Sandy’s Garden ... Ivy

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Sixty years have passed since Mr and Mrs Bush, a couple with whom I was acquainted during several of the years when I was economically active, decided to christen their new-born daughter ‘Ivy’.

Ivy Bush. It’s a name which sticks in one’s memory certainly, but a name which was not, perhaps, the best possible choice for the infant. Be that as it may, one of our neighbours used to admire ivy … the plant, not the child … and grew it along the frontier between their garden and ours, supported by the boundary fence. We got along well with our then neighbours: but I was not sorry, when the house changed hands, that our new neighbours were not enthusiastic about the rampant ivy and cut it back pretty drastically. Of course, ivy has very invasive roots … one of the reasons why I was happy that my new neighbours sought to restrict its growth … and it was a relief to have fewer of these intrusive features to pull up on a regular basis on my side of the fence.

However, I must not allow my personal antipathy towards ivy to blind me to the fact that, to quote ‘The Practical Encyclopaedia of Gardening’, compiled by Sue Phillips, my edition published by Aura Books in 1997: “Ivies contribute more to gardening with their leaves than their flowers. Being evergreen, they are good at covering walls or the sides of buildings, but keep an eye on them in case their adventitious roots make a mess of the masonry.” Well, adventitious is not the adjective I would have chosen; and I justify my decision by Wikipedia’s definition of adventitious: “Adventitious is from the Latin root advenire, meaning “to come to” and in English the meanings tend to have connections to “accidental/casual occurrence”, “arising from without; supervenient, accidental, casual”. Yes, I definitely prefer ‘invasive’ to ‘adventitious’.

The author of the section devoted to ivies in the ‘practical encyclopaedia’ goes on to describe some of the uses to which the gardener might put ivies. They might be used as ground cover (which was precisely why I spent hours pulling them up when my neighbour grew them), as covering for walls and fences, in winter hanging baskets and containers and in trees where, contrary to popular belief, they are not parasitic but draw their nourishment from their roots in the ground, relying on the tree simply for support. I must admit that the author does make ivies sound like attractive additions to any garden. “The elegantly waved and beautifully colored (sic) leaves of ‘Clotted Cream’ are best displayed climbing through a tall shrub.” (So the book has American origins.) Then “’Midas Touch’ has strong green-and-gold marbling on polished leaves and unique copper-pink stems.” It sounds very attractive, as does ‘Buttercup’, which, “is prized for its radiant unvariegated color. It shines out from half-shade but will stand direct sun without scorching if not too dry.” ‘Glacier’, on the other hand, “is a true classic. Bright young growth dulls to a soft gray-green (another American spelling), excellent where a change from green and yellow is needed.”

The article is illustrated with photographs to demonstrate the many differing leaf forms and colours available; and there is no doubt that these ivies do indeed look as if they would make colourful features in any garden. One of my problems was that my neighbour’s ivy didn’t look like any of these attractive species, being a flat, dull, dark green; and my other problem was one which the author of these enthusiastic descriptions of the allures of ivies does not address, unsurprisingly. How do you really get rid of these unwanted ***** roots when they insinuate themselves stealthily into areas where carefully nourished and tended shrubs are growing? Now there’s the $64 000 question!