Sunday, 4 December 2011


Fantastic flowers and fabulous foliage are so thick on the ground in the summer that individuals can sometimes become lost in the glorious whole. But, get to this time of year and the cold dark days mean most have packed in, dropped their leaves and gone dormant until the better days of spring arrive. We are left then to take a second look at some of the plants with real staying power. Those that may not shine out in summer, but without which, our winter gardens would be a much barer and more barren place.

Top of my list for reassessment is the much maligned ivy. Seldom given a second glance in summer or even seen as a damaging weed or tree toppling parasite, even the commonest native form retains its beauty through the worst of the season’s weather. Its shiny green leaves, often attractively marbled along the veins, look at their best under a sprinkling of snow, or rimed with an icing sugar edging of frost.

Their flowers too, while perhaps not spectacular are produced in large quantities on the maturer growth. Their ball like heads are made up of many individual open florets which ooze with sweet nectar and are an immensely important food source when little else is available. From early autumn right through till Christmas, though seemingly out of step with the rest of nature, they prove an irresistible last chance hotel for bees, hoverflies and other insects. The resulting seeds ripen to a deep, dark almost black colour in late winter, giving a fresh feast for birds long after autumn’s supplies have been taken and some time before spring’s new opportunities begin.

Broad leaved evergreens as tough and hardy as this are rare, and rarer still those which will grow and thrive in the most difficult conditions. Ivy may go unnoticed for much of the year, but we should appreciate its willingness to occupy ground and situations which would kill lesser plants. It happily gives weed smothering ground cover even in the deepest and driest shade. It also shows its versatility in its ability to clothe dark north facing walls, as an efficient no fuss self clinging climber. Add to that the shelter, nesting and food opportunities it provides for insects, birds and wildlife in general, and you can see why ivy should play a part in every garden.


  1. I'm an ivy fan too. It makes great ground cover and looks good in the house over the Festive Season.
    Good to see you blogging again, Chris.

  2. Thanks Janet. The only downside is the 'down' or dust from the back of its leaves- it really gets up my nose and starts me sneezing!


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