Over the festive period I’ve been ploughing through a volume of some vastness entitled 65 Great Tales of the Supernatural (ed. Mary Danby). I bought this grimoire secondhand a long time ago. It contains many well-anthologised old chestnuts such as The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson; Lost Hearts by M. R. James; The Red Room by H. G. Wells, and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe (a particular favorite). Naturally, no such anthology can call itself complete without The Signalman by Charles Dickens, and this is no exception.
One of the stories with which I was not familiar was The Hollies and the Ivy by Elizabeth Walter. This festively appropriate tale concerns a young couple who buy an old pile called The Hollies. Their intention is to renovate it. The building is, however, in the process of being totally submerged by ivy that no amount of poisoning or pruning can remove.
This spurred me into action against my own ivy problem. I have neighbours who adore ivy so much that it covers their entire house. The mountainous shape in the background here, indicated by the red arrow, is, in fact, my neighbours’ house (the Maison Des Girrafes is in the left foreground).
This ivy pours over the neighbouring fences, and seeds itself further afield. As you can see it has established itself in our front yard and I have spent some hours attacking it. I especially enjoyed doing this while listening to a festive edition of Gardeners’ Question Time on the radio. It (the ivy, that is) had completely submerged a panel of our front fence, circled in yellow here:
The ivy in, on, around (and through) this fence was as thick as a fist in places, and had created a microclimate in its dense foliage sufficiently still and damp for fungi to thrive. As a result the panel is rotten and will have to be replaced.
Some months ago I contracted a tree surgeon to remove some ivy that had seeded itself on the other side of the house, and to cut back some of the impinging ivy elsewhere. The tree surgeon told me he’d been in touch with my neighbours who, apparently, wanted their own ivy to be cut back. I don’t know what became of this. I suspect that the infestation is terminal. If my front fence is anything to go by, the ivy will have extended tendrils so far into the house that the vine is all that’s holding up the building. I dread to think about the state of my neighbour’s roof, guttering, drains, pointing, windowframes … Elizabeth Walter would have understood.