Saturday, June 18, 2016

The perfection of ivy

My favourite covering for any building's exterior is not brick, stone, or the current fad of slats of polished wood, but a thick coat of ivy. I don't know where this fantasy originates -- probably from reading way too many English novels featuring ivy-covered cottages or country houses -- but I am not the only one who harbours it. My sister-in-law Wendy says that like me, she'd love to have an ivy-covered home. And when Victoria's Empress Hotel lost its iconic coating of ivy as part of a massive recent renovation, heritage advocate Suzanne Johnston was so enraged that she launched a petition, drawing thousands of signatures. "The new owners of the Fairmont Empress are destroying its history and everything that this heritage landmark stands for," she was quoted as saying in a January story in Business in Vancouver.

But there is another side to the ivy story, and it is why neither Wendy nor I live inside a wall of green leaves. Ivy's tenacious tentacles -- the very thing that allows it to cling so picturesquely to constructions of all shapes and sizes -- digs into its host. "Do you know how much damage ivy has done to the stone and bricks?" asked Empress owner Nat Bosa. Plus, he said, it harboured critters -- mice and a family of raccoons were living in the hotel's ivy.

Wendy and I may have bowed to the practicalities of preserving our homes' exteriors and not inviting wildlife in through ivy, but not everyone has given up on the idea. On Vancouver's Point Grey Road waterfront, there is a row of old-fashioned townhouses. On the water side, these homes have unobstructed views out over the blue ocean. On the street side, they bear a thick coat of beautifully trimmed healthy green ivy. Pretty close to perfection, I think. 

Living in these ivy-covered  townhouses on the Point Grey waterfront would be like being a character in a Thomas Hardy novel.

Wouldn't you like to call one of these doors yours?

Not a leaf out of place: Whoever takes care of these buildings keeps the ivy and plantings beautifully shaped and trimmed.


  1. Can anyone not have a fascination with ivy on buildings? The Sylvia wouldn't be "The Sylvia" without its ivy, notwithstanding that a raccoon tried to enter a window in our top floor room when staying there one summer. And they couldn't take the ivy off the colleges of Oxford or the "Ivy Leagues" in the US. We didn't quite so much admire the ivy on the house across the street from us in Victoria. (We eventually bought this house and it was a nightmare for the painters to get it off.) The ivy there was snarled, poorly maintained, and an old wraith like spinster lived there. She had been a child in the house and kept on after her siblings left. Richard got a real thrill on the first Halloween he went trick or treating with Jim. I think he was three years old. It was the first house they hit and he exclaimed with great joy when she came to the door, "She's a witch!!", a real live witch on your first Halloween. I also think she was hard of hearing....or hope so.

  2. I remember the ivy on the Empress Hotel. When I washed ashore in Victoria at 18, I was awestruck by the building and still recall admiring the greenery creeping all over its walls. So majestic!