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Thursday, January 12, 2012

my twenty-year-old topiary







After the last post I was asked how I have kept a topiary alive for twenty years, and the honest answer is...  I have no idea!
But, I might have a clue...

Twenty years ago you couldn't just walk into your neighborhood grocery store or Lowe's or Home Depot and buy an ivy topiary like you can today. Twenty years ago the dearly departed Smith and Hawkin had yet to even set up a storefront in Dallas. I saw topiaries in magazines and coveted them. Since I had no known sources I knew I would have to grow my own. I found the "ball" topiary form in the Smith and Hawkin catalog (remember, this was back in the day before computers;), but at $12 plus shipping it was too rich for my very frugal blood at the time! I was very happy when I found an old ball topiary form at an estate sale in Dallas, even though I thought the $5 price tag was overpriced!
I then went to the local Wolfe nursery and bought a small-leaf ivy. I haven't a clue as to what type of ivy I bought and apparently it was the wrong kind. To say it was a slow grower is an understatement... it took about two years for the first single tendril to even reach the topiary form!! I was patient, and by the fifth year the ivy finally (sparsely) covered the ball!
When we moved from Dallas the only plant I brought with me (I had tons of plants that I gave away) was this one ivy. I almost lost it in the move to New Hampshire as we moved in January, and although it had a very special spot in the car it apparently became frost bitten when carried into the hotel each night.
The first week in New Hampshire it lost all of its leaves, and I thought it was dead. I was sad, but kept watering it and within several weeks tiny little green leaves started to appear. It survived! Then, a year later in the midst of the farmhouse renovation I was distracted and didn't water it for a period of time, and again I thought I had lost it.  It revived and, thankfully, is as happy as ever.

I think the answer to its longevity "might" be that I purchased a very slow growing ivy.   My guess is that the ivies that are mass-grown are fast growing and always want/need to be re-potted.  This is purely conjecture on my part, so if there are any ivy aficionados out there, please feel free to weigh in!
I have re-potted mine maybe twice in the twenty years, and I very rarely use fertilizer.  I water it every 7 to 10 days, letting it dry out fairly well between each watering.  When I water it I water it several times- meaning, I water it and let it soak in, then water it again to ensure that the soil is completely soaked.  The dirt is covered with sheet moss to retain moisture.
Occasionally the topiary will get spider mites  (though I must say this happened more often in Texas than it does here for some reason) and when it does I use Dr. Bronner's Peppermint liquid soap.  It has to be the peppermint to work mites or aphids.  I use a mixture of 1 teaspoon of soap per quart of water, and then spray it on the plant leaves.

As you can see in the photograph I am letting several tendrils grow and they are about half way up the stem; I think they've been growing for about a year now. 
In another year they just might reach the ball!



54 comments:

  1. Here in California we often get spider mites in our ivy when it's kept indoors. One your plant gets it, it's eventually doomed. I think I may have found a secret to success (I'll share it later when I can confirm) but I can't even image 20 years... that's like a family member.

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  2. I am actually not surprised at all! The house I own is up the street from the one I grew up in, and the lamp post in front has been covered in ivy for as long as I can remember. In fact, two years ago my husband and I had the concrete walkway ripped out and replaced with winding, elongated stairs made of pavers. The lamp post came into question as the mason was going to have to work "around" it with the new design but we both firmly agreed that it stay just as it is. It gives this house just the right amount of character!
    Considering I moved to this neighborhood in 1982, I would say that it is certainly some hearty ivy!

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  3. I have killed or thought I killed some of those same plants. Now I am wishing I had kept watering them! Hehehe you sais Wolfe Nursury! I remember them.

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  4. Marcy- thank you so much for the reminder; I had meant to include that in the post and forgot- I have edited to include that information, so thanks for mentioning it!

    Eleanor- I loved that you kept the ivy covered lamp post.

    Mama Sue- I thought some people might remember that name so I threw it in!! I grew up going there!

