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An hour in the eco garden: December

by Hazel Sillver

If you have a spare sunny wall, you can have a vertical orchard and produce a sizeable fruit crop, says Hazel Sillver.

Don’t lament not having your own orchard. Where space is tight, fruit trees can be trained into slim-line ‘cordon’, ‘fan’ or ‘espalier’ shapes against walls. As well as producing a snow of blossom in spring and a glut of fruit in summer and autumn, their sharp lines provide elegance through the winter months. 


This is a single stem, dotted with fruiting spurs. It is usually trained to grow at a 45˚ angle, to about 1.5-2m in length. If you only have a small amount of wall space and want to grow lot of different fruit, cordons are your saving grace. For example you could grow a pear cordon, an apple cordon, a cherry cordon and a redcurrant cordon side by side. Ideally, they should be 75cm apart. 


The traditional training method for cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines, but you can also grow plums and figs in a fan. The fruiting branches form a fan shape, by radiating from the short trunk. Ideally you need a wall that is 2m high and 3m wide. 


The traditional training method for apples and pears – horizontal branches stem from one main vertical leader stem. Done well, it looks very sophisticated and produces a sizeable crop. An espalier requires a wall that is at least 1.5m high and 3m wide. 

What to buy

Many fruit trees are sold in pots, but others are sold as bare root plants, which means they arrive without any soil and must be planted straight away (assuming the ground is not frozen). The advantage of buying bare root is that they are usually cheaper and quicker to establish. Containerised trees are fine, provided you buy from a reputable supplier. 

Whichever you opt for, plant them between November and March, on a day when the ground isn’t solid. 

Cordons, fans and espaliers are formed from young trees that have been grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks (to stunt growth).They are then pruned to form their specific shape. This training requires well-timed, well-placed pruning and is hugely rewarding. If you fancy doing it yourself, make sure you have Harry at your side: Growing Fruit by Harry Baker, £8.99, Mitchell Beazley

However, most people choose to buy wall fruitas ready-formedcordons, fans or espaliers. Once home, they should be tied to a framework of horizontal wires attached to a south-facing wall. The following spring, your new vertical orchard should be coated in blossom. 

Top tip: how to summer prune

Once established, wall fruitrequires an annual summer prune. This involves cutting sideshoots (laterals shooting from the main branch) back to three leaves, and sub-laterals (very young branches shooting from the sideshoots) back to one leaf. 

Suppliers: Orange Pippin, Pomona, Blackmoor

*image courtesy of


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