Virgil described a yellow berried ivy, which he called ‘Hedera chrysocarpa’. This is it. It grew in the Pliny the Younger’s garden too, and it still to be found. A bush, maximum height about 1m., it’s the adult and sexual form of some perhaps now lost normally climbing ivy. Unlike some of the other bush ivies, it doesn’t send out stems that go back to wanting a wall. It does produce seedlings, though I hate to admit to not having grown any on.
Birds often take the fruit, but with the recent mild winter just past, haven’t bothered, and so the display is unusually good. We’re gradually high pruning our bush to reveal the splendidly contorted trunks. The top gets trimmed back to a big globe every couple of seasons.
Unsurprisingly, such an ancient garden plant has endless legends and supposed medicinal properties. For the Romans, an important one was associated with Dionysus and his female followers – the Bacchantes. The latter wore wreaths of ivy leaves in their hair, either because ivy extract was used for the cure of their hangovers, or perhaps because the same extract was used to increase the wildness of their ‘high’. Do NOT try, for either reason.
In the Borders garden, the Victorian statue of the god, who stands nearby, has a wreath of ivy too. Alas, he’s lost his fingertips and the bunch of grapes they must once have touched. Occasionally, we replace the missing terracotta fruit with the real thing, and hope that that makes him happy.