Its leaves are vast - 3ft across, sometimes more - and very deeply cut. In the variety "Atrosanguineum" the leaf shoots are scarlet when they emerge from the massive rootstock in spring. When they first open, they are crumpled, like delicate, folded bat's wings, but they soon unfurl to reveal a vivid crimson-purple colour. Although the upper surfaces darken to green, the undersides retain this colouring for longer.
Large leaves are valuable in any garden and in small gardens they increase the sense of space, adding drama and exciting contrasts of scale. They also have a calming quality. In their expanse there is a stillness, in the same way that there is in a pool of water.
In early summer the rhubarb sends strong, thick and hollow, spear-shaped stalks, 6ft to 7ft into the air - sometimes more. The blades open into great frothy panicles of blooms - bead-like flowers in cerise-crimson and raspberry-pink. Flower stalks like these take much of the rhubarb's energy and some people remove them to divert the energy into making the most luscious leaves possible. Seems like butchery to me. You don't just lose the flowers, but the striking, architectural seedheads that follow them, too.
The rhubarb likes good, rich soil which is slightly damp - perfect conditions for its two companions, the Hosta and Primula.
The Hosta echoes the rhubarb's foliage, with its large leaves, but they are different enough to provide a contrast. Any of the large-leafed Hostas will do this, including those with variegations in their foliage. "Royal Standard" has lush, rich green, heart-shaped leaves with waved edges. It forms upright clumps about 3ft in height and, in late summer, it flowers, producing fragrant, white, funnel-shaped blooms on long, graceful stems.
The giant cowslip, Primula florindae, flowers at about the same height as the Hosta, but its blooms are sulphur-yellow in colour. Individually, the drooping flowers are small, but are carried in heads of up to 40 at a time. Beneath them, the long leaves are the freshest green.
Plant the Primula and the Hosta in large drifts around the rhubarb and, if your soil is not naturally moist, keep them fed and watered.
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