Fruit was very popular in New France. The most popular fruit trees were acclimated and protected in winter with straw wraps. Growing trees in espalier was widespread in Europe and practiced in Canada as well.
Berries, cultivated or wild, are also very popular. They are harvested in large quantity then dried or made into jam.
Pehr Kalm, a Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus, came to Canada in 1749 and jotted down his observations about the gardens he saw here, including this:
Fruit trees grow very well in the Montréal area. The main fruits I saw here are various types of apple and pear, all very good. It should be noted that if apples grow well in Québec, pear do not acclimate well. Peaches grow neither voluntarily or well. Some trees become somewhat hardened, but it is necessary to wrap them in straw every winter. Previously I mentioned vines imported from France. Some plum trees were imported from there as well, and they have acclimated well here and need no special care in winter.
Planted against fences, trees grown in espalier were protected from the wind and benefited from a microclimate. If we compare today’s new varieties with the old ones grown in espalier, such as those cited by Quintinie (1624-1691), creator of King Louis XIV’s kitchen garden, we notice that the latter have vanished. Having become delicate, they were replaced with new varieties.
The main goal of pruning is to keep the plants healthy by removing branches that are diseased, damaged or dead. Another goal of pruning is to shape a plant as it grows, to make it smaller or thicker according to the use to which it is destined. With fruit trees, pruning helps make the tree more productive. There are many ways to prune a tree: limiting its growth when it has become invasive, rejuvenating it by removing old wood, sculpting it to produce topiaries, espaliers or dwarf trees.
Espalier pruning is meant to shape the tree as it grows by choosing in advance the shape of the mature tree and by guiding the limbs. To do this, the tree is planted at the foot of a wall, against a trellis, and the limbs attached thereto. The tree, therefore, grows in two dimensions and gives the impression of a climbing plant. Apple trees, pear trees and vines are all very popular choices for this treatment.