A relatively recent addition to our garden that has come into its own is the ‘Dancing Apple Walk.’ This section of the garden helps divide the lower produce garden and the upper decorative garden leading to the house.
The apple trees that line the walk are Columnar style sold as ‘Ballerina’, a variety of apple tree that grows as a column rather than a standard apple tree shape. These apples only grow to 2.5m-3m in height and don’t require substantial pruning unlike traditional apples. They are a grafted variety and naturally grow in a column shape meaning they simply require thinning of the fruit and subtle shaping to maintain their structure. Columanar or Balleria apples are not heritage but they are a group of registered apple species in Australia. It a smart choice for someone who is either not confident with the pruning process, or has become or will become unable to physically prune trees with confidence as they grow larger. In other words, an ideal choice for gardeners who are getting a little bit older.
The ‘Ballerina’ species selected were ‘Waltz’ and ‘Flamenco’ – hence the name ‘Dancing Apple Walk’. It is astounding by how well they have adapted to this spot. The crop in their first year numbered 12 apples – all ‘Waltz’. This year ‘Flamenco’ has taken off and has put on great growth. They have also proven to be particularly robust trees, requiring little maintenance and thus far have not attracted any unwanted bugs or needed to be sprayed.
The reason these 2 varieties were planted together is for their ability to cross-pollinate. If you just have a single species of apple, they may flower beautifully but they might not produce fruit. Almost all apples need cross pollination to set fruit, other species that need cross-pollination include pears and cherries. For successful cross-pollination of apples you need at least 2 species of apple and importantly, they need to flower at the same time. Species selected for cross-pollination must all fit into the same flowering cycle and be all either early, mid or late season. With no cross over in flowering the apples will be unable to cross-pollinate. It is best to check on a horticultural website to see what the cross pollinators are for the apple variety that you select.
You can plant Columnar apples in very narrow spaces compared to traditional apples. The trees grow to about 600mm round. They shouldn’t be planted directly next to fences as you would an espalier but you could still plant them relatively close and train the tree by pruning off the small rear branches and sacrificing some of the rear fruit to have a front facing only tree. These species of apple would work well as a lower height garden screen, and have the benefit of producing delicious fruit! We planted our apples at 1.2m intervals. If you wanted a solid screen you could plant them closer together, but it loses the ability to enjoy each tree’s individual shape. They will also grow well in pots, but it is imperative the pots are kept watered. No pots like drying out!
Eight of the apple trees were originally planted along a boundary fence as a hedge. This was until we discovered that the fence line was ‘possum highway No. 1’! If the apples had remained in this location we would never have seen a crop. They HAD to be moved.
The apples were transplanted to their current location during winter when there was no fruit and few leaves – when the trees become dormant in the cold weather. After marking out the spacing the ground was prepared and proper large holes were dug for each apple. We put gypsum into each hole and worked it through, we then used a manure and compost mix through the soil. After that the trees were mulched with a compost mixture. Over the last year to continue their growth they have been mulched, treated with organic pelletized manure and top dressed with sheep manure and a bit more compost. They have adopted to their new home exceptionally well and while it’s not advisable to transplant trees if possible, they seemed not to suffer at all.
You can buy Columnar Apples bare rooted, only ever buy them in this way during the winter. If you wanted to purchase them now or during the warmer months you may be able to buy them in pots, depending on your nursery. You will pay a premium price for a potted rather than bare rooted tree.
The fruit from both our varieties, ‘Waltz’ and ‘Flamenco’, tastes wonderful and we recommend them for all gardens, not just where space is limited. At such a young age these trees are already heavy with fruit for this reason the apples are especially wonderful because they are both decorative and productive. It has been a joy to watch the fruit fatten and then colour through the summer.
Helena and Frankie