by Kate Bradbury

For two years, I have been trying to grow climbing plants to cover the walls of my garden...

Ivy leaf and flowerFor two years, I have been trying to grow climbing plants to cover the walls of my garden. I've planted honeysuckle, passion flower, jasmine, numerous clematis and a revolting rose I found in the street. Some died, others developed mildew, while the rest have clambered over the walls, in search of sun. (The rose, sadly, has done very well.) I need to face facts: my garden is just too shady for most climbers.

Whenever I walk around my garden and lament the mildew-infested clematis, limp passion flower and patches of bare wall, I think about the ivy growing on the canal down the road. It's just coming into flower now, and is buzzing with the last of this year's hoverflies, bees and butterflies. Ivy would be a great choice for my garden - it's fast growing and shade tolerant, and provides food, nesting and hibernation opportunities for all sorts of creatures. To me, ivy is a perfect plant, but when I mention wanting to grow it to my partner, parents and friends, I'm met with stern disapproval.

Ivy is blamed for crumbling walls, broken fences and unpaid insurance claims. My dad grows it up a column that supports the roof of his porch, but he won't let it touch his house. Friends removed it from their garden because it had 'punched holes through their fence', while the local council kills established plants at their base, leaving dead stems and leaves on buildings.

But a study, commissioned by English Heritage, has proved that ivy can actually protect walls. Professor Heather Viles, who conducted the research, told me that ivy acts "as a thermal blanket, probably regulating moisture conditions and also absorbing pollutants". She went on to explain that it will exploit pre-existing holes or cracks in walls, so if the wall is in bad condition beforehand, ivy will make it worse. My garden walls are ugly, but in tip top condition. They are therefore perfect for growing ivy on.

And it's just as well, for, as I walked round my garden this morning, lamenting the mildew-infested clematis, limp passion flower and patches of bare wall, I noticed two seedlings growing at the back of the north-facing border: ivy. The decision to introduce it to my garden has been taken out of my hands - this shade-loving, fast growing, wildlife-friendly climber has found it all by itself.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Ivy
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 16/09/2011 at 13:50

Kate - like you I welcomed ivy over my garden fence for exactly the same reasons as you. I'm now having to clear 3 of my garden beds of the stuff as it has completely taken over whilst I wasn't looking. It not only climbs, but creeps, hugging the ground and getting everywhere.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/09/2011 at 14:21

I think it all depends on the ivy involved. I had one growing up the front of the house and I removed it. It was one with enormous leaves and, to me, not very attractive, but a smaller leaved version would have been okay. I planted a white solanum instead which has proved to be pathetic. Weak stems, goes all over the shop and insignificant flowers.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/09/2011 at 14:48

Hooray for ivy and you - it's so nice to see someone else sing the praises of this much-maligned plant. I hate to see the hobbled remains of cut ivy when a mature tree covered in it is a magnet for wildlife of all kinds

Gardeners' World Web User 16/09/2011 at 14:49

I find Ivy to be incredibly beautiful. If you try and imagine a world without it, it is quite hard (churchyards, crumbling low walls, covered treestumps). We have a wild area of our garden where it is relished and enjoyed - and covers an old tree which is no longer with us - but has become a kind of sculpture. By the way - I think that photo is particularly beautiful. Bring on the ivy!

Gardeners' World Web User 16/09/2011 at 18:58

Kate,try Parthenocissus quinquefolia. I have it growing on a north/west facing wall.It has to be pruned 3/4 times a year but worth it for the glorious autumn colours.

See more comments...