Summer has officially arrived! To welcome summer in the garden is to enter into the deep, inviting wonder of lush foliage.
Most beloved perennials and brightly colored bulbs have had their burst of bloom throughout the spring, and the baton is passed to hardy shrubs and herbs to hold up garden beauty as the year’s warmest days approach (with the help of vigorous annual flowers, of course—a story for another day!).
All the better, for the cool greens of leaves and branches impart a sense of refreshment and beckon us to come and rest in shady retreat.
My highest recommendation for such a time as this? ‘Olive Martini’™ Elaeagnus, cultivated for American markets in the Southern Living Plant Collection. I hope to uncover for you, dear gardener, the genius of this plant—its intriguing, pleasing-to-the-eye quality for your landscape as well as its connection to the Bible landscape.
Elaeagnus in the Bible Landscape
Nehemiah heralds one of the greatest embraces of garden foliage:
“Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”
Nehemiah 8:15 NASB
“Wild olive” in this Scripture, etz shemen in Hebrew, is regarded by many Biblical botanical scholars as Elaeagnus angustifolia, common name wild olive or oleaster. This species grew prevalently in the Palestine region as observed by H. B. Tristram in the 1800’s. As characteristic of the Elaeagnaceae family of large shrubs or small trees, oleaster has deep green, ovalish leaves with silvery, greyish undersides, causing visual interest as breezes lift and flicker its foliage.
Southern Living’s cultivar, Elaeagnus x ebbengii ‘Viveleg’ PP20177, is related to the likely shrub named by Nehemiah, with a playful name itself. ’Olive Martini’ ™ alludes coincidently to the olive references in the Scripture, inviting a delightful mindfulness of God’s Word.
Other occurrences of oleaster in Scripture are more elusive, usually highlighting the oil derived from its fruits, a productive oil, yet nowhere near the popularity and usefulness of true olive oil. Still, the product fostered the translation “oil tree” found in some versions of Isaiah 41:19, and oil-wood references in 1 Kings 6:23, 31-33, 1 Chronicles 27:28, and Micah 6:7.
Elaeagnus in Your Landscape
Have an area in your landscape that needs something new? I thought a row of evergreen hedges would enhance the view of an otherwise uninteresting fence in our home garden. The fence corner is a tricky microclimate, with deep morning shade, blazing afternoon sun, and soil on the dry side. ‘Olive Martini’™ seems to be prevailing in each of these challenges, peeking above border plants after this spring’s installation. Though its partial shade exposure will likely cause slow growth and limited flowering, the wondrous leaves do not disappoint! The plant tag recommends full sun, yet sources noted below concur with a partial shade planting.
New leaves emerging at branch tips have a faded, silvery green cast, similar to E. angustifolia. Slowly, variegation comes forth as leaves grow, resulting in a lush display of leaves with a bolder green center, bordered by creamy, butter yellow edges. Tiny white scales add dimension to foliage hues, much like the rich stippling in Impressionist artwork.
The result is a showy shrub tying together a complete palette of green: See our corner filled out with Kelly green acanthus leaves, jade green bearded iris leaves, warm green salad burnet herbs, soft green hyssop herbs, punctuated by silvery-jade dusty miller and variegated coleus.*
Bright green moneywort adds an exclamation point of interest to a concrete urn that connects dusty miller-colored foliage to the white-greys of the stone border.
Other Southern Living Plants filling in the leafy background are ‘Lemon Lime’ Nandina and ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia, each with a nod of yellow flourish enhancing ‘Olive Martini’s’™ yellow-edged variegation.
Convinced this the right plant just for you? Hope so! The large shrub takes pruning and shaping well, and could also be trimmed into a small tree. Remember its handsome sprigs do wonders for cut bouquets, too. Bring leaves to the table to celebrate summer is near!
He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.”
Luke 21:29-30 NIV
Find elaeagnus in God’s Word for Gardeners Bible in the Garden Tour section, “Lay of the Land” for the Mount of Olives devotions, pages a-18 & a-19.
* I have planted these too close together! They are side-by-side for a prettier picture, but will grow to 10′ wide or more, so plan accordingly in your own garden.
Many thanks to Plant Development Services, Inc. for supplying the shrubs and so much more support to GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators
Photo Credits: ©2017 Shelley S. Cramm