“Large leaves, smooth leaves, serrated like my vines, and half as green. I like such ivy bold to leap a height. ‘Twas strong to climb!”
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Aurora Leigh” (1856)
Years back the homestead needed foundation work. Living in the Prairie where ground-shifting is a regular occurrence, foundation work is not unusual. Since the contractors would be moving dirt around the perimeter of the house, I needed to salvage as many shrubs, flowers and plants as possible. On the east side of the house grew an abundance of English Ivy. The ivy covered the ground, up the walls and under the house. I pulled a batch and saved it for replanting. An article by Jon VanZile describes English Ivy as a “vigorous and sometimes aggressive vine.” He continues it can grow as much as 100 feet outward as a ground cover, or upward as a climbing vine. It will grow where other ground covers will not; it’s evergreen. This was just what we needed for Prairie soil.
The backside of the house drops off 4 to 5 feet down to the lake. The open area from ground to porch is lined with lattice — perfect for ivy climbing over and through the lattice, forming a living barrier. Today ivy covers about a 5-foot-tall by 30-foot-long area and requires no care at all.
The ivy was so successful I transplanted more ivy surrounding a deck near the water. Within a few years the massive ivy had virtually overtaken the deck to the point it was a bit eerie walking by what might be hiding in the shelter of the ivy. It was time to clear out the prodigious ivy.
On a blistering hot Saturday, Sam and I got to work clipping, cutting and pulling ivy. We piled it into carts or bundles in our arms and carried the cuttings off to the woods. Being extremely allergic to poison ivy, I was on the lookout for “leaves of three” but found none. There was some Virginia Creeper entwined with the ivy. I wore gloves and was particularly careful with the Virginia Creeper. In the past I was told Virginia Creeper was harmless. Be warned, it turns out approximately 5 percent of people are in fact allergic to Virginia Creeper, and I would fall into the elite group. The exposure would require two doctor visits, two shots and oral prescriptions.
Though we had labored long and hard in the oppressive heat, the clearing turned out beautifully. We left a bit of the dark green foliage on the deck’s east side and trailing out of planter baskets. Ivy loves moist humid air and tolerates shade or sun. It gives a nice touch of green to winter as well as an attractive addition to flower arrangements.
The next morning, I awakened to a blistering and red rash up and down my forearms. A quick internet check proved English Ivy “can cause allergic contact dermatitis and is almost always present in people who come in contact with the plant.” The treatment includes letting the condition run its course and using corticosteroids to sooth the pain and itching. Perhaps it’s best to check first before encountering the ivies.
Email reaches Shannon Bardwell of Columbus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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