About Ivy – A Brilliant Cover-Up for Ugly Stuff

Ivy… it’s just there. It’s all over the place, as common as much. So much so that you almost don’t notice it. But there’s a lot to be said for ivy, latin name Hedera.

The genus contains about 15 species of evergreen climbing or ground-creeping woody plant, with the family name Araliaceae. And they’re remarkably sucessful, found in west, central and south Europe, Macaronesia, north west Africa and across central-southern Asia. You also find ivy thriving in Japan and Taiwan.

Here’s why it’s one of our top fast-growers for covering up ugly stuff in your back yard.

yellow ivy leaves

We love ivy – Here’s why

The first reason we love the humble Hedera is its sheer, remarkable variety. If I look out of my studio window into our yard I can see one variety with tiny, slim, very dark green, pointed leaves and a blowsier version with big leaves in pale glaucous green and creamy white. There’s a vivid green version with big, plain leaves. There’s a dark green ‘regular’ type of ivy with dense clusters of black bead-like berries all over it. And a gorgeous vivid yellow one with small leaves. One ivy we have out there is practically white, an incredibly pale canary yellow colour. That’s six kinds of ivy, each completely different.

It grows anywhere and everywhere

No matter how crap your soil is, ivy will take hold. Out the front of our house, in the two millimetre gap between the brick garden wall and the sidewalk, a small ivy plant has taken determined hold, making its way up the wall and transforming the ugly, bright red brick into something softer and more visually interesting. And it’s doing its thing with practically no soil at all, just a tiny amount of sandy stuff left over by ants. That’s what I can hardy.

Ivy climbs and climbs – And it’s evergreen

I always find non-evergreen climbers and ramblers faintly disappointing. When fall comes and the leaves drop, what was once a lush display turns into a dull-looking, gray mass of twigs. Yawn. Ivy, on the other hand, really does look fabulous all year roind, verdant and vivid.

Ivy doesn’t even seem to slow down in winter, remaining glossy and healthy-looking, which makes it one of the best-ever species for covering up ugly stuff, and it can happily climb as high as 30m when it has something to hang onto. Which brings us neatly to our next point.

It does NOT damage built structures

Contrary to the old wive’s tales, ivy does not damage brickeowrk or stone per se. The problems come when, say, you’ve let it grow wild up a garden wall and it sags under its own considerable weight, eventually blowing down and taking the wall with it. I’ve seen it pull down the side of a house in the same way, which had nothing to do with the plant itself and everything to do with the homeowner.

It’s your job to maintain every plant in your yard so it doesn’t cause problems. You can’t just let them do their own thing, hope for the best then moan when bad thinsg happen. If you trim your ivy back to it doesn’t become top-heavy, there’s no reason why you should have issues.

Ivy feeds and shelters a host of wildlife

Look closely and your ivy is packed full of creatures, from spiders to birds, hoverflies and caterpillars to beetles and moths. It creates a safe, warm, insulated and dry haven for a multitude of species who would otherwise struggle to find suitable space in many overly-neat and tidy yards.  As Wikipedia says:

“Ivies are of major ecological importance for their nectar and fruit production, both produced at times of the year when few other nectar or fruit sources are available. The ivy bee Colletes hederae is completely dependent on ivy flowers, timing its entire life cycle around ivy flowering. The fruit are eaten by a range of birds, including thrushes, blackcaps, and woodpigeons. The leaves are eaten by the larvae of some species of Lepidoptera such as angle shades, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, scalloped hazel, small angle shades, small dusty wave (which feeds exclusively on ivy), swallow-tailed moth and willow beauty.”

Ugly stuff you can hide with ivy

Ivies are so versatile and forgiving, you can use them to mask all sorts of ughly things in your garden. Here are just some of them:

  • Tree stumps
  • Wheelie bin bays
  • Walls and fences – including wire fencing, which it climbs and covers with ease
  • Sheds and outbuildings
  • Pergolas and gazebos
  • Piles of builders’ rubble
  • Unsightly fallen-down garden buildings

Does ivy kill trees?

Ivy loves to climb trees. It can be a problem when it gets too top-heavy and brings the tree down in a high wind. But the jury is still out as regards how much they damage trees by simply climbing up them. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

“Much discussion has involved whether or not ivy climbing trees will harm them. In Europe, the harm is generally minor although there can be competition for soil nutrients, light, and water, and senescent trees supporting heavy ivy growth can be liable to windthrow damage. Harm and problems are more significant in North America, where ivy is without the natural pests and diseases that control its vigour in its native continents; the photosynthesis or structural strength of a tree can be overwhelmed by aggressive ivy growth leading to death directly or by opportunistic disease and insect attacks caused by weakness from the duress.”

If you’re worried, simply prevent the ivy from climbing your trees. Easy!


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