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The olive tree (Olea europaea) is very hardy, able to withstand fire and disease as well as long periods of drought. While the tree is slow-growing and rarely extends above 15m (45ft) in height in its native environment, its trunk continues to broaden and become more gnarled as it ages. It survives so long, in fact, that some trees in the Mediterranean regions have been scientifically proven to be over 2,000 years old; anecdotally, some still alive today are thought to be even older than that. And this is probably why it’s said that the olive tree is symbolic of immortality, patience and endurance. The branch of the olive tree is also said to symbolise peace or victory and repeatedly appears throughout ancient mythology and the Bible in this context. The uses of the olive Olives are estimated to be the third most extensively cultivated fruit crop in the world today, after coconuts and oil palms. Around 90% of the world’s commercially grown fruit is eventually turned into olive oil, a staple ingredient in cookery in the Med especially. The remaining 10% are eaten as table olives. Generally, olives and olive oil are thought to be a pretty healthy addition to our diets, being amongst other things a good source of vitamin E. Taking care of your olive trees Naturally, if you are looking to add a Mediterranean flair to your garden, the olive tree is an ideal specimen to consider. It’s versatile, thriving equally as well when planted in containers as it is in gardens. Here in the UK, the Olea europaea may grow to around 10m (30ft) in height if placed in soil in a sunny, south or west-facing sheltered spot. As mentioned above, the tree itself is hardy – certainly robust enough to survive the typical British climate. However, if you live in the colder north where temperatures tend to drop below -10oC (14oF) in winter, then planting in a container so you can over-winter it in a porch, conservatory or greenhouse may be beneficial. While you probably won’t ever become self-sufficient in olive oil, it is possible to nurture your plants into bearing fruit; although it will take around four years for a young plant to work up to it. Greater care needs to be taken, too, to nurture fruit, rather than just to keep the tree alive. If the tree is to be planted outdoors, then ideally, a cool winter and a warm summer is necessary to increase your chances of producing fruit. Plants kept exclusively indoors are unfortunately unlikely to bear fruit as the olive tree needs both a two-month spell of colder weather and a fluctuation between day and night-time temperatures to bear flowers and fruit. Although olives are self-fertilising, buying them in pairs will also increase the chances of cross-pollination and fruits developing after the small, white, scented flowers that emerge in late spring and summer. In Mediterranean countries, olive trees have survived so long by developing a degree of drought resistance, but trees in containers in the UK will need regular watering and feeding to nurture the growth of fruit. The fruits of your labour If you do meet with success and reap a crop of olives, be warned that the green fruit is still unripe and can taste very bitter if eaten straight from the tree. The ones we consume at the table or are processed to make olive oil have been cured and fermented to remove the bitter phenolic compounds within. Black olives, which are ripe, can be eaten raw, but be warned: they still won’t taste exactly like those from shops or in restaurants! You can buy our olive trees singly or in pairs. We also sell miniatures and specimens trained into corkscrew stems, to suit smaller gardens and for added visual appeal on any patio or terrace. Why not take a look at what’s on offer today, and add a burst of Mediterranean sunshine to your garden space?