• John R

Ivy Be-leaguer-ed


I like it.


She doesn’t. At all.


I’m talking about ivy, Hedera helix, that green creeping thing that covers stuff whether you want it to or not.


Our conversations about the ivy that persists in our side yard go something like this:


Me: “Wow, that ivy looks great, so green and everything. And healthy! I mean, it hasn’t rained for like three years and everything else is parched to where it looks like a junk yard devoted exclusively to discarded barbed wire except for that ivy which looks as fresh as…um…a daisy.”


To which she replies, “Schnarfffss!” which, through years of diligent (if sometimes unfortunately belated) decoding, I have come to understand means, “No frecking way, you must devote hours of your time in the immediate future to removing most if not all of it.”

[Lawerence Weslowski/Dreamstime]

To which I rejoin: ”But ivy is more than a plant, it’s an institution! An icon! It swaths the hallowed facades of Princeton University! It adorns the sacred walls of Wrigley Field! If it weren’t for ivy, the entire British Kingdom would collapse in a heap of bricks and cobbles!”


(Quick aside here: I think we can all agree that “bricks and cobbles” would be an excellent name for a pub. I was so intrigued I searched for such an establishment but couldn’t find one. But I can hear it: I say old chap, let’s retire to the Bricks & Cobbles for a pint. There is, however, a quilt pattern called “bricks and cobblestones.” It’s not necessarily my favorite pattern.)


I continue: “Ivy is God’s gift to gardeners! It just grows and grows and you never have to water or fertilize it ever!”


Deb: “Schnarfffssssss!” (note the extra esses).


Left: bricks and cobblestones quilt Right: I'd name this pub The Bricks & Cobbles [Anizza/Dreamstime]

I understand the argument against ivy. Given rein, it will absolutely take over—it’s an indefatigable autocrat. It roots itself to the ground and climbs trees and walls by means of little sticky disks, the tenacity of which can dislodge siding during attempts to remove it.


Personally, I’m all for it. It grows in our side yard, sending tentacles in all directions, searching, always searching, for something to grab onto which, in my Dreams of Gardening Bliss, would be my neighbor’s fence. It’s a fine fence—don’t get me wrong—and I know he spent a pretty penny on it. It separates our properties with neighborly dignity. But in my DoGB I envision a living wall of green, a testament to (my) horticultural competency and a verdant reminder of the relentless urge of Nature to cover the planet with ivy.


Anyway, my neighbor doesn’t like ivy either, in fact he attacks it with certain chemical agents when it peeks out from under the fence because he has a neighbor who has eschewed certain responsibilities and let things get out of hand.


So facing formidable opposition, it is my yearly duty to ferret the ivy out of the side yard. This is a job I have learned to undertake during the winter, when most living things in our yard have endured another year of haphazard stewardship and have gratefully eased into dormancy. The ivy, however, is bright and lively and is easily hunted down.


To do this I get down on my hands and knees. I crawl among the various bushes to pull out the ivy. (Don’t tell anybody, but I will deliberately leave a few ivy plants here and there.)


In the chill I wear my flannel-lined, one-piece overalls. The air is cool and damp. There are robins and wrens and juncos twittering in the trees and bushes. The rain-softened soils yield the roots easily, releasing the smell of fresh earth. To gather the loose ivy, I wind long strings around my hands and wrists.


Next year I’ll be back, in the damp, in my overalls, on my hands in knees, moving among the bushes, serenaded by birds. I am a gardener. I am a garden.


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