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! (EDIT: no. Didn’t do this!)

April 2017

Five year’s later: you can see that the tree has pretty much the same shape as the 2012 photo before. It has hardly increased in girth at all. I give it a summer prune each year and a bit of thinning in the winter. This is a mature and productive espalier.

It’s very pretty in the spring.

August 2017 – summer pruning

Here is a before and after shot of the summer pruning I undertook in the first week of August 2017:

I also made a video of the process you can check out here.

[to be continued]



An Enigmatic Apple

This apple tree is a bit of a curiosity. [Update: mystery solved – see end of post]

The label from the nursery said “Discovery”. I don’t think so! Discovery is an early-season apple, ready to eat in July or August and with a distinct red blush (see here for comparison). Whereas this one is distinctly unripe and bright green in late August. Hmm. It looks a bit Granny-Smithish to me.

Another odd thing is the way it came to me. It was sent by accident along with several other fruit trees which were supposed to go to someone else. When I informed the nursery of their mistake they promptly sent me the correct trees, but kindly let me keep the mistaken order.

In keeping with this tree’s enigmatic status I decided to train it into an unusual form…

Ladder Form

The tree was supplied as a 2-year-old double cordon. But the two uprights of the ‘Y’ were an unnecessarily long way apart. So as I trained it up the fence I filled in the central space with alternate horizontal branches, creating a ladder shape (left). As its only a few years old the branches are still very thin, so in the photos below the form is not very distinct yet. But over the next few years the permanent framework will thicken enhancing its striking form.

The structure is clearest in the winter or spring, as above.

Here it is in late summer 2012.

Update: October 2012

During september the apples changed colour – clearly they are not Granny Smiths as I suggested above… interesting. I decided to get some help identifying them, so…

Last week I went to ‘Apple Affair’ at West Dean Gardens, their annual apple extravaganza where expert apple growers display hundreds of different varieties. Two veterans provide a free apple identification service – the main reason I had gone! What was so impressive is that when I showed them one of my enigmatic apples they were pretty sure they knew what it was a t first sight! Before they revealed what they proceeded to poke and prod it – first they cut it in half, briefly examining the core in cross-section – each apple variety has a distinct star-pattern made by its seeds. Sage nodding…  They then gave it a good sniff, looking at each other – yes, it had the tang of its daughter the famous Coxes Orange Pippin. I was eager to know what it was, but they were not finished yet – they cut a slice and tasted it, frowning disapprovingly – it wasn’t at its peak of perfection! I’d picked it too early. A bit unfair really as I’d brought it for identification not for eating!

So what is it? Well, it’s a Ribston Pippin don’t you know? Apparently, an 18th century variety from Yorkshire which is best kept for a month before eating. Interesting eh?

Summer Pruning step-by-step

Summer pruning is necessary for wall trained fruit to develop and maintain the desired form and encourage fruit production. It should be carried out in July for cherries, gages and plums and in August for apples and pears. You will need nice sharp secateurs, bamboo canes and plant ties.

The purpose of summer pruning is:

  1. To remove new vegetative (leafy) growth
  2. To reduce the tree’s vigour
  3. To allow air and sun to get to ripening fruit
  4. To remove shoots growing towards the fence or wall
  5. To encourage the formation of fruiting spurs
  6. To extend the permanent framework

Getting started

Look carefully at the two photos below, showing a trained (fan) fruit tree before and after summer pruning.

Before summer pruning – note the long new shoots.

After summer pruning – the long shoots have been shortened or tied in to bamboo canes to extend the permanent framework.


1. Identify the long shoots that have grown this year.

2. Take one of the shoots and count up 4 or 5 leaves from the base.

3. Cut off the shoot at this point just above a leaf.

4. Only a short ‘spur’ with 4 or 5 leaves should remain. This spur will tend to develop flowering buds in future.

5. Any shoots that are growing towards the fence should be cut out entirely at their base, flush with the branch they sprout from. This will prevent regrowth from this point in the future.

To extend the permanent framework

6. Identify a shoot that is in the right place to create a new permanent branch to extend your trained form. Prune back all other shoots as per 2-4 above.

7. Tie the remaining shoot to a bamboo cane and gently bend it into position. Tie the cane to the wire supports on your fence or wall.

8. Shoots coming from the tips of permanent branches can either be tied in to extend the framework or they can be cut off if they have reached the required extent.

Adjusting the permanent framework

9. As permanent framework branches become longer than their supporting canes it will be necessary to replace the canes with longer ones.

