Much maligned for strangling trees and pulling mortar from house walls, ivy (Hedera helix) is a plant that we should all try to love just a little bit more. Surrounded by stone walls and two copses we have our fair share of this native climber in the Genus HQ garden. An important food plant for a wide range of animals and insects, ivy offers shelter as well as a perfectly concealed location for nesting and rearing young.
One of our earliest butterflies the Holly Blue relies on ivy for shelter as well as being a food plant for its caterpillar. Woodpigeons gorge on its berries in midwinter while the Ivy bee, a new arrival to the UK and first recorded in 2001, is a late season benefactor of the pollen laden flowers. Hoverflies and wasps are also attracted at this time of year and hedgehogs will often overwinter in the dry ground at the feet of its rambling canopy.
Folklore is littered with references to ivy and in medieval times taverns had ivy covered poles known as ale-stakes outside; the bigger the stake the better the beer. However competitive landlords caused things to get a bit out of hand and in 1375 Parliament restricted their height to just 7 feet!
As gardeners we can utilise the evergreen and sometimes colourful leaves of ivy by choosing from one of the 200 cultivars listed. Gold and green, white or cream, clinging or ground hugging; there’s an ivy for everyone.