When landscaping with olive trees, one beautiful specimen is all it takes to add some sculptural drama to your outdoor space. Work one into your design and it will create visual impact as well as enhance the surroundings.
A single olive tree can become the focal point of a courtyard garden or terrace, or add wow to a large container. Choose two olive trees and that will instantly add a pleasing symmetry to your design, flanking entrances and water features in an elegant way. A row of olive trees, meanwhile, will softly blur boundaries like fences and walls, and really pop against a dark backdrop.
Grow olives as single-stem trees with straight trunks or as multi-stem varieties with twisting trunks. Whether you clip them into smart shapes or let them grow more naturally, every garden needs an olive tree or two as landscaping ideas that transform your outdoor space.
10 inspirational approaches for landscaping with olive trees
We love the look of these silvery-green-leaved Mediterranean favorites, plus the fact they're so easy to grow. Try landscaping with olive trees and you'll soon find they slot seamlessly into your space, whether you prefer a modern and minimal style or something more classic and traditional.
Sometimes overlooked as one of the options for landscaping with evergreens as they're not the most obvious choice, add one or two of these stylish trees to your garden and see how they reward you.
1. Make an olive tree the star of your container display
Olive trees do well in pots as part of your container garden. And they look particularly attractive when paired with other Mediterranean garden favorites, like fragrant herbs (rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme) and lavender.
'When you buy an olive tree, pot it on into a larger pot, preferably terracotta rather than plastic, and use a loam-based compost like a John Innes No.3. Add 20% horticultural grit to improve the drainage,' advises Eden Project horticulturist, Shirley Walker.
Place your olive tree in a sunny position, keep the soil moist during the growing season, and feed with a balanced liquid fertilizer once a month. In winter, you can reduce watering but don't allow the compost to dry out completely. You can also prune your olive tree to keep it in shape – our guide explains how.
2. Stage an olive tree as a focal point
Olives are one of the best trees for small gardens as they will create an interesting silhouette without growing too big.
'Olive trees are a distinctive focal point that can anchor a courtyard design or kitchen garden,' says Nic Howard of We Love Plants Garden Design. 'The contorted branches of an olive tree will act like a sculpture, focusing attention and drawing you in through a space.
'If you're landscaping with olive trees, remember they grow very slowly, so if it’s instant impact you're after it's certainly worth investing in a mature specimen, particularly if you're using this evergreen tree for screening.'
3. Create a smart statement on your porch
Flanking a porch with a pair of planters featuring clipped topiary is a design classic but one that's become even more desirable recently. Why? The past couple of years have seen porches switching up to become places to hang out and linger in rather than just pass through. It looks like the trend is here to stay too, with a 150% increase in requests for 'functional front yards', according to the US-based landscape design platform Yardzen.
Nowadays, your porch can be so much more than simply the entrance to your home. It can be a place to sit, relax and chat. This means you'll need a few carefully chosen details to enhance the space.
Make room for a pair of lollipop olive trees in stylish wicker baskets. Squeeze in a slimline bench, too, as part of your front yard landscaping ideas, so you can sit and enjoy the vibe.
4. Try cloud pruning small olive trees
This design in the village of Hertingfordbury, England was part of a larger project to provide structural and architectural interest to the terrace, which introduces the garden to the cool and contemporary designed house.
'The focal point of the terrace is a series of sculptural olive trees,' says project designer John Nash. 'The cloud pruned trees came ready-clipped from a specialist nursery and are tended to regularly to keep them in shape. They make an impressive feature both to look out on from the house and also when you're looking back from the garden.'
Olive trees are particularly useful during periods of extreme heat and dryness. 'Olive trees are extremely tough and can withstand searing heat, drought, fire and temperatures as low as -7°C for short periods,' explains Eden Project horticulturist Shirley Walker. 'This wonderful, evergreen tree will add a touch of the Mediterranean to any garden.'
5. Work up a look for a courtyard garden
A sunny, south-facing outdoor patio or courtyard garden is the perfect spot for growing an olive tree.
'Olive trees are tougher than you think, but try and choose a sunny, sheltered, well-drained position,' says Eden Project's Shirley Walker. She also advises planting in spring, after the risk of frost has passed, but before the end of mid-summer to give the tree plenty of time to establish before the following winter.
