Boston ivy

Posted: Thursday 23 October 2014
by James Alexander-Sinclair

I have just had passed a blissful four weeks. I haven't been lying on a beach or enjoying an extended lunch. I've merely been looking out of the window a few times a day.

I have just had passed a very blissful four weeks.

No, I haven't been lying on a beach, nor have I been enjoying an extended lunch. I've merely been looking out of the window a few times a day.

We are currently living, as some of you may be aware, in a small rented cottage as we are between houses. It's fine, if a little damp, but has one massive downside: there is no garden. Which, I am sure you will appreciate, is a bit of a strange situation for a gardener such as I, used to spending weekends bottom up in a border.

However, there is on the walls of the old stable buildings that surround this cottage a magnificent Parthenocissus tricuspidata – and it is this amazing climber that has been responsible for my slightly blissed-out state. It's also known as Boston ivy and is, indeed, the ivy which gave Harvard University the nickname 'Ivy League'. It is sometimes confused with Virginia creeper, aka Parthenocissus quinquifolia, because both plants have the most amazing autumn colour. The difference is in the lobes of each leaf -–Virginia creeper has five (hence quinquifolia) and the Boston ivy has only three (hence tricuspidata).

For most of the year they are big, beefy green things that climb – they anchor themselves straight onto walls using a system of sucker-like pads. This is good as regards labour as you do not need to put up wires, but not brilliant for stone or brick as they can pull out the pointing.

In the autumn, however, all that boring greenness and sensible watchfulness over the stone fades into irrelevance, as for about four or five weeks it puts on an extraordinary display. The leaves go dark claret-y red and from there into a myriad of reds, oranges and pinks.

To see it is to adore it – and that's why I have been spending far too long this month gazing out of the window.

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