an impressive bamboo frame like the one above. The frame can be a real distraction because what you are actually getting – and what you need to think about before parting with your cash – is the structure of the tree strapped to it. The photo above right shows the same tree in the nude, looking a lot less impressive. The trick when purchasing is to take note of the actual tree form, and see past the fancy-pants frame. In the case of the tree above, the shape was something I could work with, so was ideal. Continue reading

Sunset Apple – 4 tier espalier

Sunset is an early 20th century apple variety, which is ready to eat in late September. The apples are medium-sized, with a red speckled blush over a yellow-green background. In good years it has an excellent Cox flavour straight from the tree, but does not store well, so we keep spares in the fridge and try to eat them within ten days. (See more here)

Training History

< Spring 2006

I purchased this tree as a pre-trained two-tier espalier in Winter 2006. The picture to the left shows it in May 2006, soon after planting on the end of our woodshed, which we had just finished building.

I set the wires to match the spacing of its two horizontal tiers (~18in apart) and tied them in. As you can see several new shoots have emerged from the central leader. In the summer two of the best-placed shoots were bent down and tied to the horizontal wires to create the third tier.

Espaliers are an easy form suitable for apples and pears.  The central leader is trained up and side branches trained out at appropriate levels. All other shoots are pruned back to the basal cluster of leaves as part of summer pruning to encourage fruiting spurs to form.

Spring 2010

The tree has reached 4 tiers now and covers the whole 6′ x 6′ end panel of the woodshed. You can see how well it flowers – it is really rather beautiful for several weeks with its pink buds and petal backs. As it is by the entrance to our property we pass it every time we go out.

April 2012

This photo shows the full form of the espalier just before the buds broke in spring. 4 tiers is about as high as an espalier can go. Higher and the bottom branches are likely to become unroductive. So from now on it’s just a case of pruning it to keep it this shape. However, I have plans to train the branches round the corners and along the other sides of the woodshed!

[to be continued]