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What’s your favourite dessert? Putting bread and butter pudding to one side, I have two favourite puddings made with supplies from my garden – gooseberry fool and rhubarb crumble. While I’ll have to wait a few months for gooseberries, the rhubarb season has arrived.
An established clump covered with a terracotta forcing jar has come good again, as it does every year without much attention at all. I know it’s ready when the little terracotta lid is lifted high atop rhubarb leaves pushing through the tiny hole.
Delving my hand deeply through the gap I can grasp thick pink stems, removing them easily with a sharp tug. I think the variety is either ‘Stockbridge Arrow’ or ‘Early Champagne’, but can’t remember which.
But please don’t think there’s only one rhubarb. The varied collections at RHS gardens at Harlow Carr and Wisley hold dozens of rhubarb varieties, but very few are offered for sale.
Named varieties are usually sold as dormant root divisions, and occasionally these are potted and sold as growing plants. Last year I planted some seedling rhubarb plants from an organic veg plant supplier, but seedlings were only available of the popular ‘Victoria’.
We expect a lot from our rhubarb, so it’s important to dig plenty of rich organic compost into the soil before planting. I crammed three plants into the end of one of my deep beds, where it can be left undisturbed to flourish. A deep compost mulch and regular watering during last summer’s drought got it well established. However, this spring two of the plants produced flower spikes, and these were immediately cut away at their base to stop them weakening the clumps.
I did not cover these new plants with forcing jars, and won’t pick any stems in this first full year. However, next spring I’ll taste a few.
Rhubarb is one of the first crops I can enjoy from the garden each year, and well worth finding space for. With crumble and fool on the menu I’m going to skip starters and main course and go straight to dessert this week. All recipes gratefully received.
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