Growing Olive Trees in Britain.
Olea Europaea The well known European Olive tree . Over the last thirty years or so more and more of these exotic trees have been introduces into British gardens. At first only the more southerly counties of England were willing to give them a try, but as time has gone by their presence has gradually moved into the northern regions . You can now find Olives growing quite happily in Cumbria and into the Scottish Borders.
The attraction of this Mediterranean stalwart is undoubtedly it’s architectural character . It is one of only three species of Evergreen tree , apart from conifers, that will grow in Britain, the other two being the Holme Oak -Quercus Ilex , and Eucalyptus of various types.
In it’s natural habitat , which is mainly the Mediterranean region of Europe – although they do extend right through to China in other variants- the Olive is primarily grown as a crop tree to provide olive fruit for eating, in one form or another , or for making Olive oil . However, you only have to look upon a Tuscan hillside to appreciate the natural beauty of these iconic trees.
It is little wonder that landscape architects perceived their artistic value and introduced them into the British Garden.
Olives can be purchased in various forms, from neat little mini standards that sit well on balconies or small patios to massive old Bonsai specimens many hundreds of years old. When choosing your tree make sure that there are no fresh fissures on the main stem which will have been caused by damage in transit and could lead to bleeding and infection. Also look for plenty of foliage on all the branches. A sparseness on the tree could mean that it has undergone some cultural stresses – lack of water, lack of nutrients or even lack of light.
If your intention is to plant your Olive in the Garden then you will need a spot that is fairly well sheltered from strong prevailing winds. Olives do not really like a rich soil, so if needs be, incorporate some large limestone chippings into the planting site. One thing your Olive will need is good drainage. The other useful thing I would suggest ,is to incorporate a a mycorrhizal soil improver like Rootgrow which will help enormously to get the tree established.
The other way to grow your Olive is in a container. Olives do not have a great need to develop huge root systems. The size of tree will determine the size of container, but when you buy your Olive it will be in a pot of some sort, my rule of thumb is to move the new plant on to a container that is 50 per cent larger than the original pot and this should last it for 10 years. Olives have the amazing ability to cope with the most challenging growing conditions. They will cope with Flood, Drought and even Fire without giving up. However if you want to get the best out of your tree – particularly in a container – then try and keep it watered regularly during hot weather and give an annual feed of a slow release fertilizer like Osmacote .
It is possible, in the South of England ,to actually produce Olive fruit from your Olive tree. You will know when the fruit is large enough to be picked , usually in the late Summer or early Autumn. It may be green or black, depending on which variety you have ( there are well over 300 varieties of Olive) Either way, you will not be able to eat it straight off the tree, it will have to be pickled for about 5 weeks in salted water to remove impurities and toxins . Once this is done then you can experiment with various marinades to achieve the flavour you most enjoy , from Garlic and Olive oil to Chile and red Wine.