London (change)
Today 15°C / 12°C
Tomorrow 17°C / 13°C

Boston ivy and Virginia creeper


by James Alexander-Sinclair

My favourite plant at this time of year is a magnificent Parthenocissus that covers an old building nearby...


Autumn foliage of Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidataAutumn is upon us; leaves are tumbling gently down to provide excellent composting material (I am particularly keep on those leaves that fall into the chicken run as they are then mixed up with chicken manure and therefore provide a double whammy of goodness). My favourite plant at this time of year is a magnificent Parthenocissus that covers an old building nearby.

I like to go there every few days to watch the leaves change from deep green to pink and yellow and deep dark red. It is a truly spectacular display that seems to creep across the building over a few weeks, before the leaves fall. Now, I don't actually know for certain which variety of creeper this is as it was planted many, many years ago by a forgotten gardener, but I suspect that it is Parthenocissus tricuspidata, otherwise known as Boston Ivy. The leaves are a very distinctive three-lobed shape and are about 20cm long: we sometimes use them to cover plates (like brilliantly coloured doilies, but classier). Cheese in particular looks wonderful served on leaves.

It is a whopper of a plant reaching about 20m high (about 70 feet for those of you who think imperially) and is probably an unwise choice for a small wall.

There are others which are equally spectacular. I particularly like P. henryana, which has slightly smaller leaves, each of which has very distinct white veining. At this time of year it is redder than the lips of the vampiest vamp. It is about half the size of P. tricuspidata.

The other good one is Parthenocissus quinquefolia, which is native to North America and, as the name suggests, has five-lobed leaves, which are a bit pedestrian during the summer, but come alive in autumn. It is not one for the small garden either as it reaches 15m.

All the Parthenocissus species are self-clinging and therefore require no supporting wires. The disadvantage of this is that they can cause a bit of damage to brickwork, especially in older houses with softer mortar.

On a separate topic you might be interested to see the latest episode of Three Men Went to Mow, which is basically Joe Swift, Cleve West and I messing around with plants and stuff. There are four episodes on YouTube now and we hope to make more.



Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Boston ivy and Virginia creeper
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 29/10/2009 at 05:12

Took cuttings of Virginia Creeper earlier in the year, they survived the summer and appear quite strong, just get them through the winter and then plant out. Hoping they will grow up over some trellis and provide some shade.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2009 at 09:13

Thanks for the comments about the virginia creeper. I have planted one this year and look forward to seeing its coloirs in the years ahead. Mine is planted next to a fence, between a ceonothus which has partial dead areas. I am hoping it won't take too long to fill in the gap.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/11/2009 at 20:50

"All the Parthenocissus species are self-clinging and therefore require no supporting wires." Not quite true as P. inserta has only twinning tendrils. It is in the system as I have one over my garage which was a layer from somewhere else (oops unofficial propagation). P henryana often needs a little support until it start growing vigorously.

Gardeners' World Web User 03/03/2010 at 19:48

can i split a boston creeper rootball in half without harming the plant.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/06/2010 at 08:58

Good post and I love to follow the better side.keep sharing.

See more comments...