2017-04-20 / From The Garden

The Truth About Ivy

By Cynthia Gibson


Fenway Park ivy is named after the home of the Boston Red Sox, which is close to where it was discovered. It features yellow leaves that turn green, and then a combination of red, orange and yellow in the fall. This vigorous perennial vine is commonly found on the walls of brick buildings throughout New England. The “Ivy League” refers to the Boston ivy vines found on buildings at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth colleges. Fenway Park ivy is named after the home of the Boston Red Sox, which is close to where it was discovered. It features yellow leaves that turn green, and then a combination of red, orange and yellow in the fall. This vigorous perennial vine is commonly found on the walls of brick buildings throughout New England. The “Ivy League” refers to the Boston ivy vines found on buildings at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth colleges. For many people, there is no in-between with ivy. They either hate it or love it. The vine with little tendrils that climbs, creeps and crawls is full of folklore, romance and good uses.

Ivy is one of the easiest ground covers to grow, and also one of the most invasive. Therefore, it is either your friend or your enemy. If you have an unsightly wooden fence, plant ivy to cover it. The vine is so strong it will even help to hold up the fence. It is also a great natural camouflage, because it will twine around dead trees. But it can also strangle young trees or any other plant that gets in its path.

But here’s the good news: with just six small plants, you can completely transform the look of a simple garden shed. In five years, the ivy will be climbing over the shed’s roof.

If you have a concrete, brick or stone wall that is free of cracks or holes, ivy will make it look like you’re living in a cottage in the English countryside. But if the wall has a tiny crack, the ivy’s roots will creep into it and cause damage. Be forewarned, the roots are difficult to pull off and do not die easily. This is the “hate it” part of ivy.

But back to why we love it. It is a romantic plant that is used in wedding bouquets to represent fidelity. Bacchus, the God of wine, fertility and everything delicious, wore a ring of ivy leaves around his head with grapes hanging from the vines. Wreaths of laurel donned the heads of champions and poets, but so did ivy.

Ivy can also become a type of topiary trained on wire that is nailed into pristine brick walls. Mind you, this requires a great deal of time and patience.

It can be planted in full sun, part sun or even part shade. It won’t lose leaves during the winter, the color is a reminder of its year-round growth, and it is deer resistant.

Ivy comes in many interesting colors. Veithchii has small purplish leaves with deep serrations, Purpurea has reddish-purple leaves that turn bright red in fall, Glacier is green and white and Golden Heart flashes bright yellow and green.

It also comes in a curly variety, aptly named Curly Locks. Among the 400 different varieties, some of the most classic and beautiful to grow are Hirts’ English Ivy, Goldfinch and Lady Frances.

So, now you know the truth about ivy.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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