Vancouver Sun Newspaper Article Published on: October 15, 2017
Growing apple trees and producing apples in an urban garden is a challenge, especially in the Lower Mainland with our wet climate. But UBC’s pomologist-in-residence wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s complicated,” says Richard Hallman. “That’s why I like it.”
Hallman, sporting a holster with a pair of clippers, was on hand at UBC’s Botanical Garden on the weekend for their annual apple festival to advise apple lovers on the art of espalier tree training — growing dwarf fruit trees along fences, walls or trellises in ornamental candelabras, fans or criss-crosses — an ancient technique that encourages healthy fruit production.
While hundreds of apple-lovers downed Savoury Island apple pies, sampled apple slices in the tasting tent and kicked around in the fall leaves, a devoted stream of home gardeners lined up to get his advice on espalier training, pruning, branch-bending and rootstocks.
In the last few years, Hallman has seen a boom in interest. “There is a growing trend of fruit tree production as people are trying to grow their own food in small spaces.”
Espaliered trees are especially good for urban environments, he said. “They can give a dramatic-looking garden in a small space.”
Hallman grew up on a small orchard in the Okanagan so apples are in his blood and his heart. A tree fruit expert and Espalier Master who consults with both home gardeners and larger producers, Hallman studied horticulture at UBC. He met his wife in the program and the young couple travelled the South Pacific, financing their travels by picking apples in Tasmania.
Hallman worked as a horticultural advisor with the provincial government for 30 years, and recently retired — but his expertise keeps him in high demand.
For the past three years Hallman has advised on the renewal of the UBC botanical gardens espalier fruit tree collection. Their espalier collection is world-renowned, but it had been suffering.
“A healthy apple tree can live for hundreds of years,” said Hallman, but fungal diseases and insects are common scourges in wet climates.
Espalier tree training is particularly useful in our climate, explained Hallman.
“Apple trees need eight hours of sunlight a day. The Okanagan has between 12 to 15 inches a year of rainfall. We have 60,” said Hallman. “With that kind of rainfall we’re always going to have some problems. Small trees we can put a mesh bag over to keep out insects, or we can put a rain hat on.”
Hallman said that home gardeners, even in pots on balconies, can grow trees with exclusion barriers to keep diseases and insects out and produce successful crops. Even a single “cordon” or oblique branch, properly trained and pruned can produce up to 15 apples — and that’s the reward.
“My favourite time of the year is when they start to grow again in the spring when you can start to train them. My other favourite part of the season is when you are picking the fruit.”
Hallman said he eats more than one apple a day.
“I grew up on an orchard,” he said. “It’s who I am.”