Daffodils are nice, and tulips do look pretty, but nothing says spring to me like rhubarb…and my own rhubarb at that. Though I’ve gardened for a long time and have tended many kinds of flowers and plants-what I really desired for many years and longed to have was rhubarb.
I love rhubarb. Whether it’s mixed with a little water and sugar and cooked down into sauce, or made into a crisp or pie or jam (which I’m going to make for the first time this year) I never get tired of it. It’s one of those things people either hate or love, and those I’ve met who love it, REALLY love it.
Until about three years ago I didn’t have my own plants. As I walked around town I would see monstrous clumps of it in back alleys-going to seed. I would hint to friends who had it (and it sure seemed like every one else in town did!) that I sure would appreciate some, and then have to be content with two or three stalks. And worst of all was actually having to buy myself some rhubarb at the grocery store. Once I bought a tiny rhubarb start at a local garden club plant sale. It was about 6 inches tall and the stalks were as thick as pieces of asparagus. “That’s ok.” I told myself. “Next year it will get bigger.” That next spring it came up-attained about the same size and quit growing. I may have “harvested” one or two bits. I didn’t want to kill it by picking too much. The spring after that this little rhubarb didn’t even bother to show itself.
I went on a mission to buy some plants at one of the local nurseries in town. There are three. “Do you have rhubarb for sale?” I would inquire. “You want to BUY rhubarb?” they would chuckle back at me. “Why don’t you just pick some in an alley somewhere?” and then they would excuse themselves to “answer the phone” and I would hear them laughing hysterically when they thought they were out of earshot.
So you know what I did…what I had to resort to? I bought rhubarb plants off of Ebay! I got three starts, because I figured at least one would make it. My Mom helped me plant it-and we followed the planting instructions to the letter.(Who knew there was a right and wrong way to do this?) I also listened to the advice to take nothing the first year, and just a few stalks the second year. Last year I cut my rhubarb down to within an inch of its life (like I was told I could do) and this spring-even though it is still early-I can see that I am to be the proud “mother” of three monster sized plants of my own! All THREE plants are still alive and flourishing!
Last spring I was happy to help a fellow gardener who wanted her own rhubarb and had failed several times in her attempt to grow some. I gave her copies of the planting instructions that I used and wished her good luck. I saw her husband later in the summer and he thanked me profusely for my help-they too were on their way to rhubarb success.
Now those same garden nurseries sell rhubarb starts. It seems to be a new trend-a renewed interest in growing one’s own fruits and vegetables—rhubarb included. If I asked for rhubarb now I would probably be asked what variety I was after and how many of each. So frustrated rhubarb lovers can rejoice-no more midnight trips around the neighborhood looking for plants to poach, or begging friends and acquaintances for a mere stalk or two. A chicken in every pot-or a rhubarb plant in every garden is not just a dream anymore—it’s a sweet (and tart) reality!