Offering an olive branch to winter gardens
How to get everything done? Suddenly it all needs attending to urgently: I am running around the garden like the White Rabbit, trying to do it all at once...
The vines still haven't been pruned, the veg beds need manuring, the compost needs turning, the rose bushes need shaping, there are still pots bearing dead foliage...Oh, and did I mention that the deck needs pressure washing and the plant stands sanding down and repainting? Don't even ask what's going on in the greenhouse. I don't know, because I daren't look.
Clearing up the garden that is waking up from winter makes spring-cleaning the house a breeze by comparison. Small wonder I just feel like sitting at the kitchen table and doing a gentle task that keeps me indoors: chitting the potatoes. At least I have tubers and egg boxes to hand.
In truth, there is another reason that pulls me away from the garden: my beloved olive tree that put on so much growth in the last three years since being transplanted as a babe in arms - well, babe in pot - into the ground. Last summer it was thick with silvery-green foliage and even had small, hard fruits by the end of the season - this winter it is practically leafless, as if it were a deciduous tree with a natural habit of dropping its leaves. I can't bear to look at it.
When I first noticed the lack of leaves, I panicked; had I lost it? Was it dead? Should I have wrapped it up in layers of fleece? I called the emergency services: Big Plant Nursery, the nursery in West Sussex that sells the widest range of olive trees in the UK - and some of the oldest, too; you can buy, if you have the space, 150-year-old trees with huge trunk girths of around 100-120cms for a mere £975...
Big Plant's Mark Sylvester reassured me that just because my olive tree's stems are devoid of leaves doesn't mean they won't come back: they will. He also said that on mature trees when foliage is lost, the trunk will often resprout, lower down.
He said that all the olive trees at the nursery, ones that are home grown as well as those that are shipped over, are kept outside for the whole season because they really don't need protection from the cold. The problem isn't the freezing temperatures: it's lack of water.
He explained that because olives are evergreens, they need light and water through winter - and we have had long periods of drought. And when the ground is frozen, water can't get to the roots. He advised watering through dry periods - and of course that holds especially true for olives in containers. In spring, any dead bits of stem can simply be pruned back. Mark also recommended a seaweed feed both in spring and summer.
So I've given my tree some generous waterings and I'm waiting, fingers firmly crossed. If you have an olive tree that looks less than healthy, you might want to do likewise. You won't want to see a picture of my tree as it is now, so instead I'm showing you one of Big Plant Nursery's (above). It certainly cheers me up.