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Genius Garden Ideas: 10 Landscapes with Olive Trees

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Genius Garden Ideas: 10 Landscapes with Olive Trees

July 29, 2018

If you live in a climate warm enough to make an olive tree happy, consider your landscape dilemma solved. One olive tree, dramatically situated, is all it takes to inspire awe—and poetic allusions to ancient boughs that sheltered Socrates and his students.

Legend has it, in fact, that the actual olive tree that shaded the philosopher still stands in Athens, as gnarly and cankered as you would expect of an old man who has lived more than 2,500 years. The story may well be true, as olives are one of the longest-lived of all trees (keep this in mind when choosing where to plant one as the spot you pick will be its home for centuries).

Olea europaea (of which there are hundreds of varieties, each with its own distinctive fruit) hails from ancient Mesopotamia and Persia and is a ubiquitous feature of the landscape in warm regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. You can grow an olive tree of your own if your winters don’t get too cold—it will tolerate a freeze, but not temperatures that dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not everyone likes to have olives raining down on the front walk; if that describes you, plant a nonfruiting variety. For the rest of us, Sarah has a recipe for DIY: Home-Cured Olives.

Here are 10 of our favorites way to use an olive tree in your garden.

Anchor a Courtyard

Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

A single olive tree in a Texas courtyard needs no further embellishment to carry the landscape (although the sound of burbling water from a small nearby fountain is always nice).

Shade a Space

Above: For more of this garden, see Steal This Look: A Romantic Outdoor Kitchen in Puglia.

Cooking outdoors creates a conundrum: You don’t want the sun beating down on your head but a canopy or shade umbrella can trap smoke and make you feel as if you are the meat sizzling on the grill. A strategically situated olive tree creates shade and allows air to circulate.

Create a Canopy

Above: For more, see Landscape Architect Visit: Jacqueline Morabito on the French Riviera.

If you want to create an outdoor room without having to build anything, pull some chairs outdoors to sit beneath the generous boughs of an olive tree. Suddenly you have a roof over your head (and can still see the stars).

Promote Privacy

Above: For more of this garden, see Garden Visit: A Modern California Garden Inspired by the Classics.

Olive trees grow ver-r-r-y slowly, a fact that prompted Jean and Ken Linsteadt to buy a large specimen tree for their front yard in Mill Valley. If you want to screen the neighbors’ house, invest in a large tree. “We’re hidden from the street, and my husband sits in front and smokes a pipe a lot,” Jean says. “It’s amazing the conversations he’s overheard from people passing by.”

Soften a Fence

Above: For more of this garden, see Before & After: A Jet Black and Jasmine Garden in London.

A row of small olive trees against a fence does the same job as a clump of shrubbery, adding a layer of texture and softness to the landscape. (An olive tree’s airy gray-green leaves look particularly good against a black backdrop.)

Add an Allée

Above: For more, see Garden Designer Visit: Lavender Fields in Australia.

Add drama and formality to a path by planting identical rows of olive trees on either side.

Honor the Horizon

In Bel Air, California, a mature olive tree with a history makes friends with a starkly modern facade, thanks to an introduction from the warm gray brick pavers on the driveway. See more of this project by Terremoto Landscape Architecture in our Considered Design Awards \20\17. Photograph courtesy of Terremoto.
Above: In Bel Air, California, a mature olive tree with a history makes friends with a starkly modern facade, thanks to an introduction from the warm gray brick pavers on the driveway. See more of this project by Terremoto Landscape Architecture in our Considered Design Awards 2017. Photograph courtesy of Terremoto.

The twisted trunk and gnarled branches of an olive tree will, like a sculpture in the garden, focus attention both on itself and on a distant view.

Frame an Entryway

Above: For more, see Vineyard Haven: A Napa Valley Garden that Belongs to the Land.

Twin olive trees on either side of a front path create a pleasing symmetry to frame a facade.

Play Off Gray

Above: For more, see Before & After: A Malibu Garden for ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Patrick Dempsey.

The soft gray-green shades of an olive tree’s foliage look particularly good when set against both neutral colors (such as natural gravels) and deep, velvety greens (such as the waxy leaves of boxwood).

Hold a Hammock


Above: For more, see Off the Grid: At Finca Es Castell, Mallorca.

You don’t need a straight trunk to hold up a hammock, for centuries.

For more Garden Design 101 ideas, see Olive Trees: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Read more:

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