Parthenocissus triscuspidata

Virginia Creeper (in UK) or Boston Ivy (in U.S.A.). It became so fashionable at the turn of the 19th/20th century as a way of softening large brick building that it became institutionalised - particularly on seats of learning. Harvard, Cambridge, endless schools and large civic buildings are still covered in it. It's deciduous, self clinging, has a unique tight, neat habit, is glossy, goes bright red in the autumn and comes back quite early in the spring. It's wonderful stuff. So useful and accommodating and easy and fast and yes, it might well need clearing away from the gutters and down pipes and comes indoors if you leave a window open too long but it's a plant that really can complement buildings in the most extraordinarily effective way. It can also be used to mask brick and concrete that you'd rather not look at but it's still at its best complementing, not masking.

My school was covered in it and I hated my school so much that even after 50 years I still can't find the words to describe how much I hated it and yet I STILL like Virginia Creeper. Could my love of it be rooted in lingering British imperial dreams from the 1950s and 1960s - the music of Elgar, the poems of Kipling and Sir Henry Newbolt and films starring Kenneth Moore? Not really, no. The architect Clough Williams-Ellis was obsessed with the juxtaposition of architecture and the landscape to the benefit of both. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts and all that. It was his main reason for building Portmeirion. It has more to do with that - the complementary reason. You can do stuff with this plant. Not just to the garden but to the buildings.

When it comes to garden designing, I rarely use climbers - largely because I either feel they're unnecessary or because I just don't know how to use them. As with anything that was once popular and therefore over used, this has become unfashionable and one often detects a reluctance to use it. Why? Fear of appearing unfashionable, I think. Try it. It needs some skilful shaping sometimes. You might allow it to cover a vast expanse of wall but you mustn't allow it more than a teasing wisp to cover the very edges of anything that could be deemed of architectural importance. Windows and doors are probably at the top of the list. Soften harsh edges with it when sharp edges need softening.

In the early 1980s, I sometimes had reason to get lost near Basingstoke. This was less tiresome than it might have been because, in my lostness, I might end up driving past what still remains one of my favourite buildings of all time. It used to be called the Wiggins Teape Building and fell in terraces down a slope by a dual carriageway and it was somewhere around Basingstoke. It was also the hanging gardens of Babylon - terraces covered in pendulous climbers (mostly Virginia Creeper) to the point where the shape and fabric of the building could only be glimpsed occasionally. Why get lost in Basingstoke? Because it could alter the course of your entire life. One of those places you only see when you're lost. If you actually wanted to find this place deliberately, you wouldn't have a hope in hell.

Propagated by us from cuttings.

Features Hardiness rating
IF IT HAS A GREEN TRAFFIC LIGHT

Hardy anywhere in Britain below approximately 1000ft (300m)

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.

Climbers, Ground cover, Shade, Soil - Clay, Soil - Dry/Well drained, Space & Light Green

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