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In love with: Ivy


A few years back now I was walking along Brighton beach when the sky turned black with starlings. They formed an enormous hoop of birds which tumbled over and over itself as they flew in land, with an effect that was rather like a very sparkly cloud of smoke – or strangely enough like those shoals of fish you see on telly nowadays.

The sight is awe-inspiring.

I understand that there may have been some hundreds of thousands of birds in it and if you want to see what I mean check out:

I have kicked about Brighton a fair bit over the years but this is the one and only time I have seen the phenomena, and that is not surprising because starlings like so many other birds are in decline, and we may lose the flocks altogether, which would be like losing a miracle.

In many cases it is unclear what is killing off our birds, but with starlings the answer is only too clear from pesticides called things like ‘starlicide’, which are used liberally in many countries to protect grains and seeds grown both for human consumption and for use as bird feed.

Oh the irony!

Now in 2006, the RSPB gave itself two years to phase out use of the pesticide in its own products and I cant find more up to date literature on the web so my guess is that RSPB bird seed is now pretty safe. But a much more fun option is to grow our own bird food, which brings me nicely round to ivy.

This photo is right at the top of my garden, by the ditch. It is a dank loveless place that gets the sun for twenty minutes on midsummer’s day if there’s no cloud, but the ivy takes all that in its stride and just gets on with life.

Ivies have two stages of growth, the first is when they either obediantly climb up a post/wall for you or loll around making a nuisance of themselves by trying to snuggle up to your favourite perennials. This ivy is in the second stage of its life – the productive stage when it starts to provide late flowers for late insects and even later berries for blackbirds.

The berries in this picture are not yet ripe, which is good because by the time they are the birds will be in the middle of the killing season and relish a good nibble.

Of course bird food is just a small part of the ivy’s repertoire.

When my mother first visited our garden she looked at a rather ugly fence at the back of the garden where the garden borders a small stream and said " that’s rather ugly, why don’t you knock it down?" so I did, leaving me with a much prettier cherry laurel to look at and a very very ugly concrete post.

The problem with posts is that they define the boundary of your property (although we are of course riverine which brings all types of issues about boundaries!) so you cannot really knock them down without causing problems somewhere along the line. So I wanted to disguise it – permanently.

Much better I think! The ivy in question here is Koniger and it has weird witches fingers. It only grows to 6’ so should not be too invasive.

I like the idea of ever green hedges, but I do not like hedge trimmings or indeed hedges that turn into trees whilst your back is turned and then bring the neighbours wrath down upon you. I also like a bit of speed to get things going! so for me ivy is again ideal. The photo below shows where they have swamped an extremely slender wooden trellis.

There are a number of other plants in there – including a Paul’s Scarlet rose which always seems to come out on top, a double form of Kerria Japonica which pokes through everywhere in my garden despite my pleading with it, a summer flowering Jasmine which is unstoppable and a Clematis of the Jackmanii type which gives me cause for concern in case it does not survive. Hopeless overcrowded but it does mean that there is seasonal change which is the one thing that always worries me about ever greens.

The two ivies in this photo were both introduced from other parts of the garden so I am unsure about the latin names. The silvery blue one on the right may be ‘Glacier’ . It has rather swamped the smaller golden one (Goldchild?) and has gone into the second stage of growth and for the first time this year is covered in berries. The berries are only on the other side of the trellis in the deep shade, which I can’t pretend to understand – I await your comments with interest.

Finally, if I haven’t converted you already I should just mention that my kids are christmas mad and desparate to decorate everywhere. A couple of years ago I succeeded in getting them to ditch the tinsel in favour of ivy which now wreaths its way round much of our house each year. It stays looking good and very golden for up to a month without any water or attention from me. The ivy below is my favourite for the purpose – again I dont know its proper name though it could be Eva, but is has a habit of producing lovely floppy arms just perfect for Christmas. Hoorah!

Before I leave you though I must say that I checked out the RHS’s A-Z for inspiration on names and there found what looks like an adorable ivy called buttercup. Now I know that I have promised never ever to buy another plant again cos of the new and extortionate mortgage… but just in case my family want ideas for house-warming presents does anyone have opinions on it? In particular how much sun does it really need to get to that lovely buttercup yellow?

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You made me laugh with this blog. In its place if someone can and does keep it resricted to the spot it is supposed to live in great, but I took a total aversion to ivy when I first started visiting Oxfordshire where half the trees seem to be succumbibg to their rampant visitors. Ivy is fine on a dead or dying fence but on trees they do smother them, they exclude the light and kill the tree they do not dig in to a tree and kill it. If you choose to grow it on a wall make sure the pointing is perfect first because they do and will burrow in to any crack they find. I'm sure the birds are very grateful as they are particularly fond of ivy fruits. I find myself pulling out self sown seedlings all the time from the critturs dropping the seeds off on their way home. I'm glad your children are green educated. Think of the air miles and landfill that could be saved if we all followed siut. We use holly in Scotland it is considered unlucky to bring ivy in to the house.

7 Dec, 2009


Interesting blog....

7 Dec, 2009


As Hedera helix Goldheart retains its bright yellow in shade, I can't image that Buttercup won't, but I've not grown it, so don't know for sure. Did you know that if you took a cutting from the mature parts of your ivy (the bits that are flowering) you'd have an ivy shrub and not a climber, if it grew?

7 Dec, 2009


Lovely blog! :-))

7 Dec, 2009


I enjoyed reading about your ivy, you made it sound like a plant worth having. I suppose if it`s in the right hands it can look lovely. :o)

Sandra x

7 Dec, 2009


That was a very interesting blog Ss. You certainly are an Ivy lover and I agree it does look lovely in all its varieties. It can cloth an unsightly fence, a strong one) and provides a good home for birds and insects. However it does have a mind of its own and you have to be alert to stay in charge.
That tip from Bamboo is extremely interesting and amazing. How useful that would be to have an Ivy which doesn't scramble everywhere. I wonder whether it would still root itself around the original shrub.

7 Dec, 2009


Its not that attractive as a plant, Mad - its very upright, gets about 3 feet, doesn't even sprawl, but not exactly a thing of beauty. It might get larger, but I whipped mine out within 3 years, just not attractive enough!

7 Dec, 2009


I like Ivy, as well, ss, and have several around the garden. I have common ivy clothing part of a wall, as well as one I planted further along as a background for a Hamamelis. Several more, too - useful plants in the right place!

I have battles with the creep-along-the-ground ones, though!

I also have Hedera erecta - now that's an interesting one!

7 Dec, 2009


I've just looked it up on your site spritzhenry! Wow that is interesting - no chance of creep there.

Bamboo's comment reminds me of a number of roses I've had that have taken a while to climb - but they do seem to get round to it in the end.

7 Dec, 2009


I watched the Brighton starlings many times from my window overlooking the sea. They used to head for the West Pier, where they had shelter from the worst of the weather. Strangely, after it collapsed into the sea, they still headed there for a long time.

9 Dec, 2009


It was a weird and wonderful site seeing the starlings - Ginellie - you have been really privileged to see them from your window.

10 Dec, 2009

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