Ask the Gardener: The Olive Tree

The olive tree with it's gnarled bark and fluttering leaves makes a great specimen in the garden.

Those of you lucky enough to go on an annual holiday to a Mediterranean country should be quite familiar with the Olea europaea tree, commonly called the olive tree.

What you may not know is that the olive tree thrives in Irish gardens nearly as well as its native habitat, when given the correct position.

Olives can survive our cold winters and freezing conditions as long as they are not sitting in wet soil, like clay. They prefer light free draining soil in an open sunny or semi-shaded site and given these, will grow quite happily.

However they are unlikely to produce olives, as we do not get enough sunshine during our summers. Olives are slow growing, evergreen trees with silvery grey green leaves that shimmer in the breeze.
They have rounded heads which can be trimmed to keep their shape and produce tiny white fragrant flowers in summer.

As olive trees are slow growing and have a defined shape they are very often grown as focal points in small gardens or patio areas. They provide height and structure and very often, one mature olive tree is all that is required to provide an area with colour, shape and form.

Q. I would like to plant an olive tree in my courtyard as I am hoping to create a Mediterranean style there. However, as my soil is very wet, would it survive?

A. The answer is no, but what you can do is improve the soil by drainage, or if this is not possible, plant the olive in a large container and as long as it is fed and watered regularly, it should do nicely.

Q. I have a north facing patio that is quite windy and was thinking of planting an olive tree with just a few specimen plants, as I would like to keep it minimalist and modern looking. Do olive trees survive cold winds and semi shade?

A. The answer is yes to both.

Q. I have an area at the back of my house that I would like to allow to grow into a type of wild flower meadow that would attract a wide range of wildlife. I would like to plant some low growing evergreen trees in it, maybe a type of olive grove, what do you think?

A. You did not say what type of soil you have but as long as it is not wet you should be fine. You could under plant your olives with grasses and wild flower mixes and this would support a wide variety of insects and wildlife as well as looking naturally beautiful. * If you have any gardening questions, you can contact Charlie O’Leary by visiting,, or tweet @the_pavilion


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