Trauma: the English Ivy of the Psyche

It looks harmless but it ain’t.

About seven months ago I moved to a lovely old two-story Cape Cod situated on two half-acre yards filled with white oaks. From the long paved driveway marked with an elegant black metal “Welcome” sign hanging from the mailbox to the Irish green awning hanging over the side door, I knew it was home.

There are many features to love about the house, including a covered back porch which I furnished with a black wooden porch swing, for lazy afternoons, and hummingbird feeders, to attract my favorite birds. Partially empty flower beds have awaited my personal touch, filled as they were — upon moving in — with spider grass, hostas, hydrangeas… and ivy.

Lots of English ivy.

The ivy makes up most of the groundcover on the perimeter around the house at the back, and when I moved in it was making its way up the down spout next to the back porch. It was also climbing up the back porch itself, reaching over the rails in all of the corners as well as reaching around the corner toward the side door.

No big deal, I thought. I’ll just trim the places I don’t want it to grow.


Well, not Africa.

Come to find out, English ivy is actually horrifically prolific and can do significant property damage if not brought under control or completely eradicated. It can get into the soft mortar of brick walls and weaken the bricks by allowing moisture into and behind the bricks where it pushes its way through. New shoots can slither into windows and underneath siding.

English ivy can kill off native vegetation as it spreads out, not allowing local plant life to thrive — and provide hiding places for mice, rats, spiders, snakes, and even termites. It can also kill trees by strangling their roots and adding extra weight to the trunk, as well as damaging the bark of certain kinds of trees.

These mf’s better stay away from my beautiful oak trees.

As if that isn’t enough, mature ivy vines will flower and produce toxic berries; even though humans are (usually) smart enough not to eat them, the birds will eat them and then deposit the seeds back into the ground with their droppings.

In other words, this harmless-looking vine with its lovely little leaves is… kind of a nightmare.

And it’s not the easiest thing to get rid of, either. The leaves are wax-coated like many types of ivy, and you have to either go chemical-warfare on it and spray scored vines with Roundup, or protect your other plants and douse it with a vinegar/soap/salt concoction that will kill any other green thing it comes into contact with along with the ivy. Pick your poison.

Heads, fuckery. Tails, also fuckery.

Once I read about the dangers of letting English ivy grow unchecked, I realized this would have to be my long-term yard project. So far I’ve ripped out a three-foot high pile of it in one go…and that was only the vines that had climbed up my down spout. (It’s going to be a long spring and summer.)

On the plus side, I have a lot of time to think while I’m working in my yard. Today as I was pulling yet more of these stupid little vines out of the flower bed and out of the lattice under the porch, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel between English ivy and trauma.

Trauma might not look like it’s doing anything at first, but it can slowly creep into many other areas of your life and rear its ugly head. It infiltrates even into places that seem unrelated, and can get into the foundation of your identity and let other ideas in. It can crawl into places that you actually like, and completely choke out the roots of things you want to keep.

Removing it is a goddamn bitch and ideally takes more than one person, maybe even more than two. I mean if you really want to make progress quickly it takes a whole team who knows what they’re doing.

And even then, it still takes a lot longer than you want it to.

And even then, you have to watch for it springing back up in places you least expect.

And even then, you have to assess the damage it did/is doing and fix that too.


Anyway, I’m sure you can put together the rest of the finer points of this parallel. I’ve got to get back to ripping out piles and piles of ivy.

Happy gardening! Wish me luck!

Just a normal day of yard work, nothing to see.



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