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Misunderstood Ivy

Published on December 7th 2018

by pippa.churcher. All rights reserved

Evergreens are for life, not just for Christmas and the ivy has become on of our most versatile natives, used as a garden climber, wall covering, bedding plant and even a houseplant.

Common Ivy

Hedera helix

A close up of a green Hedera helix 'Gold' plant

Ivy 'Gold'

Hedera helix 'Gold'

Ivy 'Buttercup'

Hedera helix 'Buttercup'

Wildlife's Home and Hearth

Ivy is a beautiful plant, though one of my early memories is being told it ‘strangled’ trees.
This is a common misconception as ivy is a great giver and protector of life through the autumn and winter months, acting as a late nectar source for bees, hoverflies and wasps as well as producing berries which help our long-suffering songbirds through the cold months.
The dense evergreen leaves also offer hibernation and nesting shelter for insects, birds and small mammals, not to mention the beautiful holly blue butterfly, whose caterpillar feeds on both holly and ivy foliage (it's not just a Christmas carol that links the two plants!)


In gardening, we mainly encounter variegated strains with icy white-edged or golden-yellow painted leaves, though there are interesting green varieties, ‘Parsley Crested’ for instance, and ‘Oro di Bogliasco’ for red stems with gold-splashed leaves.
Persian Ivy (H.colchica) has much larger leaves and is an even more vigorous climber and Canary Island Ivy (H.canariensis) is a bit on the tender side, but the variegated variety is a beautiful addition to sheltered gardens.
Poison ivy, ground ivy, Swedish ivy, Devil’s ivy and Boston ivy are not true ivies, though the latter is another effective wall-covering.

Where to grow

As for growing conditions, ivy will conquer pretty much anywhere unless it’s completely waterlogged, though variegated plants require a little more attention and good light levels to prevent reversion to green leaves.
Cut any of these green stems out to prevent them overtaking the variegation and be aware the sap may act as an irritant to some people.

Do you grow ivy? Do you have any favourite varieties?

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