Ivy is an evergreen climbing plant that will quickly cover walls and trees if left unchecked. Needless to say, in Rambling Ratz’s garden it is left unchecked.
However, before you leap to judgement about my scruffiness, allow me to explain how useful ivy is. The leaves provide food for caterpillars; the flowers produce nectar for bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other flying insects and the berries sustain the birds through winter. These berries are mildly toxic to humans, but poisonings are rare as they taste so bitter.This is not the same as Poison Ivy found in North America.
Hoverflies are true flies that have evolved to mimic wasps and bees to deter predators. They do not sting. There are over two hundred and fifty different types in the UK. This site has a useful gallery of them, I believe the hoverfly in these photos is a type of Epistrophe.
As you may have guessed, there is some folklore involving ivy. Dissolving ivy berries in vinegar and drinking the concoction before imbibing alcohol was supposed to prevent a hangover. The Greeks named the plant, Cissos after the dancing girl who danced herself to death for Dionysus the god of wine and merrymaking. He was so impressed by her twirling that he immortalized her as an ivy plant.
It is one of the Christmas evergreen decorations along with holly and mistletoe, but you mustn’t cut it before Christmas Eve or there will be disharmony in the household; this could explain many a festive falling out. People are unsure about how lucky ivy actually is, so to be on the safe side it is best to decorate only the outside of your house with it.
Another fun thing you can do with ivy, as Hallowe’en approaches, is for each family member to write their name on an ivy leaf and leave it overnight in a bowl of water. When the leaves are checked in the morning, if someone’s name has turned into the shape of a coffin, their death is imminent; that’ll be a nice game for the kids! A cheerier thing to do with ivy at Hallowe’en is for a man to pick ten ivy leaves and place nine of them under his pillow so that he will dream of his true love. Finally an ivy wreath placed on the grave of a loved one at Hallowe’en will apparently protect their soul.