Salty tangy olives served with falafel and hummus, as a tapenade on bruschetta, pizza is not the same without them and they are even perfect just straight from the jar.
It almost doesn’t matter where you live; these wind, salt and frost hardy trees will grow almost anywhere in New Zealand. They are not that fussy of the soil you force them to live in but prefer a well prepared hole with lots of free draining fresh garden mix awaiting their permanent place, especially if heavy clay soil is where they will call home. Olives are a prolific fruiter and growing your own for food does require some dedication, however nothing is cooler than serving your own olives at a dinner party or bbq!
When we first moved to Auckland and were trying country living on for size, I became firm friends with an energetic gardening couple who have their own olive orchard in Wainui, located at the original school property for the local area. A cenotaph monument greets you as you drive onto this incredible edible garden with its tumbling olive trees rolling down the hillside. Every May/June when the weather is right and clear skies are on the horizon, a community picking frenzy of friends comes alive with fresh home-made soup as the reward for their efforts. Nets are laid down and hard plastic rakes are passed around before the ruthless rip and tear from the leaves is heard amongst the laughter and chatter. Once underway the grab, tug, tear repetition becomes rhythmic and satisfying as the oval bullets fall to the ground. Once the tree is stripped bare the nets or drop sheets can be manhandled into a funnel shape to pour the pickings into large crate bins ready for soaking or pressing. One tree can provide up to 30kg of fruit so ‘raking’ of the fruit has to be mastered this way or you would be here for weeks with unnecessary plucking.
Here are a few of my favourite varieties, make sure to ask your local Palmers experts for what will work best with your local climate.
Growing for the fruit might not be at the top of your list so if the silvery green foliage is what you’re looking for then El’Greco will be a perfect tree for you. The small section urban gardener (and their neighbours) will enjoy the compact mature size of this tidy variety boasting a maximum 3m x 3m tree with a trunk that’s quaint enough to push a table with two chairs and a bottle of red accompanying a plate of bruschetta under. El’Greco are called self-fertile, but are not known to fruit easily in New Zealand and given that a fruiting specimen literally boasts thousands of fruits with a very hard stone your lawn mower may be happiest growing El’Greco.
If juicy size matters then this variety is perfect for you. Olives pollinate by wind from trees located within 20 – 30 meters so it is ideal to plant at least one other picking variety as a mate for Ascalano. The attractive very large fruit that ripen green with a small pit are just attractive in the pickling jar as on the plate. Ascalano are fairly disease resistant to peacock spot and olive knot as well as shows some resistance to verticillium wilt. Ascalano fruit with pollination from other picking olives like Frantoio, Leccino or Pendolino.
A great team mate in the garden when planted with other varieties to pollinate. Frantoio is a tidy and compact size at 4m x 3m, with an early display of medium sized fruit and lots of it. The pickings have almost a peppery fresh pressed oil taste and are one of my favourite dressing and dipping accompaniments. They pickle well as an eating olive and are an all-round easy to grow variety especially in cool winter climates.
The name does not do this tree justice and without the exotic name to make it sound more interesting this specimen can be overlooked which is why it deserves mention. J5 is a 4m x 3m well shaped tree that is perfect for the northern gardener with warm winters as a low chill is required for fruiting. J5 can be used both for picking and for oil when the fruit ripens mid-season.