ISSUE 35  |  The Organized Life

The Novice Gardener: Help, Can This Olive Tree Be Saved?

September 04, 2014 4:00 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

I’m always nervous to return to my home after traveling; I wince at the thought of what I might find.

Approaching my building, I’m always glad to see it still standing. Then I’m most reassured when two black cats–alive!–greet me at the door. But I still do a walk-through of the entire apartment wearing a concerned face. This time, after a three-week trip to Italy, I entered the kitchen and wailed: “Nooooooo!” 

My beloved potted olive tree looked…nearly dead. I stared at it in disbelief and plucked it from its ledge, only to cause its crumpled leaves to fall.

I’m desperate. Is there any way to revive my olive tree? Has this happened to you? If you have advice, please leave a comment–I’m willing to try anything, no matter how extreme.

Photography by Meredith Swinehart.  

Above: This is the little olive tree I featured in Houseplants for a Hater. To make clear how much I loved this tree, I’ll quote myself from that story, published last November: “I love this little tree and dearly hope that I keep it alive. This is the only plant in my bedroom, and its beauty still surprises me every time I enter.” I really meant that. 

Above: I bought the tree from Shed near Napa. When I brought it home it had three or four deep red olives on its branches. 

Above: After it dropped its fruit, I realized the tree needed more sunlight. I gave it a prominent perch in my kitchen window, the sunniest spot in the house. I’ve never been able to coax it to produce more olives, but in its window ledge it was healthy. It was happy. Its beauty surprised me every time I entered. 

Above: And then. My heart sank when I caught sight of my little olive tree. Is the situation fatal?

Above: It was my fault. I had written four pages of notes to the house sitter on the nuances of caring for my cats, but I had forgotten to write: “Please water the plants.” Every so often. If they look like they’re dying. Even just once.

Above: I’m not superstitious like the Italians I know, but I somehow feel uneasy about having spent weeks admiring thousands of olive trees in Italy while at home, my own little tree was dying of thirst.

Above: At least my little cat, Reine, was adequately watered. But she’s concerned for my tree.

Above: What should I do? I’ve soaked the plant several times and it’s back on its kitchen ledge–but August in San Francisco hasn’t been generous with sun. I do have hope–a little hope–because I’ve spotted some tiny buds on a few of its branches. But they may be figments of my desperate imagination. 

Have any thoughts on what I should do? All advice is appreciated in the comments below. 

(N.B.: Poor Meredith, she was really starting to love gardening. Browse the rest of The Novice Gardener series, including Houseplants for a Hater, How Did I Kill My Lavender?, and 10 Tips for the Beginning Gardener–What I Learned in Year One.)