A great way to secure more sun for your olive tree, as well as draw attention to it, is by planting it in a raised bed. Varieties that thrive in courtyard conditions include 'Arbequina' with a weeping habit that's ideal for small gardens, and 'Cipressino' – a vigorous tree that grows in an upright fashion.
6. Include an olive tree in your front yard design
Your front yard is all about creating a good first impression, as well as giving you a warm welcome when you return home. Low maintenance garden ideas are always best for enhancing a space that's on show 24/7.
A statement olive tree like this one will slot into the mix perfectly. Go large and let the tree do its own thing for a different take on the smart, clipped look that's so often seen in front garden design.
Another idea for landscaping with olive trees for front yards is planting a small row of them against a fence. This works in the same way as shrubs do, helping to soften the boundary while at the same time adding interest with shape, color and texture.
7. Light up an olive tree at night
This roof terrace in Kensington, London was installed over a newly-built extension and features some stunning planted-up containers. Several large, hand-carved clay pots were planted with mature olive trees, and LED lights were placed inside each one to turn them into statement pieces.
'I used spike lights in each pot to wash up the trellis and illuminate these mature olive trees and pick out their gnarly trunks,' explains the garden's designer Jonathan Snow. Any fabulously-textured trunks are well worth spotlighting as part of your outdoor tree lighting ideas.
8. Choose a potted olive tree for your patio
Landscaping with olive trees is a good choice if you're looking for new deck or patio ideas. They will grow in a nice, compact shape so don't take up too much room. Plus, they don't really shed leaves or other plant debris.
Some olive tree varieties like 'Majestic Beauty' are non-fruiting, so these are the ones to go for, especially if you have wooden decking. But remember, too, that you need to live in a very hot climate to get a usable crop from your tree anyway.
9. Squeeze an olive tree into a balcony garden
If you're looking for balcony ideas, you'll love this roof garden in Clerkenwell, London. It's a modern, minimalist green space with dense planting that helps to bring a sense of calm to the roof terrace. Even the smallest balcony can be turned into a lush space with the right planting.
Well-placed olive trees in sturdy containers are used here to block distant buildings. They also help to add a sense of seclusion. The look is softened by underplanting the olive trees with a froth of Mexican fleabane.
'Olive trees are fantastically versatile, but we tend to use them most when designing a roof garden,' says John Wyer, CEO at Bowles & Wyer. 'Roof terraces are much more extreme environments than gardens on terra firma, but olives can survive this fairly radical exposure. Our only advice is to beware the "windsail" effect of trees and ensure the containers are sufficiently sized to stop them blowing over.'
There are lots more ideas for the best trees to grow in pots in our guide, including smaller varieties that are ideal for compact spaces.
10. Consider a statement olive tree or two
Larger, mature olive trees will happily take centerstage where there is plenty of space to show them off. They are also a good fit with other Mediterranean-inspired design projects – think landscaping with pebbles or landscaping with gravel – as well as naturally slotting alongside water feature ideas.
This project by Austin Design Works in the beautiful Cotswold countryside in England is situated in a flood zone with saturated ground in the winter. The statuesque olive trees were planted in raised borders, surrounded by river cobbles, and interplanted with thyme and agapanthus. This is the perfect solution for this type of environment.
Where is the best place to put an olive tree?
There's lots of choice when it comes to the best place to plant olive trees. The main point to consider is that you need to plant your olive tree where it will get a minimum of 6-8 hours of sun per day, but preferably full sun all day. In addition to this, choose a site with well-drained soil.
Other options include planting olive trees in containers or raised beds, again in a spot where they will do well. Make sure you position them in the sunniest area in the garden and that it's as sheltered as possible too, just the same as the requirements for other plants that love full sun.
What can you plant around olive trees?
If you want easy ideas for what to plant around olive trees, go for its all-time favorite companion plant by landscaping with lavender, which will add a layer of color and scent. The two will combine to create a magical, Mediterranean-inspired design.
Companion plants for landscaping with olive trees need to have the same water needs (i.e., drought tolerant), soil considerations (light and free draining), and love of the sun. Choose plants that have these same requirements and they will all sit happily together.
Another lovely approach is to surround them with herb garden ideas, such as thyme, dill, oregano and fennel. You could also try Mediterranean shrubs like santolina, or combine them with a landscaping with grasses scheme for a natural, unstructured look.
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.
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