poetry and prose about place

abandoned gardens: rhubarb gone to seed

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When a vegetable garden is abandoned, not much will remain in a couple of years. Most of the plants are annuals and so will vanish; even though some may go to seed, most plants cannot compete with native vegetation. Perennial vegetable garden plants will struggle for a while, but few will survive. The exception is rhubarb.


Rhubarb (Rheum spp.) is known to most of us as a component of the garden. The stalks are bitter, but cooked with sugar, the tart taste is a treat. My mom used to cook rhubarb with strawberry jello, if not real strawberries, to make a dessert. Rhubarb was grown in Europe both for food and for medicinal purposes. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and one source says this contributes to the success of rhubarb since it is not likely to be eaten by rabbits, deer and other garden marauders.


When rhubarb is used in a garden, the flowers are pulled and discarded, to allow harvesting of the stems for as long as possible. When a garden is abandoned, no one pulls the flower stalks and the flowers stand high above the plant to say, “once there was a garden here.”


37 rhubarb Dorn Sett

old rhubarb plants at Dorn Ridge


We have found rhubarb growing at abandoned house sites on Dugan Road west of Woodstock and at Dorn Ridge, near Burtt’s Corner.


63 rhubard Dugan Road cropped

rhubarb plants on the Dugan Road near Woodstock


Rhubarb, originally prized for its medicinal uses, is always welcome when it sprouts in early spring.  In days past, it meant the end of a long winter and a fresh source of nutrients and vitamin C.  To me, it is a tribute to the gardeners who have worked hard to cultivate a garden plot and make life more sustainable.


This work was made possible by a Creations Grant from artsnb!


All my best,



Written by jane tims

July 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

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