Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Adult poet's-ivy

hedera-helix-poetica-arborea-640

 

Ivy in bloom in September:  Every insect that can fly or crawl up to the spherical flowers will thank you.  The individual florets don't look like anything we humans would recognize as floral—doll-house chalices, each with a pointed little cap to keep the contents from spilling—but the insects know how to get the bountiful nectar within.

 

Ivy flowers only as an adult (a life trajectory I know so well); the vining, wandering, self-clinging juvenile phase can last for many years (ditto).  This is the adult version of poet's ivy not the ivy of adult poets.  I have two pots of it, growing slowly into evergreen bushes.  Poet's ivy is the adult ivy to grow, if you can find it, because the flowers mature to berries that are yellow-orange instead of the usual black.

 

hedera-helix-poetica-arborea-flower-640

 

Supposedly, adult ivies are quite hardy, but you can't prove it by me.  After losing a half dozen over the years, probably from gardening in rich and often heavy soil that is often muddy over the Winter, I'm now resigned to growing adult ivy in pots. 

 

But it's worth it just to have so many insects swarming over the bush each September; the nectar crop of ivies is an important late-season supply for bees in particular.  Think of the bees as the grizzly bears of your garden:  Just as the bears need to bulk up on salmon each Fall to store enough fat to get through the Winter, the bees need to bring a lot of nectar back to the hive in late Summer and Fall to carry the colony through until Spring.

 

Adult ivy: your garden's salmon-come-home-to-spawn.

 

 

Here's how to grow this nectar-rich broadleaved shrub:

Latin Name

Hedera helix 'Poetica Arborea'

Common Name

Adult Poet's Ivy

Family

Araliaceae, the Aralia family.

What kind of plant is it?

Broadleaved evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9.

Habit

Low, mounding, multi-branched.  Eventually dense and "foundation-shrubby."

Rate of Growth

Slow.

Size in ten years

Perhaps three to four feet tall and wide, but probably less.

Texture

The evergreen foliage gives the bush a dense and rigid baseline of appeal.  In bloom in late Summer, though, the bush's nectar-rich flowers are visually as well as audibly abuzz with just about any creature that can crawl, climb, or fly, turning the plant into a lively and even noisy Times Square for the six-legged set.

Grown for

its flowers: Small oddities, like minute green chalices with a cap to keep the contents from spilling, the florets are grouped into spherical flowers about the size of ping-pong balls, and are eagerly patronized by over 70 species of insects.  It's the norm to see five or more species "working" a given sphere simultaneously.

 

the berries:  Ivy berries are usually black; those of poet's ivy are yellow-orange.  Whatever the color, ivy berries are eaten by over 16 species of birds. 

 

the winter shelter: The rigid branching growth and thick evergreen leaves provide excellent cover for small animals.

 

its rarity: Juvenile ivy—the familiar self-clinging vine—covers countless square miles of ground, wall, and tree bark.  It's a noxious weed in many states, especially those with milder climates: the Pacific Northwest, e.g., or the Southeast.  Adult ivy that sprouts from juvenile ivy is almost inevitable if you let your juvenile ivy climb, and let it grow undisturbed for a few years.  Typically, juvenile stems become more likely to "go adult" only when allowed to climb—and only when they reach the top of whatever they're climbing.  You'll have adult ivy sooner, then, if you grow your ivy up low walls.  Adult ivy growing on its own roots, though, not those of the juvenile stems from which it sprang, is a bit of an achievement:  As ivy matures from juvenile to adult, it loses its juvenile habit of sending out roots anywhere stems touch something solid.  Getting adult ivy cutting to root, then, is difficult.

 

its non-vining habit: It's ivy, yes—but it's not a vine at all.

Flowering season

Late Summer: September.

Culture

Almost any soil as long as there's fantastic drainage in Winter.  Full sun as well as deep shade.

How to handle it

In my experience, adult ivy is much more susceptible than juvenile to dying in the Winter in a Zone 6 garden, let alone Zone 5.  Anything other than fantastic drainage seems to put the plants at risk; I write this after having killed more than a few adult ivies by attempting to grow them in my rich, often heavy, and often poorly-draining soil.  In Zones 7 to 9, though, adult ivy can be a plant-it-and-forget-it shrub that thrives in almost any soil, sun or shade.  I still marvel at old specimens on the UCLA campus, with thick trunks to make any rhododendron envious.

 

Adult ivy that is branching from juvenile (which is, by a long shot, the norm) is as hardy as the juvenile; my hunch, though, is that adult ivies on their own roots are somehow less hardy overall than their juvenile form, even with excellent drainage.

 

In Zone 6 and below, then, plant adult ivy only on a slope, and only with substantial shelter nearby: large rock outcroppings, dense evergreens (needly, please, to contrast with the broad leaves of the ivy).  Spray with antidessicant, especially if the bush is growing where it gets Winter sun.  And good luck to you.

 

Because "own-root" adult ivies are typically full to the ground, these are shrubs to plant at the front of a bed—ideally, one bordered by a wide walkway so the ivy can slowly spill out over it.  It's a heartening experience to study a bush in full bloom, swarming with dozens of insects, each in a feeding frenzy and ignoring you, who, after all, doesn't have a drop of nectar and never will.  After I've been able to spend a minute in the presence of adult ivy, I always feel more confident in the future despite the dismal news reports.

 

Full-sun partners that also crave good drainage include Sedum 'Angelina', all yuccas, yews, junipers, and euphorbias, and Sophora davidii.  Shady partners for good drainage include hostas, ferns, aucuba, nandina, and mahonia.

Downsides

Below Zone 7, adult ivies are fussy in their demands for shelter and excellent Winter drainage.  When and if you can establish them, they are trouble-free.

Variants

Because any juvenile ivy will, given enough time, enter its adult phase, it's conceivable that there would be just as many varieties of adult ivy.  And there are hundreds of different flavors of juvenile ivy.  You're much more likely to see these growing from the upper reaches of long-established colonies of juvenile ivies, though, than as own-root bushes, because it can be so frustratingly difficult to get adult ivy cuttings to root.  Nonetheless, own-root adult ivies are, occasionally, available, and with variegated leaves as well as all-green leaves.

Availability

On-line and, rarely, at destination retailers.

Propagation

Own-root adult ivy is difficult to root, which is why the plants are uncommon and often expensive.  Yes, the seeds sprout well—but germinate exclusively into juvenile-phase plants.

Native habitat

Hedera helix is native to Europe and Western Asia.

 
 
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