GARDENING: This year it’s a case of wait and see

It’s been a difficult year for gardeners so far, judging by the e-mails I’ve had recently.

This is no doubt due mainly to a prolonged drought followed by that one night of phenomenal cold during the second half of winter, and no doubt the dull, chilly weather, northerly and easterly winds and record rainfall have had their own parts to bear.

Tony, from Surfleet, asked me if he should worry about his fig tree, which usually is starting to leaf by now, but is showing no signs of life.

You’d think that in a small garden like mine, I would notice whether mine was leafing, but, to be honest, I hadn’t even given it a glance.

When I did, I found that mine was in a similar state, apart from two leaves just starting to break near the wall. I inspected the rest of the tree, which, thankfully, looked very much alive apart from a reluctance to greet any summer we might still be about to see, so I guess Tony – and anyone else with a fig tree – has nothing to worry about, unless it’s a young plant or pot-grown, in which case I give my usual advice – wait and see.

I doubt if we will be able to pass judgement on many plants this year for at least another month; I have hostas – and quite established ones, too – that have yet to put in an appearance.

Jenny from Rushden (yes, we do have readers outside the district!) wonders why her rhubarb, planted last year, has produced nothing this season but two flower stalks, which she says she has wisely removed.

Flowering rhubarb is usually a sign either of stress or unusual weather conditions and this poor plant has seen both in the last twelve months. It’s my guess that last season it didn’t receive the copious watering, feeding and mulching necessary to get it off to the best possible start, so now it’s producing flowers in the hope of leaving progeny behind when it succumbs to an early death.

I would advise a thorough soaking (is there still a hosepipe ban in East Northamptonshire, I wonder?), followed by a thick mulch of farmyard manure, which she should be able to obtain bagged from her local garden centre. If any decent stalks do appear, they should be left on the plant to build up the crown for next season – frustrating, I know, but essential if she is going to get a decent plant in years to come. It’s always better to plant two crowns if space allows, then one can be allowed to rest every year while the other produces the lovely pies and crumbles Jenny was hoping for this spring.

Which reminds me – the in-laws are coming for the week and enjoy nothing better than a decent rhubarb crumble. Kitchen and oven, here I come.