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Fruit Gardening in the late eighteenth century
or, how to espalier trees against walls.


Many of the private residences in England during the eighteenth century had extensive fruit gardens, particularly the large estates, although most people with a bit of land to spare endeavored to grow at least some apples, pears or plums - and, if they had hot houses, citrus fruits and peaches as well.

Market gardeners grew fruit commercially to supply the capital, London, and it is estimated that by the late eighteenth century over three thousand acres surrounding the city were given over to fruit trees, principally in the parishes of Hammersmith, Brentford, Isleworth and Twickenham (then primarily rural, of course). These gardens grew enough fruit to produce an income of almost half a million pounds per year for all the gardens combined - a massive amount of money then.

Because of the intensive nature of fruit growing in a pre-mechanised world, each acre provided work, on average, for ten boys and men. During the fruit season this number increased to thirty-five or even forty per acre.

Fruit gardeners grew an 'upper' and a 'lower' crop. The garden was first planted out with apples, pears, cherries, plums , walnut etc, which was known as the upper crop. Beneath the trees and between rows (if the trees were not espaliered against brick walls) gardeners planted the lower crop: raspberries, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, and all such fruit, shrubs and herbs that could stand the shade and drip moisture provided by the trees. Gardeners could also plant passionfruit or other vines between the trees, although they tended to come out when the trees had grown to their full extent.

Those gardens with walls had 'wall fruits' espaliered against the sheltering and warming brick: nectarines, peaches (which generally did better in hot houses), apricots, plums and various others including apples and pears. Walls could be set four-square, or they could be long serpentine walls - the serpentines angled appropriately to make the most of the sun - or they could even be zigzagged. Walls could also sometimes have shelters of glass or other material attached to their tops during the coldest months to give added protection to the developing fruit.

Although most fruit walls depended only on the sun for heating, they could also be heated artificially. A massive bank of manure, perhaps six feet or more high, could be thrown up against the shadowed side of the brick wall, which heated the bricks as the manure fermented (as an added bonus the gardeners could grow an early crop of cucumbers in the cooling manure). Alternatively, in the larger estates, walls could be built with internal flues and hearths so that fires could be set and the flues heated. Many of these walls are still in existence today, marked with periodic hearths along their base and chimneys dotted about their tops.

Brick walls had wooden pegs or iron hooks set into their heights at periodic intervals, sometimes at construction, but generally hammered in during generations of fruit growing, to which growing shoots of trees were tied with soft cloth. Trees could be espaliered in certain shapes - fan, candelabra or semi-circular shapes were very popular, and fan-espaliering enabled enough wall space for a lower cop to be grown against the wall. Boys were constantly set to espaliering the new shoots of the trees, watched over carefully by head gardeners.

In order to increase the quantity of shelter and warmth, in autumn gardeners occasionally raised earthen banks of about three feet high, laid to a slop of about forty-five degrees to the sun. In this bank they planted endives in September, and, from October to Christmas, rows of peas in the bottom.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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