Olive trees, native to the Mediterranean region, are among nature's oldest trees, and they look it. Gnarled, brawny trunks, a crown full of silvery leaves, and clusters of tiny green fruit give olives an interesting Old World look.

Designers have lately been warming to the tree, its wood and olive hues.

Olive trees

Outdoors, olives are hardy through zones 8-11, and zone 7 if you can protect them from wind. Southern Illinois is in zones 6b to 7a, so that means you'll need to bring them in for the winter. In ideal conditions, they'll grow more than 30 feet tall. Olives are fast growers and prolific fruit-bearers outdoors, if given favorable conditions. Don't over-water, prune the inside branches carefully so the whole tree gets lots of light, and increase the pot size after the first year. Dwarf varieties are easy to grow in a pot or basket, if given decent light and ample sunshine.

As an indoor tree, olives are less in-your-face than decor's current darling, the fiddlehead fern. That makes them easy to place even in a small room.

Pottery Barn is offering dried lavender and fresh olive branches in a relaxed and aromatic wreath. The retailer also has San Francisco photographer Lupen Grainne's soft-focused close-up of an olive branch as wall art — a spare, intimate portrait to complement any decor style.

Olive wood

The wood's distinctive characteristics — its smooth density and interesting grain pattern — have made olive furniture and accessories popular.

"There's a great sculptural quality to olive wood — a simple bowl becomes an elegant art piece," said New York City interior designer and artist Mike Harrison.

Homegoods is offering a sphere crafted from olive wood, as well as a curvy side table and various bowls.

Olive wood serveware can be especially nice; on a buffet, a platter laden with charcuterie, cheese and fruit is gastronomic art. A beautifully turned wooden spoon, with the grain curving about the form, is a sensuous tool. Williams-Sonoma has a collection of utensils and cutting boards, as well as pinch bowls and lidded salt keeper.

The colors

Olive's wide array of hues allows for versatility in decorating.

Its place in mid-century modern's color covenant has made it a popular paint hue the past few seasons. It pairs well with other toothsome colors like chocolate, orange, raspberry, cream and mustard.

"Olive tones are timeless, and green is an important color in 2017," said Sue Wadden, color marketing director for Sherwin-Williams. The company's Restless Olive packs all the punch of a zesty martini. 

Benjamin Moore's Tate Olive, from its Historic palette, has a refined intensity. Spanish Olive dials the hue back to a more neutral position. 

Olive pairs successfully with many other woods, and with mid- and light-toned wood stains, where its organic appeal gives the color greater depth, said Stephanie Pierce of Masterbrand Cabinets in Jasper, Indiana.

Consider using the color in family rooms, bedrooms and kitchens for a warm and welcoming vibe.

"I like seeing olive green tones used with dusty pinks and navy blue," said Wadden. "Because olive is such a quintessential food color, people enjoy a positive association with this color, especially in the kitchen. Olive tones are great on cabinets and furniture. My own bedroom is a deep olive green, so I really do love this color."

At Article, a stunning chesterfield sofa is upholstered in olive green velvet. 

Other touches of olive

At Pottery Barn, vintage Turkish olive-gathering buckets, made of galvanized metal with symmetrical air vents, have a nice cottage-y look and can hold herb plants or fragrant milled soaps.

And then there's olive oil. There are hundreds of ways to enjoy its flavor, but there are other uses for it, too.

The folks at www.marthastewart.com recommend olive oil as a natural furniture polish, and a combo of oil and vinegar as a cleaner. A little oil on a clean rag will restore shine and protect from tarnish your stainless steel and brass items. 

-- Associated Press

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