Structure Trees with Edible Fruit (Part 1)

By Lorraine Spooner

Winter is the perfect season to re-assess the garden when the bare bones of its structure are revealed, without spring or summer enhancement in the form of foliage and flowers. The tracery of beautiful branches is silhouetted against the winter sun and the still, frosty atmosphere brings an ethereal quality to the landscape.  For many, winter is the least popular season for gardening, but it is unrivalled in its ability to set the heart racing with endless possibilities to introduce extra dimensions and make exciting planting plans!

Principles and elements of garden design should work together to create a cohesive whole and establish a strong sense of presence in the garden – their interaction with each other reinforces balance and harmony, whether your desire is to create an illusion of space or distance, install a focal point to actively encourage advancement, or to divide an uncultivated expanse into hidden secret enclosures waiting to be explored.

Structure Trees with Edible Fruit (Part 1)

This week, in the first of a two-part blog, I will be exploring fruit trees and their many diverse uses for introducing structure and enhancing your garden space in some of the ways mentioned above.


Often overlooked in favour of climbers, archways provide the perfect structural element for training fruit trees, with the added benefits of easier pruning and harvesting.  Any genus could be considered, but Malus make a wonderful feature with their froth of blossom in spring and small fruits which can persist long after the foliage has fallen.  I would recommend Malus ‘Evereste’ for its deep pink budded blossom which opens to single white flowers, followed by small, yellow-tinged pink apples.  Not only useful pollinators for other garden apples, crab apples have high levels of vitamin C, antioxidants and pectin for that all-important jelly making.

Select from our young 12-litre fruit trees (such as apples, pears, plums, greengages and cherries) as the branches are more pliable and easier to tie into their intended support.

More mature trees in our 20Lt. or 35Lt. range could be planted at an optimum distance apart and their canopies gently trained and encouraged to grow into each other above head height, thereby creating a natural archway without the need for a support structure.

Archways are particularly effective with repeat planting on either side of a long avenue or pathway and trained as above to eventually create a tunnel abundant with blossom and buzzing with pollinating insects.

Structure Trees with Edible Fruit (Part 1)

Trained Forms of Fruit Trees

Often grown against house walls or fences, espaliers can also be used to create garden divisions or instant hedges, providing tiers of interest throughout the seasons.  Our 12-litre potted trees with two tiers could be used to encircle a vegetable garden and could challenge the budding growers amongst you to train new lateral branches to create further tiers for increased height, fruit production and wind protection for more tender crops.  A range of fruit trees are available in this size – come and speak to one of our experts about pollinating partners to ensure optimum fruit yield, or for further information on this subject you can read my blog on orchards by clicking here…

Our imposing five and seven tier espalier fruit trees come into their own where structure is concerned, especially during winter, when their regimented lines of branches allow shafts of sunlight to peep through, creating a network of shadows across the frosted ground.  These superb specimens are the icing on the espalier cake and could not be bettered for fruit production with a difference, taking up minimum ground space and allowing access to both sides for pruning and harvesting.   Create an area of mystery on the garden journey and plant to impose ‘barriers’ which encourage exploration and delight at every corner.  We have some unusual varieties to tempt the adventurous, in addition to some of the more recognisable cultivars:

  • Quince ‘Champion’ is a popular, early ripening variety, producing an abundant crop of rounded, pear-shaped fruits of golden yellow. The flowers of the quince tree are unsurpassed in the fruit tree world – large, pale pink and with a scent unmatched by any rose or lily.
  • Medlar ‘Bredase Reus’ – Medlars have been cultivated since Roman times and are currently enjoying a revival in popularity. Easy to grow, requiring little attention, the fruit is best left to soften (bletted) until late autumn when its distinct caramelised apple/pear flavour can either be eaten raw, or made into a delectable jelly for serving with cheese. Medlar ‘Nottingham’ is also available in our 20Lt. range of half standard trees.  This unusual fruit also works well in a multi-stemmed form, which we will look at in Part 2 next week.
Structure Trees with Edible Fruit (Part 1)
  • Apple ‘Notarisappel’ or ‘Notary Apple’ is an old Dutch, difficult to source variety. Breeders from the Netherlands often named their apples after their profession – in this case, the breeder’s primary profession was a notary. These apples have a crunchy, juicy consistency with a balanced, sweet and aromatic flavour.
  • Apple ‘Red Elstar’ is a multi-purpose variety, especially good for juicing, with an intense, honeyed flavour and crisp texture.
  • Apple ‘Golden Pearmain’ also known as ‘Clarke’s Pearmain’ or ‘Yellow Pearmain’ bears fruit with an attractive golden-orange skin marbled and striped with red and bronze. The yellow flesh is firm, sweet and juicy.
Structure Trees with Edible Fruit (Part 1)

Trees provide structure in abundance, all have their individual habits of branch growth and form which can be utilised in so many diverse ways.   The Plant Centre is open and our horticultural experts are available to assist you in choosing plants to provide this all important element to your garden space.  Alternatively, contact me via email at, or our Plant Sales Office, 01869 340342, Option 1 – orders can be taken over the phone and collected or delivered to suit your requirements.

Next week, I will continue to discuss the use of fruit trees as structural elements in your garden, focussing on half standard and multi-stemmed fruit.