Friday, 21 December 2012

Variegations on ivy


It seemed a good idea to write about ivy as a plant strongly associated with the end of the year. Then it dawned on me what a task that would be. Ivy can impact so strongly on our lives, especially my own, where I have a love-hate relationship with it in my two cemetery gardens. I am, therefore, restricting myself to variegated ivy!  Many gardeners are a bit precious about variegated plants. I think they have wonderful potential to brighten a garden.


Ivy is not only a self clinging climber, it is a wildlife friendly ground cover plant which is so useful for tumbling over the side of a tub, basket or steep bank. I grow those ivies often sold as house plants, for planting outside as trailing tub plants. Most of these are varieties of Hedera helix and are completely hardy. We bed them semi-permanently in outdoor containers as a backcloth to summer and spring bedding, which we interplant into the gaps. When the ivies threaten to become too large, I prune hard. After a few further years I yank them out and start again! Propagating new ones is easy. Just grab a bundle of young shoots and, with their tips just visible, stick them in. We started to use ivy this way when one year I ‘temporarily’ refreshed a tub of autumn bedding with a few long sprigs of unrooted ivy shoots and, to our surprise, they rooted to make fine plants

Some variegated ivies such as ‘Eva’ and ‘Glacier’ are prone to revert Varieties such as ‘Goldchild’ are more stable. When buying a plant, closely inspect it to ensure it shows no sign of reverting. It is really important to prune out any reverted growth at first sight.
If variegated ivies are grown in extreme shade, the white portion of the leaf develops some chlorophyl and the wish-washy appearance is most unattractive

Ivies demonstrate the phenomenon of juvenility. Many perennial plants display distinct characteristics dependent on age. A classic example is when juvenile beech trees, unlike an adult, retain their dead brown leaves over winter. Clipping beech hedges maintains this juvenile condition indefinitely. Juvenile plants do not flower and, in the case of ivy, this condition lasts for many decades.This may be a very good thing if you want your ivy to creep and climb, but not if you want ivy flowers and fruits to feed the winter wildlife. The fascinating thing is that when ivy is propagated vegetatively by cuttings from the adult form, it retains it’s flowering capability and even can be used as a low standing shrub.

This thirty year old ivy covers a fence in my sister Marilyn’s garden. It has developed adult characteristics and also started to revert to green!


Ivies cling tightly with their adventitious roots. Plant  new ivies horizontally at the base of a wall. They will soon start to climb!
In my churchyard gardens, juvenile and adult forms of common ivy are everywhere. At this time of the year the flowers and fruits are an important food source for wildlife. The flowers produce pollen and generous nectar. The complete life cycle of the ivy bee depends on ivy.

song thrush

The berries are a food source for many birds including the thrush. The thrush is a bird that exhibits ornithochory. This is when a seed’s dormancy is broken by digestive processes in the gut and the seed is subsequently distributed over large distances. Ivy leaves are also an important food source for many insect larvae, especially caterpillars.


The dunnock does not want to nest in one of those fancy variegated things.
Beware, ivy can be a thug
If  ivy becomes too much and you pull it off, the above picture illustrates what you get! It is almost impossible to regain a pristine wall. The above photograph is just below a low window ledge and I have allowed the plant  to regrow from it's base. The photograph below is the same ivy a year after cutting back. The camera does lie however, there is only fifteen inches of new growth, but I do expect it to reach the ledge and cover up the mess this year.                      
Strong new growth from the base starts to re-cover the wall



Has Brenda’s son achieved a horticultural triumph or a problem for the future? I think it looks great.


3 comments:

  1. Very interesting seasonal post. What happened to the photographs though!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have had comments from others about this! I have removed a couple of the more suspect pictures. Thanks Harvey, I appreciate constructive criticism.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I quite like ivy, I think people are frightened of tales of it damaging brickwork and killing trees which I am not at all convinced about.

    The variations available are wonderful and are especially appreciated at this time of year

    ReplyDelete

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