Cool Rhubarbs | PITH + VIGOR by Rochelle Greayer

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Cool Rhubarbs

10/30/2012

I have lived in Maine for about a month now. A lot of folks told me that it would be different. It is different. Growing up in North Carolina and spending the past 8 years in Pennsylvania were quite a bit different than life along the coast of Maine. As a part of adjusting to the change of life and gardening in Maine, I will be sharing plants that grow well here in Boothbay, Maine (USDA hardiness zone 6a or the tropics of Maine) or plants that I would like to add to the gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in 2013.

The giant rhubarb of plant collecting lore.

One plant that took me by surprise was the giant rhubarb (Rheum spp.). In Pennsylvania, we commonly saw rhubarb stems in the grocery store or growing along Amish vegetable plots but we never saw the giant rhubarbs that are the legends of plant explorations and English gardening magazines.

As I was walking into the new Children’s Garden at CMBG, I swooned at the Chinese rhubarb growing right in front of me. It was almost like meeting a celebrity in person. I had read about it but here it was, actually alive!

Chinese rhubarb

As I made my way around the Gardens, I encountered other rhubarbs of different sizes and colors. They looked great until our first frost and then they melted like, well, cooked boiled rhubarb.

Stem color of 'Ace of Hearts' after frost

One cultivar, Rheum ‘Ace of Hearts’ has held up better and longer than the others, even after the frost. This rhubarb has wonderful deep-red stems, red leaf undersides, and it holds its leaves upright, which looks like an upside down heart. – Rodney

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