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  5. Slow growing, watering somewhat regularly and the right amount of ignore is probably what's kept the ivy (and most of us) going for 20 years.

    Congratulations - I can't keep anything indoors alive. Outdoors is a whole other story.

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  6. I cannot imagine keeping any kind of plant for 20 year...I'm lucky to keep them 20 days!! That's impressive ~

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  7. 20 years is amazing! I have a very large topiary outside my front door, which started from a small 5 dollar ivy plant, it's around 5 feet now. And one I just got already in form on my buffet. I've always loved them and have had numerous over the years, from silk, dried, to the real deal, but never one for 20 years, how wonderful! I did use Job's plant food on my older ones and they would last many years, but many means a few or couple ;) Great job, and a wonderful post.

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  8. You were rewarded for your patience with that ivy. I once had a potted plant that seemed dead but showed one tiny speck of green. I kept it watered for about two years, with no visible results, but suddenly it started growing like Jack and the Beanstalk, several inches a day until it became a huge vine perhaps twenty feet long. I gave it away when I moved to Taiwan.
    --Road to Parnassus

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  9. I'm happy you never gave up on your little guy! It really is pretty!

    XO,
    Jane

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  10. I love ivy but alas every ivy I have had has died. I don't think I have been very diligent about taking care of it though. I love these tips though and may have to get another. :) Your mantel looks beautiful by the way. I love nature brought indoors. :)

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  11. I love topiaries! Yours is especially sweet. The fact that you've kept it going for so long is fantastic. The arrangement on your mantel is quite lovely too :)

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  12. oh this is a great gardening story. all great gardening stories involve patience joan! i remember when all the magazines started showing those topiaries and how you just could not find them in the stores. i remember trying to fashion my own out of a wire clothes hanger. i think the real reason this ivy has lived so long is b/c of your regular and thorough watering schedule. deep watering is always best with plants and the fact that you never let it go into a drought situation helps too. great story! xo janet

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  13. Joan I too have started topiaries on my own and have coveted them for years. If anyone is interested I wrote a blog post about this which I aptly entitled "I have Topiary Issues"... here is the link if interested: http://stephaniehallburns.blogspot.com/2011/07/i-have-topiary-issues.html

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  14. Wow! The little Ivy Topiary that could! I think there is a childrens story in there somewhere!

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  15. Looking at the leaf structure, I suspect it's a form of English Ivy. The kind we have in our yard, grows like a weed. We're constantly ripping it up to keep it from over running our flower beds.

    Cheers,
    John

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  16. 20 years is impressive! I don't have such good luck. Spider mites are the main problem for me so I'm going to keep Dr. Bonner's Peppermint liquid soap handy as prevention. Thank! ~ Sarah

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  17. Before my husband and I got married, he gave my mom a large philodendron plant, which she kept healthy for over 25 years...she is gone now, and I don't know what happened to the plant eventually...but we just told my granddaughter the story, and she was amazed...she's 12...I forwarded your wonderful story to her! By the way, we are married 44 years this April! That plant was a gift for my folk's 25th wedding anniversary! Thanks for resurecting that memory! Best, Judy Ryan

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  18. You are one patient gal! Maybe you should try talking to it!
    Kelly

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  19. impressive! i love topiaries, but like other readers, mine end up getting mites at which point i don't know what to do with them and they end up dying. I just bought one at Fresh n Easy, i am keeping my fingers crossed and will try the peppermint wash you suggested.

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  20. Thanks for telling us about the topiary! I was the gal who asked about it. I don't know why, but I've always loved topiaries. And, like you, remember the day when you couldn't find them so easily. Oddly enough, one of my first jobs was working as a cashier at a Wolfe Nursery. I'm going to keep my eye out for some 'slow growing' ivy. I think you might be on to something there, for I bought a topiary at Homeland not long ago and it died rather quickly. Thanks again for telling us about your long-lived topiary. It's quite an accomplishment and put a smile on my face. You should think about name it, sort of like a pet ... Perhaps Verdie?

