Nanny-food? No way
Rather like potatoes, rhubarb varieties are loosely divided into three categories – first early, second early and maincrop (or early, mid-season and late season) – which correspond to the time at which the particular variety begins to be productive.
Pick one plant from each category (three rhubarb plants is easily enough for any household) and you should have a steady crop of rhubarb from mid-spring until mid-July. If youd like to extend the season even further, then consider growing the worlds very first autumn-cropping rhubarb, a new variety called Livingstone. As to other which varieties to select, there are dozens in cultivation, some of which are much tastier and more vigorous than others.
I’ve plumped for those which hold the coveted Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM), given only to those plants which are considered reasonably resistant to pest and diseases, stable, of good constitution, readily available to buy in a nursery or garden centre and, most importantly, “excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions”.
My first choice is ‘Timperley Early’, a robust, thick-stemmed, productive variety that’s been in cultivation since the 1920s and which should start producing its harvest of scarlet stems by March/April, earlier again if forced. Of the second-earlies, I’ve chosen a compact variety known as ‘Hawke’s Champagne’, first introduced in the early Victorian era and still highly prized for its sweetness.
Last but certainly not least is the maincrop variety known as ‘Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise’, voted tastiest of all the rhubarbs trialled by the RHS at Wisley in 2003.
If all goes well, within a few years I should have an ample harvest, perhaps even enough to make some rhubarb wine, a more grown-up version of my favourite childhood tipple. Even the esteemed Grigson couldn’t call that “nanny-food”.
Planting rhubarbIdeally plant in November/December into a very fertile, well-drained (but not dry) soil, and in a sunny, weed-free spot far away from the competing root-systems of tress/shrubs/hedges. Enrich soil with garden compost/manure before planting. Bury plants so that the dormant buds are just above (heavy soils) or just below (lighter soils) ground level. Allow at least three feet between plants. Water plants in dry spells (summer), protect against slugs and manure annually (winter/spring).
TipCompact varieties can be grown in large tubs if kept well fed/watered.
DIARY DATE: November 21st:Floral Art Group demonstration by Isobel Morris, Coming Home for Christmas, 8pm at Wesley House, Leeson Park, Dublin 6. €10 entrance. See rhsi.iefor details