Fabulous Friday: Ivy Shining in the Waning Sun

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Evergreen treasurers, often overlooked during the warmer months, grow in importance as summer’s foliage blows away on autumn breezes.

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We notice that nearby forests are filled with a small army of shining holly trees, covered in bright red berries.  Clumps of mistletoe hover in the bare branches of nearby trees.

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And, we are grateful for the beautiful green and cream leaves of our stalwart ivies growing in pots and garden beds.

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A grapevine fills this pot all summer, but ivy anchors it on our deck during the winter months.   Newly planted Violas will bloom sometime in the next few weeks.

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There are many varieties of ivy available.  Find leaves large and small, wide or very narrow, green, yellow,  cream and variegated.

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The smallest leafed ivy I’ve ever found, this lovely little cultivar was sold for terrariums and fairy gardens. It is growing indoors this winter with a little Begonia.

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Now, native plant purists positively scowl at any kind word uttered about ivy.  It is not native by any stretch of the imagination, though it has naturalized throughout much of the United States.  Worse, ivy can escape cultivation and grow invasive.  This is a problem when ivy completely enshrouds a tree.

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Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

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This vigorous vine can shade out the tree, eventually killing it, and break it apart with the strength and weight of its growth.

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Ivy was already growing on this mature beech tree when we came to the garden. The vine grows root-like anchors, but doesn’t suck sap from the tree. Ivy keeps its roots firmly in the ground and makes its own food from photosynthesis. These aerial roots may absorb dew and rainwater, but they don’t take anything from the tree.

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The ivy you or I plant this fall likely wouldn’t kill a tree in our own lifetimes.  This takes decades.  However, our ivy may escape into the wild when we are no longer tending it for whatever reason, or, the ivy may eventually form berries, and those ivy seeds may germinate elsewhere.

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Ivy makes a popular low maintenance ground cover. Keep it trimmed back, and away from your tree trunks.

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You can puzzle out the relative morality of ivy on your own terms and in your own garden.  But I will tell you that I admire it for its tenacity and toughness.

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Ivy offers some benefits for wildlife.  It shelters many sorts of insects, and so helps attract birds to the garden.  It can produce berries, once the vine is mature.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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It tolerates dry soil, sun, shade, heat and cold.  It can be cut back hard and still re-grow into a lush plant in a season.

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Newly planted Hellebore and ivy will soon fill this pot with evergreen beauty. The Hellebore will begin blooming early in the new year.

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It will fill a hanging basket beautifully, and remain lovely all winter long through the worst weather we might face here in Zone 7.

Ivy is very useful as the ‘spiller’ in potted arrangements.  I especially enjoy using it in pots where the main plants are perennials, and the pot won’t be re-worked year to year.  After several years, the ivy can take the pot without worthy competition, however.

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New Year’s Day 2017, and this basket of ivy looks fabulous.

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Let it trail, or train it on a trellis or other wire form.  Ivy can be groomed into many interesting shapes, grown on wire mesh orbs as a ‘kissing ball,’ or even grown on a  privacy screen or a fence.

If you place a rooted cutting in a vial of water or plant its roots into damp moss and a little peat, you can even grow it on a living wreath enjoyed on a shaded porch.  Just keep the wreath hydrated and out of direct sun.

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Violas and ivy make a beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate.

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Just remember the Ivy rule:  The first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third, it leaps!  This is a lovely vine that takes some time to work its magic.

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In the best of possible worlds, deer generally leave ivy alone.  But we don’t live in that world, and find our ivy grazed from time to time.  Generally, it isn’t even noticeable. 

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But deer did seriously dine on a beautiful new ivy in a pot this fall.  Like with most new plants, spray it or otherwise protect it if deer frequent your garden.

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We are admiring our ivy on this Fabulous Friday.  If your green thumb is itching to grow something easy and rewarding during the cool months ahead, you might search out a beautiful ivy for your winter pots or baskets.

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Now that our stump is losing its bark, I’ve planted ivy in the pot.   Beautiful ivy will soon cover it all in a curtain of green.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious…

Let’s infect one another!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

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Winter Planting

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Winter weather is forecast to hit us hard this weekend.  Snow will begin to accumulate here on Friday evening and we expect snow most of the day on Saturday.

If the forecast holds, we’ll have a low of 12F on Sunday night.  Now that is very unusual for us here in coastal Virginia.   We aren’t generally prepared for such cold, and many of our garden plants don’t respond well to cold.

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Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant thorughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.

Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant throughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.  TheViolas will fade in early summer’s heat, but eventually, the ivy will fill the basket and persist indefinitely. 

