A lot has been written about Ivy or to give its latin name Hedera helix. Often in my experience opinions of this rampant climber seem to fall into two categories. On the one side it is harmless – let it be – on the other it is unsightly, invasive and there to be eradicated. Like Marmite there is a definite love/hate divide!
My own personal view swings violently at times between the two. Recent days have seen me crawling around on all fours through neglected and overgrown borders where Ivy has become the dominant plant. Shrubs and small trees have lost their graceful identity – the deciduous have become evergreen all year now, clothed as they are in the twinning Ivy stems thick with glossy palmate leaves. Trees grown for their ornamental bark show only glimpses of the beauty beneath. Some shrubs have become standards, lollipop like, top heavy all growth below strangled into submission. Underneath the dense ivy covered earth few remaining ornamental ground cover plants survive.
Hours spent digging, pulling, teasing, cutting and extricating, sometimes laying prone on the ground to reach under and into the centre of large established shrubs have taken their toll on my joints, surprisingly for a change not my hip – a result possibly borne from hours spent strengthening in the gym and pool!
My wrists especially the more dominant right are sending out twinges of pain from my thumb through to the wrist whenever I rotate my hand. With each twinge my love for this plant is being sorely tested although if I am honest the blame is not wholly down to Ivy.
Periods using frames, crutches and canes to aid my walking over the last few years have taken their toll on my right wrist, the latest after my left hip revision only a few months previous. Furthermore this autumn the twisting, pushing action needed to plant over 700 bulbs including 300 in my own garden did little to promote Diagnosed with tendonitis, I resorted to a splint for a good few weeks as a support while working, eventually it healed enough to garden without until the dreaded Ivy!
So far I have painted only the negative effects of Ivy, I must remind myself and you the reader some of its more friendly merits before I send you all rushing for the machete!
Hedera helix (Common Ivy), I much prefer the sound of old now rarely used ‘common names’ – ‘Bindwood’ and ‘Lovestone’ referencing the materials to which it would cling and grow over. Images spring to mind of flower fairies from childhood books sitting on cushioned stones or swinging gently from long, looped stems.
Importance to wildlife – my forced clearing on ground level revealed ladybirds, beetles and other hibernating and sheltering insects. The dense covering not only providing cover would have lessened the hardening effects of frost allowing birds in the depth of winter to find food in otherwise frozen ground. High up empty nests were tucked away safe within its twining arms.
Collettes hederae (the Ivy bee) depends on its flowers from September timing its very existence around the occasion. This little bee was first recorded on our shores in 2001 in Worth Matravers (Dorset).
Many winged insects including Bees, wasps, Moths, Butterflies and Hoverflies are all attracted to its plentiful food source and vital cover. In winter the berries that follow on from the flowers are a welcome food source for visiting birds.
The art of disguise – it does this so well – unsightly buildings, fences are all rendered unrecognisable quickly becoming green walls alive with life. Telegraph poles – hard lines become softened, some with imaginative pruning become topiary subjects.
Ultimately Common Ivy by its very nature will always create a divide nevertheless for me its benefits to nature alone outweigh its sometimes unsightly – but rarely fatal – stranglehold on its hosts. The now newly cleared borders are on first impressions quite devoid of its rambling presence, yet lurking unseen visible only to someone like me – commando crawling to the back and beyond – glossy leaves on now shortened stems will continue to help in natures cycle of life.
Luckily for me the Christmas holidays are almost upon us. I will be taking two weeks off from gardening hopefully giving my joints some time to recover. With the forced distance between us ‘Lovestone’ and I will once more share a mutual respect when next we meet on ground level. For now with the festive season in full swing, Christmas wreaths on doors, swags on mantles will continue to remind of its many attributes!