Friday, April 15, 2011

Our Pear

Espaliered Pear Pear Blossom

The veteran espaliered pear just coming into bloom in Bonnefont Cloister garden has grown there since the 1940s. The tree is responding well to a program of rejuvenatory pruning. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt

The espaliered pear is one of the most beloved trees at The Cloisters, and has graced Bonnefont garden for more than sixty years. This method of training fruit trees against a wall is a Renaissance development, rather than a medieval technique. The heat and light that radiate from the wall help to ripen the fruit.

—Deirdre Larkin

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Comments (5)

  1. Eric Erb Says:

    Oh i remember this from my first visit, it made such an impression! What is the earliest mention of training fruit trees like this? Also, what is rejuvinatory pruning, and is there any evidence of that from the middle ages? Thanks for a great blog!

  2. Nancy Heraud Says:

    Oh, I remember this tree as well. Well, it is just a beautiful intimate space. Hopefully, will get to visit again next year.

  3. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Hello, Nancy—I’m pleased to say that the espaliered pear is doing well, and is still blossoming. It is attacked by thrips and has been for many years, but I’ve just released a soil-dwelling predatory mite that will attack thrip larvae that wintered over in the ground. Another mite that will attack any thrips feeding on the new foliage has also been applied directly to the leaves. This is only the second year of our beneficial insect release program, but last year’s results were encouraging.

    Please do let me know when next you visit!

  4. Deirdre Larkin Says:

    Dear Eric,

    According to a note in our archives attributed to Frank Anderson, an authority on medieval and Renaissance botany and honorary curator of the rare book collection at the New York Botanical Garden who died in 1994, the technique is first mentioned by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner in 1561. However, the technique was not widely practiced until the 17th century. Our pear is trained as a palmette Verrier; this form, which resembles a candelabrum, is named after a 19th century French practitioner of the art.

    Our arborist, Fran Reidy, is compensating for the fact that our palmette Verrier, which is more than 60 years old, has not always been pruned as it should have been. Fran is cutting it back hard in phases, forcing the formation of new fruiting spurs further back along the branches. Over the course of time, the over-long branches can gradually be shortened, and the tree can be brought back into the space originally allotted to it.

    Medieval gardeners were certainly adept at pruning, both as a practical technique applied to orchard fruits and woodland management, and as an ornamental technique for the production of the basic topiary forms typical of the late Middle Ages. Many 15th century garden representations depict ornamental topiary, but there is no evidence for the practice of true espalier before the Renaissance.

  5. Espalier in the Winter Garden « « Insporia Insporia Says:

    [...] A beloved tree, known simply as Our Pear, has been growing since the 1940s at The Cloisters in Manhattan, via The Lovely [...]

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