Prior to cheap airfares very few of us in Blighty would have been capable of identifying an olive tree. Today most folk with even a small interest in arboricultural matters will recount tales of being impressed by the ancient olive trees of some exotic sounding Mediterranean destination. In U.K bonsai circles good quality olive trees have been practically unobtainable until fairly recently….but who would have the heart to remove a lovely olive tree from its sun kissed home on some romantic foreign shore and bring it back to suffer the rigours of a dark wet English winter??
Silly romantic notions aside it is testament to the olive's adaptability and determination that, in spite of what you may have read, it does grow very well here. Before going any further please let me point out that what follows is based on my own experience of cultivating olive trees as bonsai in the U.K. It is 5 years since I bought my first olive tree, he is doing very well and should be on exhibition at a major show next year. I live on the Norfolk/Suffolk border just four miles from the sea. Here the weather is fairly mild. The spring time is generally a little cooler than many places but the autumn time is warmer. Winter nights are usually a few degrees warmer than further inland thanks to the warming effect of the sea. We are in what's termed a rain shadow area so the climate is perhaps a little drier than much of the U.K although who knew this year!!
There is a myth in bonsai circles that olive trees are not hardy. This seems to be the main concern I have encountered in talking to people about this species. Much mis-information probably stems from the fact that a lot of little olive trees have come from China and other places to be sold as Indoor Bonsai. I have seen more than one book stating that olives are not hardy but do make ideal Indoor Bonsai. "Google" Olive trees and you will get about 2.75 million hits. It won't take you long to find out that these plants are indeed hardy…very hardy! For good fruit production the trees should not be exposed to temperatures lower than -5 Celsius. However the trees will stand much lower temperatures with little damage. My own olive's have remained outside to -8 Celsius whilst exposed to freezing winds with absolutely no adverse effects whatsoever.