English ivy is more than just a nice, but not particularly exciting, plant that makes a cool green mat. Delve a bit deeper and you learn that ivy mutates readily, giving rise to a number of forms, the best of which are named varieties.
There is an English ivy for everyone, and the American Ivy Society is promoting this plant while maintaining the names of more than 400 different varieties.
Ivy leaves come in an array of colors and forms. The variety Goldheart, for instance, has green leaves with yellow centers. Glacier's leaves are mottled gray and green, with a pink edge; and Triloba has purplish-green leaves. A variety such as Little Diamond has miniature leaves. The leaves of Shamrock, Irish Lace and Itsy Bitsy are both small and deeply incised.
Some varieties of ivy have flat leaves, heart-shaped (the Sweetheart) or curly (Dragon Claw).
Not all ivy plants have lanky, creeping stems. Erect stems of Arborescens, Conglomerata and Erecta make these varieties shrubs rather than creeping vines.
A plant as variable as ivy can have many uses. Most commonly, it is grown as a ground cover or to clamber up tree trunks, walls and arbors. Ivy is not for clapboard siding, though, because the stems will work their way under the boards and push them up.
Ivy is one of the few plants commonly grown outdoors and indoors in temperate climates. Indoors, it can play the role of a potted foliage plant, a living wreath or a green accent to flowering plants. Indoors or outdoors, ivy can be trained to fanciful three-dimensional forms as topiary.
In some of the oldest gardens in this country, ivy looks very much at home. This is not because the plant is native to America, but because it was carried across the ocean by colonists as a remembrance of England. (Baltica and Hibernica, the variety reputedly brought over by the colonists, are probably the most widely planted.) Its proliferation in this country is proof of the ease with which it is propagated and grown.
If you claim to lack a green thumb, try rooting ivy. Just stick some young stems in a glass of water, and roots will form in a couple of weeks. The only way to fail is by taking cuttings from adult portions of a plant.
After a number of years, often decades, the uppermost portions of an ivy plant undergo the transition to adulthood. Besides being difficult to root, adult ivy has flowers and only slightly lobed leaves and is shrubby rather than vining.
Unless a plant has been propagated from adult shoots, in which case the whole plant is adult, the lower portions of old plants remain juvenile, so are easy to root.
Ideally, ivy likes a soil that is rich and moist. But the plant is accommodating and tolerates poor soil conditions when grown in shade.
For information about joining the American Ivy Society, write to Daphne Pfaff, 696 16th Avenue S., Naples, Fla. 33940.