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For 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.
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