More gardeny thoughts about rhubarb, and the turmoil of bygone plants

May 19, 2008

For close to 20 years, the rhubarb plant that my husband Guy long ago committed to soil has been a loyal garden friend. Always showing up when expected, always graceful and full of sturdy elephant-like leaves and bright red stalks, I’m sad to report that suddenly, it is no more. And that’s because I made an executive chef’s decision that it was weakening with age. Its once enormous ruby stalks reduced to pencil-thick green ones that were woody and tough … a clear indication that it would be no good in my rhubarb pie!

And so, it had to go; but not without a fight. Struggling and tugging, digging and coaxing, I finally evicted it from its home — roots and all — and tossed it on the compost heap. (Don’t worry, friends: The poisonous leaves and roots will do no damage to the compost). What I was left with was a gaping hole about 2-feet deep. Guy was beside himself when he saw the naked spot and to put it politely, “questioned the wisdom” of what I had done, reminding me that this heirloom had been like a family pet!

We ate dinner in silence that night.

The next day I was feeling so guilty that I found myself at my local garden center searching for a new plant. And boy did I get a lesson on rhubarb. Who knew that there were so many varieties? Because I was getting such an education I thought I’d onpass this new knowledge to you (in case you, too, are a rhubarb-variety newbie like me). So, here goes:

:: I was told that the deep red Petiole is the more popular variety, but these plants often don’t do as well as some of the green varieties, which can be more productive.

:: I had always thought that red-stemmed rhubarb was better and sweeter, but apparently that’s not true. The Victoria variety, which is probably the greenest variety, can produce some very sweet stalks.

:: Other varieties worth trying are Canadian Red and Cherry Red.

With all that info. I couldn’t make up my mind which to get, so I bought a Victoria for its green stalks and a Cherry Red for its brilliant color. Now these two plants flank one end of the garden and Guy happily tends them with expectations that they will rise with vigor and grow well into old age. And I … I no longer feel guilty for making the chefly executive decision to say farewell to the former plant, and I anxiously await the first harvesting for my rhubarb pie! It’s just not spring without it.

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