Purple patch breaks out

bizarre creature: The emerging buds of the ornamental rhubarb; below, the edible variety.

bizarre creature: The emerging buds of the ornamental rhubarb; below, the edible variety.

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IS it a bird? Is it a plane?

It’s not even a bat – it’s the bizarre buds of the ornamental rhubarb, Rheum palmatum, just after bursting forth last week. I’d really recommend growing it – it’s a talking point.

Huge purple leaves, maturing to dark green and purple underneath, evenually reaching to about 6ft tall.

If you want to embarrass the vicar or the curtain-twitching neighbours, the flower stalk is paricularly rude.

It’s also poisonous – you can’t eat any of it (remember ordinary rhubarb leaves are too, containing oxalic acid, a kidney toxin and corrosive acid). Lobelia and alyssum it ain’t.

Its slightly more well-behaved cousin, edible rhubarb, is also coming into its own now, with bright green leaves and red stems brightening up the spring garden. Roll on crumble time.