Ivy – nature’s larder

Years ago when I began to get to grips with the garden where we previously lived  there was a mass of ivy growing up a fence post.  The post was completely swamped by the ivy and it had made what I then thought of as a tangled mess round and about.  I spent hours carefully removing it, something I would never do now.

In our current garden there is a large stand of ivy growing up an ash tree beside the decking and close to the doorway in to the house which is in flower at this time of year.  By the time we moved here I was well established in a much more natural way of approaching the garden, but even so had not been aware that ivy was such a wonderful plant.  I love its glossy green leaves, globes of pale yellow flowers and neat, spherical black berries and over the four years of gardening here so far I have seen a variety of different creatures feasting on it.


ivy in flower, going to berries

The flowers attract lots of flies and wasps, but also and much more colourfully, on sunny days it is smothered with red admiral butterflies.  It is rare these days to see more than a single butterfly of any species in the garden.  It took a while to get the pictures as they kept moving about, but eventually they stayed put long enough!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

red admiral on ivy flowers


KODAK Digital Still Camera

red admirals feeding on ivy flowers October 2016

At one point I managed to capture seven all at once – if you zoom in they are towards the top of the plant.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

seven red admirals on ivy flowers

Come the winter it attracts blackbirds to feed.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

blackbird feeding on ivy berries

And then in spring blue tits, sparrows and robins love to hop about in the ivy branches.  We placed a nesting box within the clump and as far as we have been able to tell through the thick foliage it has been used in two of the four springs for blue tits to raise their families in.

At the moment it is the wasps that predominate on the ivy and last weekend they kept on coming indoors.  We had a baby granddaughter visiting and understandably the wasps were not popular, but we took it in turns to catch them and put them outside.  I decided to check on what use wasps are – as they are particularly unpopular insects, probably mainly due to their sting.

That took me to the website for the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) from which I have learned that wasps capture, sting and paralyse prey to feed to their larvae.  Different species have different prey such as weevils, caterpillars, flies, aphids and spiders which makes them useful generalists in the grand ecological scheme of things, helping to keep lots of things in balance.

Also on the BWARS website was a feature on the Ivy Bee Colletes hederaeIt said that anyone with large stands of flowering ivy should look for this bee, which is larger than a honeybee and is stripey (which is why I wondered about the wasps).  It has recently come to Britain from the continent and is mainly found in the south.  There is a mapping project to follow its’ spread and the map shows several dots quite close to my location on the very eastern edge of mid Wales. For a while I got quite excited that my wasps might indeed be the ivy bee, but on close inspection and with the benefit of various online pictures and reference works I decided that they are indeed just plain old wasps!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

wasp on ivy flowers

Nevertheless I shall keep a close eye on the ivy just in case some ivy bees do turn up.  I am also allowing more ivy to grow up within the hedge.  Again, in the past I have spent hours removing ivy from a hedge, but now I see its many roles more clearly I am keen to have more.  For a start it will help provide an evergreen barrier in the parts of the hedge which look bare once the leaves have fallen and it will provide more food and habitat for all the creatures I know about and probably many more besides.

In the countryside there is lots of ivy growing within hedges, but probably because of mechanical hedge trimming it doesn’t often get sufficiently mature to flower.  So, if you don’t have any ivy growing in your garden do think about either getting some and letting it grow upwards until it flowers; and if you have some already then let it grow and have fun watching watching what visits.




About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in forest garden development, Relationship with nature and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Ivy – nature’s larder

  1. We have loads of ivy growing on an old wall in the old house garden and it is covered at the moment with every insect and I love that! This brings in the birds too. Ivy is misunderstood as it is such a beneficial plant for so much wildlife. Lovely photos. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mortaltree says:

    I have never seen an ivy quite like the one you have pictured. I’ve never noticed the ivies around here to bloom either. I’ll have to pay more attention now, because that looks lovely and I would love to have another pollinator plant. Thank you so much for sharing this Anni.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Andy says:

    One year, in a previous house, we had a huge amount of ivy. It was around our fence, also throughout a holly tree and across the road from us. We had so many wasps that all the children in the tiny village (only 6 or 7 houses, 10 to 12 kids) got stung. There were thousands of wasps. We called in pest control because we thought we had a nest or 2 in the garden. Turned out that the wasps were flying several hundred metres across a field just to feed on our ivy! Once pointed out by the pest bloke, you could see a stream of wasps coming and going across the field constantly. In our new (ish) home I have ivy on a hedge in the front garden and it’s amazing how many different species of birds, wasps and insects visit it because of the ivy. A very beneficial plant indeed.


  4. Carole says:

    Have you seen the BBC radio 4 Living World podcast on the ivy bee? http://bbc.in/Ho0laR


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