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Because our winters tend towards mild temperatures, many of us keep on gardening between November and March.  Although we get an occasional blast of  freezing rain or snow, and often have night time temps down into the 20s; we also enjoy long stretches of days in the 40s and 50s.

Occasionally we enjoy days, like today, with temperatures into the 60s.   We have lots of song birds and squirrels playing around the garden, owls hooting from the ravines, hawks hunting from the tallest oaks, and even a moth clinging to the windows now and again.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weatehr in our garden.

Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.

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And I’m just in from transplanting a few of the first seedlings appearing from the bright red Arum italicum berries I planted into a protected spot last August.  Tiny curled leaves have appeared, poking above the soil, since Christmas.  And I moved a couple of them to a pot on our porch to keep a closer watch over them.

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As Arum itallicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Calladiums will fill its place for the summer.

As Arum italicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring.

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Arum italicum appears in autumn and grows beautifully here all through the winter.  Its leaves produce their own heat, melting ice and snow from around themselves, emerging brilliantly green and unharmed from a snowfall.

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The leaves remain pristine and provide a lovely ground cover under shrubs and around spring bulbs through early summer.  They bloom and fruit, and finally begin to fade away at the height of summer when one barely notices.  They remain dormant until the show begins again the following autumn.

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I can’t imagine why these beautiful and useful plants aren’t already wildly popular in our region.  They fill an important niche in the garden year, are too poisonous to interest deer, spread easily, prove hardy and easy to grow, and provide three seasons of interest.  What’s not to like?

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Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

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But I’ve never found them at a garden center potted and growing.  I’ve only seen them offered in catalogs as dry tubers, and have gotten ours from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.

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Brent and Becky's display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camelia. The Heath's call Arum and 'shoes and socks' plant because it works so well around shrubs.

Brent and Becky Heath’s display garden features many fall and winter blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heaths call Arum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well around shrubs.  After a few years, it spreads and forms a beautiful ground cover.

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Another useful, but often maligned, evergreen for winter gardening is ivy.  Like Arum italicum, ivy owns a spot on the ‘invasive plant’ list in our state.   But I’ve always appreciated the elegance ivy will lend to a pot or basket.  Although it can eventually swallow a tree, if left undisturbed, its growth is slow enough that an attentive gardener can manage it.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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Ivy, Hedera species,  can tolerate very cold temperatures and emerge from snow and ice unharmed in most cases.  There are many beautiful cultivars with variegated and beautifully shaped leaves from which to choose.  Shade tolerant, it can also manage in sun, and eventually produces both flowers and small berries for wildlife.

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Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

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I like ivy as a ground cover, too, and it is used extensively at Colonial Williamsburg in the gardens around historic homes.    It will eventually crowd out other plants, if left unchecked, much like Vinca minor.  It roots from each leaf node and produces a prodigious root system over time.

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Beech Tree With Ivy, August

Beech Tree With Ivy, August

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Hellebores have become a  third indispensable plant in our winter garden.  Also evergreen, like ivy, they maintain a presence throughout the entire year.  But they grow best during the cool months, awakening again in late autumn with fresh new leaves.

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Hellebore

Hellebore

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As the older leaves begin to look shabby, it is good to cut these away to make room for their emerging flowers.  Although the root system continues growing larger each year, the plants themselves may be renewed with annual cutting back of their old leaves in early winter.

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February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn 'Brilliance' fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

In February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern and strawberry begonia, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

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Hellebores, also poisonous, will not be affected by grazing deer or rabbits.  Early pollinators appreciate their winter flowers, as do we.  I grow these in pots and in beds, pairing them with spring bulbs, Violas, ferns, Heuchera, moss and ivy.

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By choosing plants wisely, we have found ways to garden year round here in Williamsburg, enjoying beautiful foliage and  flowers each and every day of the year.  Even as we get an occasional snow or Arctic blast, these hardy plants bounce back quickly and keep giving throughout the season.

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New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. These shrubs bloom between December and February, providing nectar for pollinators during winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Evergreen Ivy

Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

Ivy, Hedera, is another evergreen plant with long associations to Christmas and Winter Solstice celebrations.  There are many varieties of ivy native to Europe and North Africa, and eastwards across Asia to China and Japan.  Because it lives on and on, and is such a tough and sturdy plant; it has been associated with the gods Osiris in Egypt, and with Dionysus in Greece.  Many legends and magical beliefs have grown up around ivy.

Ivy growing up the trunk of a mature Beech tree in our garden.

Ivy growing up the trunk of a mature Beech tree in our garden.

