Gardener's Notebook - Spending the winter with English ivy

It’s hard to believe that October is upon us! By now our garden tasks are done. The weather dictates that for us, doesn’t it! I am still optimistic that we will have more nice weather, because I love the fall! Such a beautiful time of the year! And when it comes to our gardens, it’s nice to put things away, get things in order, and prepare for the peace and quiet of winter.

One plant that we brought in and hopefully will be able to winter is a lovely English ivy. In the garden world’s constant search to give us new and exotic plants, sometimes the old favorites are overlooked, and I think ivy is one of them.  Ivy has to be one of the most natural cascading plants for any container.  To drape over the edge of an elegant container is what the ivy was born to do! In the language of flowers, ivy stands for loyalty and a strong bond of love in marriage as it meshes together. Nice!

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English ivy, hedera helix, called Europe and parts of Asia home once upon a time. While I thought that some early intrepid plant-gatherer would have put slips of ivy in his travel bag and take it to new locales, my homework tells me that ivy was spread by the birds dropping seeds! This tough plant will grow anywhere the conditions are right: it likes moist soil, indirect light, and once it is growing, the nodes of the stems will readily take root.

It is an ornamental plant, and when planted outdoors in suitable climates it is valuable for providing shelter and food for birds and wildlife. Because it is so tough, when it is planted outdoors it is used to stabilize soil and provides a fine weed barrier. In milder climes, with its dense foliage climbing an exterior wall, it can even make a home cooler on a hot summer day! Plus, it is beautiful to look at, with leaves of varying sizes, and some with variegation.

But guess what! In many places it is considered a “noxious weed” because it can be very invasive. It can choke out natural habitats and stop other plants from developing. Because the ivy can climb trees, it can strangle young trees and even break them because of the weight of its dense foliage. I read that in some areas of Australia it is even illegal to sell the ivy! And you know those pictures we see sometimes of lovely homes with a thick mat of ivy clinging to the walls? Not a good thing! The ivy can do all kinds of structural damage, as well as cause problems like mold and mildew on the walls.

When we were in England a few years ago, I remember looking at a mesh of ivy covering a beautiful old tree. It was very idyllic from a distance, but up close, the ivy clung to the tree trunk with such determination that I was unable to pry away even one tendril.  Many buildings had ivy growing up their walls, but I had no idea that it could quickly become a serious problem.

However, in our part of the world, we grow the beautiful, romantic ivy as a houseplant. I will be very happy if it manages to limp along in our house so that we can plant it in a container next spring!

Visit our website, www.yorktonhort.ca to learn about the Yorkton and District Horticultural Society’s new project with the Yorkton Public Library, the Seed Library. This is a very exciting project for us! Seeds will soon be collected and filed and next February, eager gardeners can visit the library and “take out” new seeds to try! We’ll talk about it more as the date approaches.

The October meeting of the Yorkton and District Horticultural Society is a “members only” meeting. Group members can call Liz for full details.

Stay warm, and have a great week! Happy Anniversary, sweetheart!

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