10. If branches are only one or two years old they will probably be flexible enough to raise or lower by a few degrees if required to adjust the shape and spacing of the framework, but as branches age they become more brittle and may snap if bent too far.

10. Finally, check all old ties and ensure they are not strangling the growing stems. Loosen and replace them as necessary.

>Recommended Link: Video tutorial on Summer Pruning



Golden Transparent Gage

April 2012

Gages are the posh cousins of the common-or-garden plum. They are finer in every way and in the UK, somewhat harder to grow, needing more warmth. Compared to plums gages are rounder, often smaller, more delicate and sweeter. The famous greengage is just one variety but there are yellow and blue ones too. The variety I grow – Golden Transparent Gage – ripens to a beautiful amber skin with red-flecks and soft, translucent, golden flesh. It’s a ‘transparent’ gage meaning if you hold the ripe fruit up to the sun you can sometimes see the stone inside.  [You can read more about the history and qualities of this  and other gage varieties here.]

Whilst Golden Transparent Gage is probably the most delectable fruit in my garden, my tree is reluctant to set fruit, even after producing the wonderful spring blossom you can see in the photo above. Perhaps it is still too young, or perhaps the cold springs and summers we have had lately have not suited it? So despite having trained and coaxed it along for 4 years I have only tasted a half-dozen of its fruit so far, but they were exceptional – succulent, aromatic and syrup-sweet.

As you can see I have trained it as a fan, but with a zig-zag stem. This was achieved relatively simply by taking one of the long new shoots that appeared each year from the middle top branch and bending it down into position – one year to the left, next year to the right. The image above shows it after some 4 years of training.

Training & Pruning

Plums, gages and cherries should never be pruned in the winter as spores of the deadly silver-leaf disease is carried on the rain and enters through cuts and wounds. I’ve seen a group of mature Japanese cherries mis-pruned by the council and all of them were dead by the end of the year due to silver-leaf. So all pruning and training is done in the summer.

Training involves bending last year’s new shoots into place to create the main framework of permanent branches, tying them to canes to produce the main backbone of the fan shape.

Pruning consists of shortening all side shoots that come from the main framework to four or five leaves – it is on these side shoots that next year’s flowers, and therefore fruit, will form.

Training History

I purchased the tree in 2008 as a 2-year-old part-trained fan with 5 stems (from Keepers Nursery). Initially I tied bamboo canes to keep the whippy stems in a simple fan-shaped position. By the spring of 2008 I had started to establish the basic shape:

April 2010

If you look carefully at this photo you can see how the zig-zag stem was created by bending the leader (the strong central shoot that grows from the top branch each year) alternately to the left one year then right the next. In this way one new tier of zig or zag can be added each year, until the required area is covered. Notice also that forks from side branches have been created (i.e. instead of pruning them out, tying them in) to fill in spaces in the fan further from the trunk.

May 2010

One month on the leaves have emerged. Several new shoots have started to grow away.

June 2010

By mid-summer the new shoots have become very long and it’s time for summer pruning. (Step-by-step details here)

[To be continued!]

Fiesta Apple – triple cordon

April 2012        August 2012

I started training this young apple tree last year. To create a triple cordon I tied its main leader (central stem) up one cane and its two side shoots up adjacent canes, creating three verticals or cordons in a trident shape. Although it is only a young plant (as you can tell by the thin stems) it has settled in well and this year produced a crop of good-sized apples.

To maintain each stem as a cordon simple summer pruning is all that is required. This involves cutting back the side shoots which sprout from each stem in early August to their basal leaf cluster. This stimulates the formation of fruiting spurs and maintains the form. The picture, above right, was taken soon after summer pruning.

‘Fiesta’ is one of the best modern apple varieties, recommended by Keepers Nursery (who BTW are one of the best fruit nurseries in the UK). They say…

A late season variety to pick from mid October onwards. A red apple with some of the aromatic flavour of Cox. Sweeter and less strongly flavoured than Cox. Firm, crisp and juicy. Keeps very well retaining its crispness but losing some of its flavour in storage. A good heavy cropping garden variety.
Origin: Kent UK 1972
Pollination: Fiesta is partially self-fertile but would benefit considerably from a pollinator.

Well, my young plant is certainly heavy cropping, but I’ve got to wait a couple more months before I can taste the apples! In the meantime here is a picture of the tempting, but un-ripe fruit.

