To practice the centuries-old art of espalier, start with the right plant and train it to lie flat against a wall or fence,with its branches forming a selected pattern.

Pears and apples are easy to train in a variety of patterns, but other woody plants lend themselves to certain forms.Rockspray cotoneaster and yew work well as fans. Forsythia and mock orange are appropriate for arched and curving designs.

Before You Begin

Before you begin, draw the design you want on paper so you can refer to it as you decide which stems to bend, tie, pinch, or prune.A stone wall does more than make a clean border along your lawn. It’s a handsome visual statement in itself; a great way to add depth and texture to a flat, featureless yard. It’s practical, too. If you have poor or clay soil, just fill the interior with topsoil and compost and you’ll have a wonderful raised planting bed. It also provides good drainage, making it a great solution for low-lying, soggy gardens. And it’s a good way to terrace a sloped yard and create nice, flat gardens.

Start with a Frame

Use thin, solid stakes of bamboo, oak, or heavy-gauge, vinyl-coated wire to build the framework.You’ll also need soft string, raffia, or thin cloth strips to tie the branches into place,making a loose loop to allow for growth. Never use wire loops,which can cut and injure the plant.

Choose a Young Plant

Select a plant with flexible young stems; it should be no more than 3 feet (1 meter) tall. Set the plant 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) from the wall to allow for air circulation. Spread the roots outward, away from the wall, and backfill with rich garden loam.The stone dealer will help you figure out the quantities of all the materials you need. The stone will probably be sold by the ton or pallet and it’s heavy. Have it delivered and dropped as close to the garden location as possible. And have gravel or sand delivered to use as a setting bed for the stone as well as topsoil to fill behind the wall. The stone or landscaping dealer will help you calculate how much of these you need.

Prune Large Stems

Prune large stems when the plant is dormant and note the plant’s overall shape.You can pinch out buds and shoots through late spring, but stop pruningin early summer to give new growth time to harden off by winter.

Don’t Skip Spring Training

Don’t skip spring training.Train stems when they’re young and flexible so they don’t snap. If a shoot is stiff, tie it to a length of wire and gently bend it a little at a time over the course of a few weeks.Remove the wire once the stem has matured in the desired shape, which may take as long as a year.