Ivy is an easy to grow climbing plant, perhaps too much so as it can be invasive. Illustrated top left and right is the common or English Ivy which is a good plant for difficult areas because it is tough and tolerant of all types of growing conditions. Despite its modest appearance, the English Ivy is great for wildlife. It provides nectar, pollen and berries when food is short in autumn and winter, and shelter for birds, bats, insects and small mammals.
Ivies of all types can be planted in difficult spots, such as covering walls, sheds and shady corners. When growing up a wall, Ivy can damage the mortar in bricks and paint work, it needs to be kept in check. Many Ivies are shade tolerate, even of dry shade, which makes them useful to grow, especially the variegated varieties in dark shady corners. Ivy is often overlooked as a climbing plant, but in the right spot it can look very stylish, understated but classic.
Hedera helix, the common English Ivy, can be very vigorous and from which there are many cultivars. Ivy can provide excellent food and shelter for wildlife. Given that it is vigorous Ivy needs to be checked and should always be cleared away from trees as it can easily smother a tree. Ivy will grow just about anywhere and can be combined with Cotoneaster, image centre, where it looks lovely trailing over a wall and makes a wildlife friendly combination. One problem with Ivy is that whilst it is good at being self supporting the aerial roots can damage brickwork
Ivy can be a good garden plant, and to ensure you get a better behaved Ivy plant select a plant with RHS award such as Hedera helix glacier has RHS merit and grows up to 2m which will cover a wall or good as ground cover. Other good varieties are helix Goldchild which is smaller up to 1m, and Hedera colchica (Persian Ivy,) Dentata which has bright green leaves growing up to 5m, and Sulphur Heart which is similar but variegated and fast growing. Autopurpurea is a purple leaved Ivy, and Goldheart has bright variegation and grows up to 8m. As a general rule the variegated and purple leaved Ivies need more sun and the green leaved will tolerate more shade.
Ivies vary greatly in their size and vigour, and some are considering very vigorous which can be potentially damaging to brickwork and neighbouring plants. Other varieties are restrained and more modest, and are often featured in hanging baskets in the summer which means that Hedera is a big family of plants with many different varieties. Many Ivies sold are fully hardy, but there are some varieties which are not, especially those sold in the summer to go with bedding and in baskets and it is best to check with the label. An explanation of frost hardy
Ivies look good on structures and can look very effective as illustrated in the centre image with Cotoneaster conspicuus. Cotoneasters are a hugely underestimated shrub, often linked to supermarket planting and bad landscaping, when in fact they are a super group of shrubs offering colour, flowers and berries.