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Virtues: Little Ollie dwarf olive is a fabulous evergreen foliage shrub. It has a small, dense growth habit that makes it perfect for small gardens or patio spaces. Its natural size and shape is lovely but it can also be easily trained as a topiary or sheared as a formal hedge. Although its winter hardiness is limited, this plant is happy to grow in a container that can then be moved to a protected space for the winter in cold regions. This olive does not bear fruit; it is purely an ornamental plant.
Common name: Little Ollie dwarf olive
Botanical name: Olea europaea Little Ollie or 'Montra'
Exposure: Full sun
Flowers: This shrub is grown for its foliage; its flowers are not noticeable and it does not bear fruit.
Foliage: The leaves are evergreen and long and narrow in shape. Typical of an olive, they are deep green on top and silvery on the back. New foliage has a sheen to it but it takes on a lovely matte finish with age. These combinations of gloss and matte, green and silver give the shrub great depth and texture.
Habit: A dwarf cultivar, Little Ollie olive grows just four to six feet tall and wide. It naturally develops multiple trunks and compact branching, making it a good accent shrub or a candidate for a loose or formally sheared hedge. It can be pruned to maintain a smaller size or distinct shape, including a small single-trunk tree, a topiary or a standard (round head of growth atop a single stem).
Origin: The species Olea europaea comes from European, African and Middle Eastern lands ringing the Mediterranean Sea. The cultivar Little Ollie ('Montra') is a Monrovia introduction dating back to the 1980s.
How to grow it: Plant Little Ollie dwarf olive in full sun. Once it is established, it can tolerate drought. It can also take high heat. Poor soil and salt spray are not problems for this plant species that hails from the Mediterranean region. Heavy pruning, if desired, should be done in the winter. Trimming to maintain the shape of a topiary can be done as needed through the growing season. USDA Zones 8–11. This plant can be wintered in a cool interior space where it is not hardy.
Recommended related reading:
Get planting ideas that use low-water plants, including olive trees and other stalwarts of Mediterranean climates, in Olivier Filippi's Planting Design for Dry Gardens.
Create a drought-tolerant garden using California-native plants with The Drought-defying California Garden by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren.
Image credit: Courtesy of Monrovia