Name: Ivy

Ivy thrives in wooded areas and in hedgerows, both on trees and on the soil surface. It had a particularly good summer this year, alongside its fellow opportunist – brambles. It is a testament to the general mildness of the climate that it occurs in such luxuriant festoons.

Although its young growths can be killed by late frosts, it is quite hardy. It grows exceptionally well here in Ireland because of mild spells of weather, especially periods of sunshine and showers.

Botanical name

Hedera helix is the botanical name for common ivy. The word Hedera is derived from the ancient Greek name. The word helix means a twisting growth or a spiralling growth.

Family: ivy

The ivy family, or Araliaceae, is of similar appearance with pointed leaves or divided leaves. Fatsia is commonly grown as a garden plant or fatshedera as an indoor plant. Aralia, or Angelica tree, makes a fine decorative tree for small gardens, as does Tetrapanax in a mild area. Ivy is related to ginseng, or Panax.

Garden value

Some people detest ivy with a passion, others find it very decorative and pleasantly green in winter, and it is valued for its support of wildlife. Unusually among plants, it flowers in late summer, and well into late autumn, and the berries ripen in late winter and spring. The flowers provide nectar for a wide range of insects including honeybees, and the berries are a valuable food for birds in spring.

If you do not like ivy on trees, it is an easy matter to simply pull it away or cut the ivy shoots as they climb the tree, even when the stems have become thick.

It can be quite decorative to have ivy on some trees and not on others. If it is taken off all the trees in a garden or small woodland, the trees can look strangely bare in winter, but it would spoil the look of the white stem of a silver birch, for instance. Ivy does not harm trees, or ‘strangle’ them, as it simply uses the tree to climb upwards to the sunshine.

Ivy thrives in wooded areas. \ Gerry Daly

Growing ivy

Ivy growing at ground level stays juvenile, that is, it produces no flowers. Flowers are produced only when the ivy plant has grown up a tree or wall and its stems become branch-like and bushy. This bush ivy can be taken as cuttings and an ‘ivy bush’ can be grown in the garden as a rounded evergreen shrub. These bushes were quite popular in the nineteenth century and still exist in some gardens.

The old variety ‘Angularis Aurea’ with occasional golden splashes is often seen on older houses. ‘Goldheart’ has small gold-marked leaves and it is not too vigorous. ‘Glacier’ also has small leaves and creamy-white markings. ‘Buttercup’ is almost completely yellow at the tips and it tends to burn out in bright sunshine.

The bird-foot ivy, ‘Pedata’, has long bird-foot lobes. ‘Sulphur Heart’ with large yellow-splashed leaves is a form of Persian ivy. Ivy can be very attractive when grown with other climbers and wall plants. CL

Planting fruit trees and bushes

There has been increasing interest in fruit-growing in recent years, due to healthy eating campaigns and the quality of fruit that can be produced in a garden. A full range of fruits can be grown: apples, pears, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tayberry, gooseberries and blackcurrants.

Blackcurrants need to be planted in early winter. \Gerry Daly

All the garden fruits need the same growing conditions of site and soil for success. The site must be open to avoid disease which follows wet conditions. Equally, it must be well-drained, neither heavy and wet in winter, or dry and hungry in summer. While soil can be improved by feeding in spring, it is best that the soil is naturally fertile.

Although fruit trees and bushes tend to suffer from diseases in an enclosed setting, a very exposed garden is unlikely to be very successful because of strong winds. Do not plant at the bottom of the slope because this leads to severe frost damage to fruit. The ideal time for planting is early winter when the roots of young plants can be established and active from the very start of the new growing season.

It is best to start with one or two plants, and to build up your collection in the coming years.

Flowers and containers

Wallflowers and tulips can be planted in the open ground as summer bedding is now finished. Perennial flowers can be lifted and divided, though not when the soil is sticky. New perennials can be planted now and that way you can fill any gaps in the garden .

Trees, shrubs and roses

Hedges and areas of garden woodland are much less expensive to establish using small, bare-root plants. The planting of deciduous trees and shrubs can continue in good conditions but evergreens, except those in pots, should be left until spring. Plant roses of all kinds.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Tidy the vegetable garden and begin winter digging, burying live weeds and debris, and leaving the soil surface rough. Weedy areas can also be covered with old carpet. Fruit trees and bushes can be pruned, except for plum and cherry trees which are pruned in summer.


Leaves should be removed by raking them off, or can be lifted with the lawn mower if they are reasonably dry. If they are wet and sticky, raking is likely to be necessary. Lawn mosskiller, such as Sulphate of Iron, should be applied if there is a lot of moss.

Greenhouse and house plants

Reduce watering to a minimum and stop all feeding except for the winter flowering plants. Ventilate a little if possible and clear out all old dead plants. Move house plants to the best bright spots. Check they are not standing in a saucer of water as this kills the roots.

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