New National Collection Puts Rhubarb In The Spotlight

We are delighted to welcome a brand new Collection of Rheum (culinary rhubarb), to the programme of National Plant Collections, which is set to be celebrated with an entire weekend dedicated to everything rhubarb.

 
The Collection, based at the National Trust’s Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, has been established by head gardener, Chris Margrave who is himself a self-confessed rhubarb enthusiast. Chris grew up in Wakefield, part of the Rhubarb triangle of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford which is famous for producing early forced rhubarb. Traditionally the rhubarb is harvested by candlelight in forcing sheds, where all other light is excluded, thus producing a sweeter, more tender stalk.
 
Some of Chris’ earliest memories are of seeing the rhubarb growing along the sides of the M1, but having seen many of these sheds being demolished since his childhood Chris was concerned that the UK’s rhubarb traditions were shrinking which gave him the impetus to create a National Collection that has been growing at Clumber Park since 2009.
 
The Collection contains over 100 cultivars, 28 of which have been assessed as threatened in cultivation by the charity’s Threatened Plants Project. Of those Clumber Park is the only known location to 12 of these cultivars, although there are still a number of cultivars Chris is keen to find which are known to have been previously grown in the UK. These include: ‘A Cote Rouge’, ‘Dancer’s Early Red’, ‘Tobolsk’, ‘Elmsfeuer’ and ‘Hobday’s Giant’. Speaking on the Collection Chris said: “It’s really satisfying to know that we’re making a real practical contribution to plant conservation by growing these varieties and helping to keep alive a vanishing part of the West Riding’s Heritage.”
 
Rheum is a genus of plant in the family Polygonaceae and is an herbaceous perennial which grows from short, thick rhizomes. Although rhubarb is most commonly known for its culinary value by cooking the leaf stalks with sugar for pies and other deserts, it was originally recorded for its use in Chinese medicine as far back as 2700BC where preparations were made from the root and used to treat a variety of illnesses, especially constipation.
 
Speaking on the new Collection Plant Heritage Conservation Officer Mercy Morris said: “I am so pleased that Chris and the team at Clumber Park have done all this work towards their rhubarb Collection. There is a wealth of cultural and culinary tradition relating to rhubarb and we need to be proud of it.”
 
Clumber Park will be celebrating its new National Collection status at its Annual Rhubarb festival which is due to take place on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th May. Over the weekend visitors will have the opportunity to participate in a number of rhubarb themed activities including tasting sessions, cookery demonstrations and rhubarb craft activities. A Victorian gardener will be on hand to give top growing advice and children will be taught to play rhubarb darts as well as the opportunity to join in egg and rhubarb (spoon) races. The team will also try and tackle the myth that all rhubarb looks the same with a display and question time about different rhubarb characteristics and identification tips.
The event will take place at National Trust Clumber Park, Worksop, Nottinghamshire, S80 3AZ from 12noon to 4pm. Admission to the Park is £6.50 per vehicle, to the walled garden £3.90, National Trust members and children free. See: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park.
 
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