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Attention, gardeners: Arbequina olive trees are ideal for containers [updated]

May 13, 2011 |  3:27 pm

Olive 2 (1 of 1) A few years ago at the Carmel farmers market, I bought a couple of spindly Arbequina olive trees. They could hardly be called trees, more like foot-long slender sticks with a few leaves attached. As they grew (slowly), I transferred them to larger and larger pots. Now, they're handsome four-foot-tall trees, with silvery grey leaves and small speckled olives.  [UPDATED: An earlier version of this postspelled Arbequina with a tilde over the "n."]

I chose Arbequina rather than the more common Frantoio olive because I like the small, pretty Arbequina olives, and two, because the tree has a compact form that does very well in large pots.

Arbequina hails from Catalonia in northeast Spain where it makes fine olive oil as well as eating olives. It's also widely grown in California, mostly for oil. The beauty for the home gardener is that Arbequia is self-fertile. It doesn't need another olive tree to pollinate.

Last year I looked for the olive lady at the farmers market so I could buy a few more baby trees, but she wasn't there. I  checked local nurseries and online but couldn't find a one. Yesterday, I tried again and this time I found several West Coast sources. I was excited until I read the small print: Most involved buying in olive-grove quantities.

And then via McEvoy Ranch in Marin County, which produces olive oil and has a shop at the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, I found Bay Flora. This online site is the only one I've found so far that will sell and ship individual trees and small orders. Right now Bay Flora has small (very small) Arbequiña trees for $24.50, slightly larger for $34.50 and 5-gallon trees for $95 (temporarily out of stock on that size, though). Other olive varieties include Ascolano, Picholine, Coratina (from Puglia), Frantoio, and the weeping Pendolino. Shipping is 25% of order to California.

The California Olive Oil Council also has a site that lists tree sources. Many sell only in quantities of 20, or 50 or 100. But then again, you could get together with friends or give everybody you know a wee olive tree for Christmas.

Keep in mind that shipping can be relatively costly. On the other hand, driving hundreds of miles to pick a couple of trees isn't so cost effective either. However, if you're already driving to the Bay Area, do make an appointment at McEvoy Ranch. You -can buy 1-, 5 and 15-gallon organic olive trees ($20, $45, and $120). Contact Samantha Dorsey at samantha@mcevoyranch.com. The Ferry Building shop also sells 1- and 5-gallon plants.

For now, I'll take the post office. With four trees, I should eventually have enough olives to cure a batch each year.


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Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila /Los Angeles Times