The endless pleasure of potted ivies

I have a little outdoor table by the french windows that houses an ever-changing display of pot plants. In summer it has pomegranates, citrus and, towards the back, some ivies. In winter, when the lemons are indoors, I move the ivies to the foreground. Their curtain of leaves distracts from the real reason the table is there: to hide all the pots and seed trays underneath it. I don’t own a shed because I can’t bear to part with the space in the garden, so I am forever finding ways to squirrel away the unsightly parts of gardening.

I am not generous to these ivies – they survive in 30cm pots. In spring and autumn I top them up with a little fresh compost, but that’s about it. And yet they thrive. Come winter, I dot pots of early-flowering bulbs between them – reticulata irises, miniature daffodils and snowdrops – so small hints of spring bring a little cheer.

Ivies can spread and climb great distances, but there are many varieties suited to life in cramped, hard conditions, whether that’s a north-facing window box, a sliver of soil along a side return, a shady basement courtyard or an unheated porch. Just don’t try to keep them indoors: ivies are often touted as good houseplants, but you’d need a very cold and damp house to keep them happy. That said, I have visited some very cold bathrooms where they might thrive.

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On the whole, variegated forms are bred to be vigorous, so there are only a few that will do well in pots. The cream-and-yellow Hedera helix “Little Luzii” is compact and doesn’t spread or climb much. Its mid-green leaves are speckled and splashed with cream. Likewise, H. helix “Midas Touch”, with its heart-shaped leaves and white-and-gold variegation around the edge that turn a lovely pink with a little frost, is good at brightening a dull corner.

Allow plants to dry out between watering. A dry plant can make a miraculous recovery; an overwatered one will rot away
There are numerous pretty deep-green types – my tabletop variety is H. helix “Koniger’s Auslese”, which has narrow, star-shaped leaves that look good against a painted wall. The same goes for “Ivalace” or “Parsley Crested”, which have crinkled, glossy leaves and do well even in deep shade. The miniature-leaved “Duckfoot”, with its wedge-shape light-green leaves will fill out a pot quickly, which makes it particularly good for hanging baskets. Fibrex Nursery and the Plantsman’s Preference both have an extensive collection.

Ivies are not particularly fussy about soils, but do better in slightly alkaline soils, and thrive in composts with good water-holding capacity. This can be achieved by adding composted bark to peat-free compost. Finally, do allow the plants to dry out between watering. A dry plant can make a miraculous recovery, but an overwatered one rots away quickly.