December 29, 2014
Surprisingly Ornamental 'Victoria' Rhubarb
Plants with bold leaves make a valuable contribution to the texture of a garden, but choices are limited for sunny spots (hostas need shade) in cold climates (tender Gunnera is out). The huge leaves of 'Victoria' rhubarb have proven to be surprisingly pretty and sturdy in my garden.
Another great advantage of rhubarb is its early start in spring. The photo above was taken March 12, while most perennials in my garden were still fast asleep.
By April 8, this plant was making a much appreciated splash of green in the still sparse landscape.
Above you can see just how small everything else is, while the rhubarb has pretty ruffles and flowers ready to bloom.
Here rhubarb makes a nice backdrop for the reddish new leaves of a tree peony. My rhubarb plants have grown quickly in rich soil with water from the drip system, while I have been waiting and waiting for my large-leaved Darmera and Astilboides to take off in shady spots.
If you are growing rhubarb to harvest the stalks, I have heard that you should cut off the buds so they don't use up all the plant's sugar energy and make the stalks bitter. Since I'm just growing them to be ornamental, I let the flowers bloom.
The white rhubarb flowers bloomed at the same time as the magenta 'Royal Raindrops' crabapples nearby, which made a nice contrast.
I used the flowers in arrangements with tulips and hellebores. Plenty of bees made use of the flowers as well. I removed the flower stalks before they dropped thousands of seeds.
Here is a shot of my rhubarb plants from the end of the season. After an especially hot stretch in midsummer, some of the rhubarb leaves at the base died and needed to be removed to keep the clumps looking tidy.
In fall the rhubarb leaves turned red around the edges and then yellow all over. They survived light frosts, then turned to stinky mush when it got really cold.
'Victoria' rhubarb is a beautiful, useful, sturdy plant that deserves consideration for a spot outside of the vegetable garden, especially for those of us in cold climates.