It gets lauded as much as it's vilified. Does it kill trees, will it destroy brickwork? Current advice seems to be that, with trees, it can fill the canopy so full that the tree becomes top-heavy and vulnerable to strong winds, while it only penetrates holes in walls that are already there, rather than causing them with its aerial roots.
This is a Good Thing, as we have rather a lot of ivy on the wall in the front garden. For all that it creates work (cutting back, though you wouldn't know it from looking at the picture below), I rather like it. As front gardens along the road increasingly become hard standing, our wall is a strong interjection of green. What the photo also shows, though, is that the height of the ivy above the wall equals the height of the wall below. This, I fear, is Not a Good Thing.
I can't help thinking that the vilification of ivy has something to do with older times, when it gathered associations of death, decay, cold and loneliness. The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy describes it as cold and that only the owl (a bird associated with death) will eat her berries. Thomas Hardy's The Ivy-Wife has it killing the thing she loves. And in The Ivy Green (of which this is the first verse) Dickens has it feasting and growing fat on the decay of past glories:
Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o'er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim:
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
All seems a bit harsh, though the amount you see in churchyards surely helps to cement the associations.
Mine, however, is positively bursting with life, being covered with unripe fruit. According to the RSPB, weight for weight, it contains as many calories as Mars Bars, so I guess the blackbirds and thrushes that tend to eat them only later in winter are saving them against sharp weather.
The heads are also rather stunningly architectural, which I reckon accounts in part for the joy of a different carol, Ivy, Chief of Trees, It is (the Latin means "I came crowned"):
The most worthy is she in town;
He who says other, says amiss;
Worthy is she to bear the crown;
Ivy is soft, and meek of speech,
Against all woe she bringeth bliss;
Happy is he that may her reach:
There's more, if you're interested.
I'm fairly sure our neighbours think we're potty (and if you're American, I think I can see you wincing at what is probably a noxious weed in your neck of the woods), but ivy is a store house for insects. It was crystal clear in the warm sunshine recently that the flowers are a magnet for them. Wasps, hornets, hoverflies, bumblebees, red admirals, small tortoiseshells and peacock butterflies, and other late-flying insects, are all listed as drinking the nectar. Earlier in the year, the holly blue butterfly might feed on the flower buds.
So, for the time being it's staying. If we get heavy snow I'll dash out to relieve the wall of the extra weight, but I'll save its haircut for next year.
This is part of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Why not pop over and see what else is blooming around the world?