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December 6, 2005 > Lively Ivy

Lively Ivy

Some people are dotty about Ivy. I am not. I actually hit the panic button when random ivy sprigs show up in my garden, wind or bird donated. While recognizing that some ivy forms are great as parking strip plantings, fence hiders, and hill covers where not much else will grow, to me, thick ivy outdoors is home to assorted rodents. My mouser cat likes ivy. Sometimes she brings me presents. Sometimes they are half eaten. Sigh.

On the other hand, indoor ivy reminds me of a story. I have a large hanging container of English ivy dangling from a semi-lit corner of my plant-festooned living room. One morning a misguided sparrow somehow entered my abode, then flew around cheeping frantically, trying to find a way out. Opening both patio and front doors to encourage exit didn't help. Sparrow got more and more upset, then, suddenly, was silent. Those of us with mouser cats worry about birds. I meandered through the house calling out "here bird, here pretty bird." Silence.

I began looking for a demised sparrow in corners. Suddenly, I heard a "chirp." Then another. Where was it? Then I looked up. Sparrow was sitting happily on top of my draping ivy, in my plant-festooned living room, right at home, chirping away merrily. Which made me happy. Sparrow pooped a bit, possibly as a thank you for sanctuary, and eventually, with some encouragement, departed. So, actually, my experiences with ivy are not 100 percent negative. Just mostly.

Did you know that English ivy can reach 90 feet high? Giving credit where it's due, there are hundreds of different ivy types, some of which are quite lovely when kept in their place. There's dark green, light green, white, yellow-white, gray-green, jagged leaves, tooth-shaped leaves, heart-shaped leaves, etc. Smaller, tamer versions include "Gold Heart," "Needlepoint," and "Shamrock." Ivy has a lot of history behind it. To indicate a wine seller, ancient Romans would gather a batch of ivy, tie it to the top of a pole, placing this in front of the business. Later on, this became the sign of an ale-house, and was called "an Alepole." Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, wore an ivy garland as a crown. However, ivy wasn't a symbol of overly imbibing. Quite the contrary. Ivy was believed to be an antidote for drunkenness.

Pliney, a Roman naturalist, decreed ivy improved brain function. Ivy was also touted as a cure for baldness, corns, worms, bunions, plague and bad spleens. None of this jibes with modern medicine. All parts of the ivy plant are poisonous if eaten. On the positive side, English ivy has been long thought of as a symbol of "everlasting life," because it is green throughout the year. As such, it makes a nice get-well or holiday gift. Put it in a pretty pot for use indoors by a bright, not necessarily sunny, window. Ivy also does well in good artificial light. Water enough to keep the soil slightly damp. Back in the 1940s, a schoolgirl might take a leaf of garden Irish ivy, pressing it against her heart. Then she sang softly:

"Ivy, ivy, I love you,

In my bosom I put you,

The first young man who speaks to me

My future husband he will be."

Winter is here. Your outdoor garden is sleeping. Put a greenery pot here and there indoors. It helps.

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