Here in South Australia olives are a huge problem. They thrive in our Mediterranean climate, and other imported pests like deer and foxes eat the fruit and spread the seeds far into the bush. It’s hard to go anywhere for a hike without passing an olive thicket. Fortunately we bonsai hobbyists are an optimistic lot and we’ve turned this feral pest into an advantage: each year we get permission to head off into a national park and dig out olive stumps.
About a dozen members turned up at the designated meeting spot on Saturday, including local legend and olive-whisperer Aussie Bonsai Bloke and his keen assistant Seth. There was a pretty even split between seasoned pros and first time diggers; digs are a great opportunity for those new to the hobby to get their hands on some good material to play with.
The early morning rain cleared and we had perfect dig conditions: partly cloudy and nice soft ground to dig through. We convoyed from our meeting place to the dig site – a hillside covered in thousands of feral olive trees, in sizes ranging from little clumps with tiny leaves that could be dug out in a couple of minutes, all the way to giant decades-old monsters starting to develop some nice rough, cracked bark.
Some of the olives at this site have interesting movement, with low branches forming sweeping curves and odd angles. This, along with some still-standing blackened acacia skeletons, makes us think that the area was affected by a bushfire some time ago that lead to some trees with interesting character. Perfect for bonsai!
Several hours of enthusiastic digging resulted in some great future bonsai specimens. Olives are insanely tough, so we didn’t need to be careful digging them out. Olives have a lignotuber, a swelling at the base that acts as an energy store that the tree can call upon to recover from a disaster like a bushfire or a crazy saw-wielding bonsai enthusiast. Many species of eucalypts use this same strategy to regrow after a bushfire (another reason why the olive is able to grow so prolifically here).
Olive digs are generally held annually in August, with additional digs targeting other species such as pines popping up occasionally. If you’re not already a club member make sure you join up to get all the details for the next one. They’re good fun and can be strangely addictive.