I’ll add some images of the ripe fruit when October comes…

Current Fans

I have three currents trained as fans growing against fences: two red and one white current. White and red currents lend themselves readily to this kind of training, because unlike black currents they fruit well on ‘old wood’. Hence, they can be trained to make a permanent framework of branches (in this case in a fan) from which they will produce short fruiting side shoots. Black currents, on the other hand, will only fruit on relatively young wood – they need a third of their main stems removing every year to rejuvenate them, so could not be pruned to a permanent framework.

Unlike many fruits we grow in the UK currents are fairly shade tolerant and will thrive in the dappled light under tall trees or against a north wall. My plants are very productive – the red current in particular holds its fruit in a good state right through the summer, autumn and into the early winter – we simply pick the fruit as required. For some reason the birds seem to leave the red currents alone. The fruit is very decorative, hanging in many trusses of bright translucent scarlet pearls.

Fan Training Currents

Currents are usually purchased as young bushes, either bare-rooted or pot grown. They usually have several stems, or whips, two or three feet long. If you want to train them as a fan choose plants that already have stems lying roughly in a flat plane so they lend themselves to training as a fan.

After planting, tie the young whips to canes and bend them into position so that the canes form a basic fan shape, and tie the canes to supporting wires. If your plant does not have enough canes to create the shape you want, there is no harm in adding additional canes even if they are bare for now – you can train in additional shoots as they grow. If some of the stems fork try to use them to create two branches on adjacent canes. If there are any stems or side branches that can’t be accommodated don’t be afraid to cut them off – currents are very robust and vigorous – they can take a lot of abuse!

In subsequent years prune in summer and winter as follows:

Summer pruning – July or August-ish

  • Tie in any new growth from the tips of the main stems. If these extend beyond their alloted space simply cut off the excess.
  • Tie in any strong new shoots that might be useful to extend the framework and fill in spaces in the fan.
  • Cut out any stems that are growing the wrong way or are superfluous.
  • Finally, trim back side shoots to a few inches long – this encourages fruiting buds to form.

Winter pruning – Any time the shrub is leafless

  • Repeat as for summer pruning – dealing with any subsequent growth or any bits you missed.
  • Now is a good time to replace canes or add new ones.

 Diary of my current training

2007 This photo was taken just a few weeks after planting. The young bush only had 6 stems. You can see how I have tied them to canes and secured then to create a basic fan shape.

2008 During the winter prune I have replaced all the canes with longer ones, adding five more to bring the total to eleven. I have tied in the new main shoots and shortened the fruiting side branches. Notice how where the main branches fork they are attached to adjacent canes.

2010 By the end of 2009 I had replaced the canes with longer ones and increased the number of branches forming the main framework further, taking the total to 18! Notice that every other cane is a half-length one allowing me to fill in the space that appears as the fan gets larger.

 2012 As you can see, the fan is now well and truly established and has almost filled its alloted space. The training is virtually over and from now on I will mainly be pruning new growth back to this basic framework. With only a minimum of attention it should remain productive, and look fantastic, for the next twenty years or more!

To be continued and updated…

Standard Gooseberries

Standard gooseberry ‘Murcurines’ just breaking leaf; Photo: (c) J. Scott

Growing gooseberries as standards provides an opportunity to bring formal design features into the vegetable garden. It’s also a very practical method for growing this quintessentially English fruit.

Standard gooseberries are normal gooseberry varieties grafted onto Ribes aureum which has been trained up to provide about 1m of clear stem from which the grafted gooseberry bush sprouts like a fountain. The stem is not self-supporting, however, so needs permanent staking. The bush on top can be pruned to maximise the open habit preferred for gooseberry cultivation, allowing a free flow of air, reducing mildew problems.

Gooseberries trained as standards offer many benefits: Firstly, the space beneath them is available to grow other crops. Mine have had lettuces, strawberries and herbs at one time or another; secondly, they act as more formal exclamation points in the vegetable garden, a kind of edible topiary; thirdly, the fruit, which dangle like pearls along the underside of the drooping but thorny stems, are much easier to pick than on normal bush gooseberries, leading to fewer lacerations on the forearms. Apparently they are very good in large containers. The only downside to standard gooseberries is that they are a little harder to net from birds.

I have three: Mucurines (green, late-mid season, pictured), Early Sulphur (golden-yellow, early desert) and Whinham’s Industry (dark red, late, dual purpose). They were supplied bare rooted in January 2008 by R.V.Roger Ltd nurseries, who offer an excellent service and range of traditionally grown fruit varieties.