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  21. Haha I thought you were going to tell us it was fake! Thats amazing :) Dearly departed Smith and Hawkin indeed..

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  22. Now that's an amazing story! I always have ivy growing in the house and on the porch, but it usually only lasts about a year. Then I'll replace it with new plants. I'll have to try your watering technique.

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  23. Wonderful how long it has lasted, despite everything. I have a 23 year old Christmas Cactus. I know the age because it was a gift I received while in the hospital after our third daughter's birth. We call it the Lynley cactus. I'm surprised your ivy doesn't have a name, she needs one.

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  24. Joan,
    That's as much a testament to ivy as it is to patience. Spider mite is what usually kills my indoor ivy so I truly appreciate the link to the peppermint soap and recipe.
    The ivy topiary is clearly happy and will undoubtedly be with you for 20 more years!
    Karen

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  25. So glad you answered that question, Joan!! I officially have topiary envy; hope I'm patient enough to grow my own! I'd love to see a post on your orchids, too, at some point. ;-)
    xo Heidi

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  26. I LOVE this story! I have a very tiny ivy plant... it was a clipping off of my husbands boutonniere from our wedding! I placed it in a vintage glass jar filled it with water and let it go. Its been a year and a half and its about 5 inches tall with a great healthy root system! When the water gets low I fill it back up. I can only hope it lives to be 20 years old!

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  27. What a fabulous story. I had a "power" orchid in my sunroom in VA that bloomed very regularly for about 5 years. I lost in in the move and still regret that.

    I also had a very slow growing ivy topiary for several years in VA. Again, I wish I had brought it with me. I miss my sunroom and all my plants. I ned to try harder at them in TX as I think they add so much to a home.

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  28. Thanks for the follow up post. I LOVE topiaries but have never tried to grow one. I bought an ivy last spring and have kept it alive so far!!!!!!!!!!! I am sio excited and now you have inspired me to try to grow it into a topiary. XO, Pinky

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  29. I love this story! I adore my plants and almost think of them as part of the family. I have never found it easy to dispose of a plant, even when it really needs to go (I have to ask my husband to do it). I love that you never gave up on your little ivy plant. I hope it thrives for many more years.
    Claudia

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  30. You are one patient woman, Joan! I think I might have given up hope but it looks like your patience prevailed! :) I like to use dish soap/spray to shoo away aphids too. Last year a whole bunch attacked my pansies but they got much better when I sprayed them down. I use grapefruit all natural cleaner spray and they hate it...yay!

    Hugs,
    Gail

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  31. Incredible!!! I have to smile b/c of course I know Wolfe's Nursery in Dallas and remember fondly when Smith & Hawken actually opened a store front (no longer there) in the Knox Henderson area.

    I am beyond impressed that you have managed to keep any plant for that length of time. Patience is something I am short on....and I think I have given up way too soon on many a house plant!

    Love the entire story!!
    xo Elizabeth

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  32. 20 years is fantastic. It is a survivor, (and i think it knows you love it.) :)

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  33. I LOVED this story.... and it's 20 year old little ivy butt is so cute.

    Cindy

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  34. My dear, you are a woman of commendable -- and amazing -- patience.
    All the best...Victoria

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  35. I have to say I think your fabulous! I have to say (and I hate to say it) I would have given up and threw out the ivy topiary. I grew up in a house that was covered in ivy all along the back and it looked beautiful. I read your blog often and love it.
    Kelly

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  36. Yes what a lovely story, that would be my prized possession! I had a slow growing ficus at my old house that covered a whole brick wall, it took 7 years and I thought that was slow!

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  37. Oh, thank goodness! There's hope for me yet. I love ivy topiaries, but have killed every indoor ivy plant I've ever had. Thanks for sharing your great story. I'm going to try again to look for a slow growing variety and follow your instructions for growing it.
    Wish me luck.
    Hugs and have a great weekend,
    Babs

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  38. Okay, that is absolutely amazing, Joan! I especially love that it has come back to life twice!

