Monday, June 24, 2013

English Ivy

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I wonder how many times I’ve thought that in my life.  Probably far too many.  When we first moved to this quiet lakeside neighborhood (16 years ago?) the boys were just shrimps.  We wandered down the figure-eight shaped roads of our little addition and took in what our new neighbors had done with their property in the woods.  Some had immaculately kept lawns and bushes trimmed so tidy that they looked like they received weekly haircuts.  Other folks had very small footprints for their homes and let the forest be their yards.  Little trees came up here and there and branches overhung their houses. 

I liked this a lot.  Being a first time homeowner, I was not fond of the memories I had of mowing the lawn as a kid.  Sure, I like the smell of fresh cut grass as much as the next guy, but the idea of cutting all that grass didn’t appeal to me. 

One of the friendliest guys in our new area had English ivy all over the front of their home.  I liked the dark green leaves.  They were so shiny, and symmetrical.  They were tenacious too.  They were climbing right up his trees, reaching for the sunlight at the top.  Their front “yard” was almost all ivy, dark and luscious.  They had a tiny bit of grass in the back, but Ray never had to mow the front at all.  And the ivy never turned brown – it was evergreen. 

Our yard had to be bigger because of a septic system.  We needed grass.  So, over the years I have gotten to love getting out the mower, firing it up, and pushing it all around the yard.  I have a pattern for mowing that I follow – different little sections at a time, concentric shapes that grow smaller and smaller as I travel.  I have spots in the woods at which I dump the cuttings.  I like working up the sweat it takes and the grassy dust on my legs and shoes.  I like how everything looks all freshly mowed.  I know it’s corny, but it is one of those simple pleasures.  You take something shaggy and unkempt and in about 90 minutes… voila!  Neat and tidy.   (Almost) instant gratification. 

But I still envied those folks their ivy.  I found some growing out in our woods and pulled out some of those vines and cut them into little pieces.  I made little cuts around the spots where leaves joined the vines.  I planted each of these rhizomes in special places around the property, hoping to get some to make a patch of ivy here and there, thinking we could train some to climb up some of our trees.

It worked all right.  In a few years we had English ivy all over the place.  In one spot I had planted some of the vines under some large hardwood trees in front of our house.  We already had some vines five or six feet up some other trees.  “Are you sure you want to do that?” our neighbor Randy asked me one day.  “I’m not sure… [this usually prefaced something he was absolutely sure of], but that might not be so good for your trees.”

“Really?”  I was loving the look of that ivy.  I was sure he was envious of the way it sort of spoked out all over those oaks and sweetgums.

“You may want to look that up, but it might choke out those trees in the long run.” 

I did look it up.  He was right.  English ivy is a non-native species (duh!).  It does choke out the native species.   

Hedera helix grows by spreading runners which climb over and smother anything and everything in their path including buildings, shrubs, and trees.
If you’re a homeowner, you REALLY do not want this plant climbing up your walls. The rootlets will burrow into masonry, eventually weakening them to the point of collapse. On wooden siding the dense cover retains moisture, which causes fungus and decay, while the rootlets pry apart siding and eventually rip your outer walls apart.
As a ground cover, the quick growth and dense cover shade out native plants and suppress their growth. In tree canopies, the enormous weight of the Ivy will eventually topple each tree. The rootlets burrow under the bark, causing fungus and decay while creating opportunities for disease to enter.  (

So now I am stuck with having this plant all over the place!  It’s covering my woodpile, climbing my trees, all over our swing in the forest, climbing through our beds, etc.  And some of it I invited.  I spent hours cultivating those little bits, watering it, even carrying big watering cans out beyond where our hose reached.

I wish there was some moral to this story, some metaphor to make it more of a life lesson than simple idiocy.  Nope.  But now I’ll have something else to do in all of my spare time… pulling up that ivy that I so lovingly raised.

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