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Olive this garden.

cs 7:14 1

I finished extending the mixed border! Woo hoo!

cs before
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Junk cleanup: check.
Reducing the terrifying tree ivy by half: check.
Stone edging: check.
Mulching: check.
Plants: check.

The so-called corner of sadness can’t be called that anymore. It’s the corner of radness!

This is a damp, shady, sheltered corner, at the bottom of our gently sloping block, so I chose a number of understorey plants that couldn’t be happier in that environment. However, the front of this bed also receives direct sun in summer, so it does dry out some. I thought a tree would work well at the front, because it’ll be tall enough to get winter sun and big enough to help shield the delicate shade plants from the summer sun. Perfect opportunity to plant an olive tree.

As ever, the majority of my new plant-outs are Australian natives. I added these new plants in early April, when Plants of Tas Nursery held a 20% off sale. Good timing, too; it was still warm enough for them to establish themselves (and even put on a bit of growth) before the winter lull.

Here’s a roll call of all the newbies:

plant list - mixed border

1. Sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica)
I planted this over a year ago, because I thought it was actually a variant of bamboo. Yeah, no, it’s completely unrelated, so I feel like a bit of a doofus, but at least it’s pretty. It’s meant to be compact and low-maintenance, reaching 70cm-1m high, and it’s been putting out new red leaf tips all winter. It might be a sterile cultivar, I don’t know, but if not it’ll send up flower spikes in spring and have ornamental red berries in autumn. Sure, it’s obviously non-native, but I’m reasonably certain that it’s not invasive locally.

2. Native elderberry (Sambucus gaudichaudiana)
I thought some native berries would go well in this cool, shady spot, so I brought home this guy, a native elderberry. It’ll grow 1m high and it’ll produce clusters of edible berries, which are meant to be tart yet sweet. Apparently you can pour water over dried berries to create an aromatic drink. I’ve never tried them, so that’ll be a fun foray into bushfood.

3. Tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica)
The shadiest, most sheltered spot went to a tree fern, which are common in the wet areas in southeastern Australia. (Locals call them ‘man ferns’ but I don’t know if that term is used outside of Tasmania.) When I transplanted mine, I added plenty of compost, water-retaining crystals and a heavy layer of cardboard and mulch to keep its immediate surrounding soil moist, so it may only need a few deep waterings in summer. They like water and they hate wind, and while they do grow tall, it’ll take many, many years to get there. This one might be small, but he’s mighty – there’s two trunks on this guy! So cool. I look forward to growing old together, me and this fern.

4. ‘Shady Lady’ waratah (Telopea speciosissima x oreades)
My photo grid only shows my little waratah plant and no red waratah flowers, which is a shame, as they’re one of Australia’s most emblematic, most spectacular flowers. The shrubs grow 3m tall and have a reputation for being difficult to grow, due to how fussy they are about soil. I added compost and clay breaker to this section of the bed, just to bump up the drainage — waratahs really hate wet feet. Hoping this hybrid will hang in there! It’ll make my year once they put on flowers.

5. Woolly tea-tree (Leptospermum lanigerum)
Bushy shrub to 4-6m, with soft fine blue-green leaves and white tea-tree flowers in summer. They like average to moist soil. I like the foliage colour, and the little starry tea-tree flowers will be pretty, but I mainly planted this one here because it’ll grow into a screening hedge. Goodbye orange brick.

6. Guitar plant (Lomatia tinctoria)
I’ve mentioned lomatias before. That’s because I planted two in our front yard, and one of them bit the dust. Those ones, though, were a fine-leaved variety, which I reckon are less vigorous than broad-leaved ones like this. They will grow to about 1m tall and send up white flower spikes in summer; they’re called ‘guitar plants’ due to the shape of the seed pods. I planted three along the back fence so far, and will keep adding more to create a bordering hedge.

olive 7:14

Now. Our olive tree. Yay, we have an olive tree! Once we get a harvest of peppers, garlic, and olives we’ll have to invite you over for mezes.

I did some reading on common olive cultivars – there’s a lot – and decided that our best bet was a Manzanillo.
– It grows to a moderate size, max 4-5m high. Good for our medium-sized backyard.
– It’s well rated as a “table olive”, aka olives that are intended to be eaten rather than processed for oil. Kalamata and Sevillano are good too.
– As a cultivar grown for its fruit, it likes more water than other olives.

We bought and planted our olive tree in mid-June, though the bed wasn’t fully mulched until last week. It was $50 for this 7ft sapling at a local nursery, if you’re curious. June seemed like a good time to plant; according to this site for Australian olive growers, “It is widely accepted that olive trees can be planted in irrigated olive groves year round if the winter temperatures do not fall below minus 5 degrees Celsius. Traditional plantings in Mediterranean countries are done in the autumn leading up to the winter rains.” So here’s hoping that its roots will establish in time for it to put on growth this spring/summer. Our next-door neighbours have a large olive tree in their yard, which is reassuring. Surely our tree can handle the soil one block over.

After everything was in place, we added a heavy (10cm) layer of coarse pine-bark mulch, with breathing room left at the base of the trunk. As with other beds I’ve mulched, I added a layer of cardboard underneath to act as a degradable weed barrier. As long as the cardboard isn’t printed using glossy/coloured inks and you’ve removed any packing tape, you’re set.

Quick tip on buying mulch, for the unaware: buy in bulk! $30 got us half a ute-load of mulch, whereas if we’d gone for bagged mulch, $30 would have gotten us three small bags of the exact same stuff.

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Here’s a couple shots to show what progress was like.

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And here’s a wider before/after showing the full mixed border.

It’ll look more impressive when it’s all filled in, but I’m proud of myself for getting to this point. (Not shortchanging Jamie here, this was 90% my doing.) Future projects include adding fence screening and rebuilding the veggie beds, but this section is nicely tidied up for now. With the olive, fig, rosemary and grapevine all growing, our yard is a Mediterranean feast waiting to happen. I’ve got high hopes for homegrown tapenade.

I never thought I’d get into gardening, but it gives a restless, worrying person like me something to fuss over AND I get to brag about my results, so yeah, it’s pretty great.

PS: Saltbush Avenue is now on Facebook! There’s post updates and other bits and pieces. Come like it if you’re so inclined. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Olive this garden.”

  1. Love the Mediterranean vibe! I didn’t realize you had a fig tree too. Now all you need is some citrus and maybe an almond tree. Just remember the olives have to be brined before they’re edible. Also, I like the new header drawing.

    1. It’s cool how a lot of ‘Mediterranean’ plants can grow in both of our climates! Our rosemary has been covered in blue flowers for MONTHS.
      My fig tree is in a pot, in order to keep it from growing too gigantic, though it hasn’t grown a whole lot in the year or so I’ve had it. We did have a potted Tahitian/Persian lime tree, but it died for some reason — maybe the weather wasn’t hot enough? I might try a potted lemon tree at some point, they seem somewhat hardier.

      1. I remember – you had pictures of the lime tree. Are you sure there was no feline assistance in it’s demise?

      2. Brag away! Looks great. I love olive trees. They will be featuring in our garden even though I don’t like to eat them. I was quite surprised when we put one in years ago how fast they can grow.

        1. Thanks. 🙂 I bet olive trees LOVE IT in WA. They’ll look fab with the house plans! I like olives, but prefer black over green, so here’s hoping that mine actually have enough warm, sunny days to properly ripen…

        2. I love olive trees too, but not olives. We planted a Swan Hill variety that doesn’t fruit.

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