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  39. Wow, I thought it was fake! :-)
    I am amazed you've had it for so long!

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  40. That might be setting a record Joan! You most certainly have a green thumb and I used to LOVE Smith and Hawken, was sooo sad when they closed shop! I love seeing a plant almost gone then spring back to life, its like every day is a little gift each time you see a new leaf or bud sprouting....the gift that keeps on giving and in your case for a long long time. WIshing it at least 20 more years!

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  41. I have a Christmas cactus that will turn 20 years old this year! It is huge and does very well in our sunroom. I know its age as it was a very small plant (with others in a planter arrangement) our realtor gave us upon purchasing a house. This plant has seen 3 moves since and still thriving. I love ivy but don't have any. I think I should start one soon.

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  42. Wow, 20 years...I saw that on the last post and thought it may have been a typo...more like 2 years! :) But you are doing what ivy loves, not too much water, drying out a bit between waterings and the right light level. The more variegated the ivy, the more light it needs, so it can be tricky. I have left ivy outside in pots thru Chicagoland winters and 50% of the time it comes back....love that plant! I admire your patience immensely! Rosie

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  43. Joan,
    This is a wonderful story on gardening and that it's so much about patience...I do miss Smith and Hawken...always a pleasure to visit that store. We had one in New Canaan and there was one in Westport, CT too...always such knowledgeable people working there...I was once mistaken for an employee at the NC store...a very uptight woman walked in carrying her ivy topiary...mostly dead and walked right up to me demanding to know what was wrong with it...I of course said that I had no idea and walked away...wish I could send her this post...she needs a little patience in her life!
    xo
    annie

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  44. Hi Joan
    Great story of gardening and patience. I think your plant lasted so long because of the way you've watered it.
    Kind Regards
    Karen

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  45. I have always loved topiaries!!! And this one is gorgeous, 20 years old, amazing, please let me know if you find out what kind of ivy it is. I planted a varigated one (more like a dozen) in large pots outside on either side of our front door, on large topiary cones, they have grown very fast, and are almost covered, hoping they are hardy! ~ Donna

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  46. Hooray for you! Such a beautiful ivy. When I water my ivy topiary, I put it in the sink and give it a shower, and I've avoided bugs of any kind for years.

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  47. I've had ivy topiaries before where they didn't last very long due to spider mites. I live in the south, and that probably gives them that humidity they like. Your topiary is very pretty and looks so nice mixed with the other natural materials on your mantel. Thanks so much for stopping by and visiting me too!

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  48. Your house seems to be a lovely place !

    XX
    Anci

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  49. You know I always have thrown my ivy out when it gets the spider mites...good to see a solution! You get an award for your ancient ivy!

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  50. you are so true to form... i love to visit with you here, so i have a small idea of how the topiary thrives and continues to grow in the company of your inspirational and loving care.
    thank you kindly...
    -xok.

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  51. So Lovely. I love your posts and your home.

    LIsa

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  52. Great post, Joan! Ivy topiaries are one of my faves too! I have a little one going - purchased from the little grandma ladies at a local thrift shop - they're always selling plant starts. In the winter Wyoming mountains this bit of green is lovely to see next to my kitchen sink. Oh, and thanks for the tip about the peppermint soap. I was just going to do some checking about those little bugs and there the answer was in your post! Take care - it's always fun to visit here

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  53. Hi,
    Thanks for getting back to me on the mailbox. Just my luck:( if you come across another one, please let me know! I can't wait for the barn room!!!
    Shelly
    shellylachow@aol.com

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  54. I have a little silver dollar plant that lives with me like your ivy. I forget it, it has forgiven me many times, and 20 years later it's still about the same size in the same pot. I've had mercy on it twice and given it new soil, but still in the same little pot in a windowsill. If I didn't have it and the two heirloom plants from LONG (15 and 35 years) deceased relatives, I'd have no green at all. Here's to the little sprouts of life that live to cheer us on.

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