I wish I could say that the rhubarb in the picture above, growing in such abundance it is flowing over the fence, was mine, but it isn’t. It belongs to my neighbours and I am suffering a serious case of rhubarb envy. Of course in gardening there are some things you can’t possibly cheat. Trying to control nature is like King Canute turning back the tide – it aint going to happen. When you plant rhubarb all the books and any expert gardener will tell you, the first year you mustn’t pull off any stems and the second year you can harvest but only sparingly as the crown takes that long to become established and strong.
I thought that my two rhubarb plants which went in last year were doing really well and was looking forward to a crop of some sort in the months ahead, if only a handful of stalks. I’d be happy with just one rhubarb crumble to keep me sweet till next year. But on closer inspection I realised that what I thought were leaves all knubbling up and ready to unfurl were in fact flowers.
I have seen the flowers on sale in smart London florists and when fully grown they are really fabulous, towering and architectural (if a little wierd) but when growing rhubarb for culinary purposes they are not at all desirable. They sap all the strength from the plant and if not removed as soon as you see them appear can mean that the plant will never ever recover properly. My rhubarb could be destined for a life with chronic fatigue syndrome if I don’t take immediate action. Then to add insult to injury, I noticed my neighbours rhubarb, so full of vim and vigour it looks set to leap over the fence.
So again it is a lesson in patience that nature kindly teaches. I’ve removed the flowers and will need to keep removing any more that appear and just hope that with some TLC next year I will be rewarded. I have read somewhere that you can eat the flowers, (DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!) and they do look a bit like calabrese, but I think I’ll give it a miss as everything ever written about rhubarb shreiks about the leaves being poisonous and NOT TO EAT THEM. In the meantime, luckily for me, only one of my neighbours, in the house with the plentiful supply, likes rhubarb so I have been told to help myself to theirs. So expect a few rhubarb recipes in the coming weeks.