You Can Create a Work of Art in Your Garden

I have a dream folder. No, it’s not on my computer anywhere. It’s that small area of the brain where you store those conversations that take place over a few beers with a close friend that begin something like: “you know we oughta save up some money, quit our jobs and start aâÂ?¦” Then it gets stored in the folder and you go home and forget about it until the next time when somebody suggests something entirely different.

A few years ago I had a pert-time landscaping business when I was working for a chain of restaurants. Our company had all of three employees and we had about fifteen restaurant units that we took care of, mostly on out days off. It was hard outside work after being in the restaurant all week, but it was an opportunity to work outside for a change, and I always liked working with plants. One of the neat things about it was I got to establish a relationship with the owner of a local nursery where we bought most of our landscaping supplies. I also got to shop there and spend the company’s money. I often wondered what it would be like to own a little garden shop like the one he had, as I walked along the row after row of flowers and plants. John, who was the owner, once told me that he collected and grew Bonsai plants as a hobby. He even had a few of them on sale at the shop. I had been to a couple of Bonsai shows at the Missouri Botanical Garden and was amazed how the miniature trees were trained into the various positions. I was also amazed that these weren’t some special breeds of tree, but rather full-sized trees with their growth stunted by precisely controlling the amount of soil and water that they had. He told me that they required constant care and there was a fine line between growing successfully and losing the plant.

If you’re not ready to take on the task of growing Bonsai trees, then Espalier might be for you. Espalier is a method of carefully training and pruning a woody plant to grow flat along a fence or a wall. The method works especially well with fruit trees such as apple, pear, and plum. It also works with shrubs such as Japanese maple and climbing rose. Its best to start with young trees because they are more flexible. Plant them along a wall with southern exposure, the more sunlight the better. Extra sunlight on all parts of the tree results in more flowers and more fruit. Plant the tree or shrub about 8 inches away from the wall to allow the plant to grow and provide air circulation. Use nursery tape to attach the plant to the wall and then prune into a traditional shape or get creative and design your own. You may want to even make a sketch of how you want the finished work of art in your garden to look. Be sure not to forget to water regularly and set yourself a schedule for regular pruning.

Once you’ve mastered the method of Espalier, you might be ready to fill up your yard with topiaries ala Edward Scissorhands. Bonsai!

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