Ivy has been used as Solstice, Saturnalia, and Christmas decorations in homes for millennia.  Wreathes made of ivy were worn on the head during ancient times.  Ivy is associated with close friendships, and was used along with mistletoe and other evergreen plants in “kissing balls.”  Ivy was also used, along with other evergreens, for decorations at funerals.

Ivy was even believed to be an antidote to too much wine!  It has been wrapped into wreathes and grown in pots and gardens for its delicate beauty, especially during the winter.  Mature ivy grown in sufficient sun blooms in late autumn.  The berries ripen in early spring.  This makes it an important food source for wild life, as well as a sturdy shelter for insects and small birds.

Ivy is a very refined, woody, evergreen ornamental vine.  Purchased in garden centers, it is available in a variety of leaf shapes and colors.  Keep in mind, “the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, then the third year, it leaps!”  If you want to use it as a ground cover, or to grow over a wall or other structure, patience is required.  If you need to keep it in bounds, prune ruthlessly.  Each of the pieces you prune off has the potential to root and grow into a new plant.  All of the leaf nodes below the pruning cut will activate and send out new shoots on the parent plant.

Birds spread ivy seeds, and so it can spring up far away from anyone’s garden. 

Ivy grows here as groundcover under the holly, and begins to climb the fence at Colonial Williamsburg.

Ivy grows here as ground cover under the holly, and begins to climb the fence at Colonial Williamsburg.

Because it roots easily at any leaf node, it is easily spread around.  Once rooted in the ground, it can cover large areas of ground and cover large trees.  Ivy is a useful ground cover as it chokes out weeds and halts erosion.  It is beautiful grown on banks and in small yards impractical to mow.  It can eventually break down masonry when allowed to grow on walls, and can weaken an otherwise healthy tree after many years of unchecked growth.

Since ivy species aren’t native to any part of the United States, it can become an invasive plant.  Especially in woodlands, where it isn’t pruned or controlled, it can eventually choke out other plants.  Many native plant purists will deliver a sermonette, given an opening, on the evils of ivy.  Many discourage garden centers from carrying it, and consumers from buying and planting it.

Ivy as ground cover around this pot.

Ivy as ground cover around this pot.

I happen to like ivy and often add it to plantings to drape and soften the edges of a container.  It is naturalized in this area and makes an attractive ground cover.  It grows gracefully up the trunks of trees, and produces berries enjoyed by birds.  It is good cover for small creatures, and helps hold moisture.  Ivy prefers to grow in the shade, but can take sun.  The variegated and small leaved varieties are especially beautiful in ornamental plantings.

Ivy is an excellent choice to grow indoors in pots in the winter since it thrives in shade.  Likewise, it is an excellent choice in outdoor potted arrangements since it stands up to winter cold and keeps its color and shape.  Ivy is easily trained onto supports to grow as topiary.  It can be trained around a wire or orb made of wire to grow in the shape of a wreath, a globe, a heart, or most any other shape.  It also will cover a chicken wire form, filled with damp sphagnum moss, to form a solid topiary, like a little tree.  Simply tuck the ends into the form as the vines grow, and trim as necessary.

Ivy is an excellent ground cover on a hill, or wherever it is difficult to mow.

Ivy is an excellent ground cover on a hill, or wherever it is difficult to mow.

Ivy makes a beautiful living wreath.  Buy ivy in small pots, or use ivy cuttings which already have roots attached.  The wire wreath, filled with sphagnum, must be kept moist to support the ivy.  Tuck the rooted cuttings into the middle of the sphagnum moss, with some potting soil, and wrap the ivy around the wreath form.  Using two or three different varieties of ivy can give a striped effect.

A well known English Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy, relates these plants to the birth of Jesus.  It is patterned after much older European songs about these two plants.  In ancient lore, holly was considered a masculine plant, and ivy the feminine.  These songs were often about the rivalry, relationships, and relative strength between men and women.  Here is one of the many old songs about ivy.  This one dates to the 15th Century, if not before.

The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly

Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

1. Holly standeth in the hall fair to behold,
Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold.
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

2. Holly and his merry men, they dancen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidens, they weepen and they wring.
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

3. Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold,
So may they all have, that with Ivy hold.
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

4. Holly hath berries, as red as any rose,
The foresters, the hunters, keep them from the does.
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

5. Ivy hath berries as black as any sloe,
There come the owl and eat them as she go.
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

6. Holly hath birds a full fair flock,
The nightingale, the poppinjay, the gentle laverock.
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

7. Good Ivy, [good Ivy,] what birds hast thou,
None but the owlet that cries How! How!
Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

From, William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity.

More information at The Hymns and Carols of Christmas  

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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