“Little Ollie’ – A colossal success for almost every garden
By Sara Malone, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Olive trees conjure up images – or memories – for many of us of ancient, twisted trunks and wind-swept Mediterranean hillsides. And certainly, mature trees add character and interest to many landscapes and those adventurous enough to plant fruiting varieties have the fun of harvest and producing either fruit or oil. But if the average homeowner wants a manageable slice of sun-drenched Italian olive groves, how is it to be had? The answer: Little Ollie!
‘Little Ollie’ is the patented name of Olea europaea ‘Montra’. (Plant breeders have begun to register names for their creations that differ from the botanical names, just to give us one more thing to remember.) ‘Little Ollie’ is the smaller sized, no muss, no fuss, fruitless version of the classic olive tree. Every garden should have at least one.
Olive trees grow beautifully here in Sonoma - as evergreens, they provide four seasons of interest, have agreeable silvery-gray trunks, don’t require much water, especially once established, and the fruitless varieties, when grown in proper conditions, are pretty much immune to insects or disease. Olives prefer full sun, and they can take heat, even that reflected from pavements or driveways. They don’t even mind the salt air in coastal locations. They prefer well-drained soil but are far less fussy than many of their Mediterranean brethren. Their dark, gray-green leaves are small and rigid, making a light layer of mulch when they drop, and providing drama on windy days when they display their white undersides.
Full sized olives are not large trees, by tree standards, but will soon outgrow small lots, and fruiting varieties can necessitate messy cleanups on patios or sidewalks. Enter ‘Little Ollie’, which is a compact, round plant that grows at a moderate pace to about 6’ tall and wide. ‘Little Ollie’ can be grown as a specimen and limbed up a bit to simulate a small tree, or grown as a clump of several plants or even a hedge. It can even be sheared to keep it smaller than its mature size. We’ve even seen them grown as standards in patio containers.
Use ‘Little Ollie’ with other Mediterranean plants such as lavender, santolina or rosemary. Or let it ‘go California native’ by using it in a shrub border with Rhamnus or Arctostaphylos. I’ve got it surrounded by Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, and the brilliant, clear blue of the Ceratostigma flowers display beautifully against the silvery gray foliage of ‘Little Ollie’.
‘Little Ollie’ can be found at many nurseries around the County, including Urban Tree Farm in Fulton and Cottage Gardens in Petaluma.