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Ageless beauty in an olive tree

100-year-old transplants add character to modern landscapes
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Sometimes it takes something old to bring new landscaping to life. Planting century-old olive trees at a home in Granite Bay created that transformation. “It changed it from a big house sitting on a lot with more modern landscaping into a feeling like you are actually in Tuscany — like you are in an Old World house,” Dave Bushnell, owner of Bushnell Gardens Nursery, said recently. The trees, taken from an orchard near Corning, have a uniqueness that develops only through long years of growth and weathering. There are several things that make the trees special. “First, it is the variety of the olives we brought in,” Bushnell said. “The Sevillano is the queen olive. It’s the very large one. It has less fruit and larger fruit. (The trees) are more disease resistant. The trunks tend to be very gnarled. That’s that old-man tree trunk we all love. It has the deep cracks and crevices. The older the tree gets, the more gnarled the trunk becomes. The trunk is what is of great care and value. People buy the old ones because of the character and trunk.” The nursery has a 100-plus-year-old and 40-year-old Sevillano on display, as well a 25-year-old Ascolano. “At 40 years, you get significant architecture,” Bushnell said. “That’s why we have (both). You can see the difference in the architecture of the (older) tree. It’s bigger, thicker, more gnarled and more substantial.” The Ascolano variety has a smoother trunk, olive green leaves and its fruit is used to produce oil and dried olives. The 25-year-old trees will also create a special look in the yard. “They’re more affordable because they are lighter in weight, don’t have as big and heavy a root ball and can be handled by more standardized equipment,” Bushnell said. “They are a more reasonable solution for someone who wants to line a driveway or line the frontage of a subdivision.” The older, much larger Sevillanos require special equipment for delivery and installation. A 100-plus-year-old tree weighs more than 12,000 pounds and a 40-year-old averages more than 8,000 pounds. “It’s a feature in the landscape,” he said. “It can change the whole atmosphere of the front or back yard. … People build fountains, they do retaining walls, masonry courtyard walls, arbors and trellises. An olive tree is an even larger statement than those other features.” But proper placement is essential. “You really want to locate this feature in the right spot and that’s a significant part of getting what you want out of the tree,” he said. “The spot has to be horticulturally correct for the tree to be healthy and live. You wouldn’t plant it in a wet area. It needs a high mounted, dry area. You wouldn’t put it in the middle of the lawn… you don’t want excessive water. And you must consider the community of other trees. It must be in its own space and can’t have the competition of other trees and plants.” A transplanted 100-year-old olive tree still has plenty of years left in its lifespan. “I have a photo of an olive tree that’s 2,300 years old,” he said. Cost of the trees ranges from $2,000 at the bottom end to as much as $6,000. That doesn’t include delivery and planting. Homeowners looking to add older trees have other options as well. Japanese maples, although more delicate, can be another long-living variety. “They get a lot of character and a lot of beautifully twisting branches — particularly the lace leaf ones,” said Laurie Meyerpeter at Lakes Nursery in?Newcastle. “They are the ones that are moved because they aren’t quite as large.” Bushnell is seeing a developing trend for the old olive trees and it’s a popularity that’s likely to grow. He recently brought in one of them for an edition of the DIY television series, “Yard Crashers,” filmed at a home in Newcastle. The show will air in July. “It may be the most exciting thing in the show,” he said.