Two years ago, I lost my standard olive tree. It was my own fault; it had grown rather two big for its position in the middle of a small island bed, so I pruned it – in the autumn, before the longest and coldest winter in many a decade.
The following summer, to give it a chance of recovery, I cut it back again to leave just the stumps of the main branches, and turned it into a temporary hanging basket feature, with one basket wedged on the top branches, and another two suspended from two branches lower down.
It spent the summer of 2011 like this, and I was so pleased with the effect that in the autumn I replaced the summer baskets with winter/spring ones, and again this spring with more summer ones. However, this autumn, as the olive had now been dead for over two years, I became concerned that, being top-heavy, the feature could rot off at the base and topple over if I were to renew the winter baskets a further time. My dilemma was what to replace it with if I removed the defunct olive and its baskets, which had become quite a pleasing feature.
The tree was originally planted to give height in the centre of a bed of low growing shrubs and perennials, to complement a standard Hibiscus syriacus ‘Woodbridge’ in a similar island bed nearby, so it needed replacing with something similar in height and form. I first thought I would have a wrought iron hanging basket support made that looked a bit like the dead olive to continue permanently the temporary effect, but I’m trying to cut down on stuff needing regular maintenance, so what was really needed, I decided, was another small tree. It eventually occurred to me that the best solution was a decent-sized standard hibiscus of another variety, but because the ‘Woodbridge’ has been there a number of years and is quite mature, it would need to be a well-grown specimen – if such a thing was available.
I could, of course, have planted a bush hardy hibiscus and trained it into a standard, which would have been loads cheaper, but I’m an impatient gardener, and I wanted the effect instantly; also, I was afraid that the existing, established plants could smother it before it gave me the necessary height. I eventually ran one to earth on the internet; it was exorbitantly expensive, but fitted the bill, and it happened to have a bonus of variegated leaves (in a small garden, the more benefits one plant can give, the better). The young tree duly arrived; last Friday the poor olive was duly uprooted – it came up much more easily than I thought it might, and its removal did no damage to the surrounding plants. The dead olive was despatched to the log burner (we waste nothing in our house), and replaced with the new young standard.
Hardy hibiscus are useful shrubs as they flower for around three months in late summer and autumn, a time when most flowering shrubs have finished blooming. Their only slight disadvantage is that, because they are late coming into leaf, they can look a bit dull early in the season, but in all other respects they are the perfect shrubs for the modern garden, whether in bush form or as small trees, as they require little in the way of maintenance, asking only a sunny spot, decent soil, and a light trim in winter if appearing to be get too large.
I wonder why I didn’t think of it before? I am now really annoyed that I didn’t take the bull by the horns (or the tree by its branches, maybe?) and get rid of the olive immediately it had succumbed to the frost, instead of wasting so much time. But the hanging baskets did look very pretty…..