Varieties like 'Timperley Early' will provide a crop of sweet red stems by March when grown in the garden. But it’s also possible to force rhubarb into premature growth by using a terracotta pot or upturned dustbin to create dark, warm conditions. This produces soft, champagne-pink stems up to six weeks earlier and they are delicious.
There are lots of varieties of rhubarb but the following list of readily available ones includes some old favourites and some newer ones. Bear in mind that the colour of the stems changes due to growing conditions. The north of England has the perfect climate - with cooler summers and harder winters - and this makes for redder stems.
'Timperley Early' (early) AGM
So early it’s probably better not to force it. The slender, long pink-red stems have a tart flavour that makes it an excellent crumble filler. Not a prolific cropper - but a must for all rhubarb lovers. Bred by H. Marshland in 1945 (widely available).
'Grandad's Favourite' (mid-season) AGM
Grown and named by Alan Bloom, who always breakfasted on rhubarb and managed to live to 98, this handsome variety (often exhibited on the show bench) also produces a heavy crop of brightly coloured stems with a full flavour (from R. V. Rogers).
'Fulton's Strawberry Surprise' AGM (mid-season to late)
Voted the best flavoured rhubarb in the RHS Wisley trials of 2003. Vivid red stems on a variety that is not too vigorous (exclusively from Thompson & Morgan).
'Raspberry Red' (mid to late-season)
An old Dutch Variety recently reintroduced with sweet red stems. Heavy cropper, for a sunny, open position (from Pennard Plants).
'Queen Victoria' (mid-season to late)
Colourful, strong red stems, easy and prolific. This heritage variety still holds its own today. Vigorous, makes huge clumps, so perhaps not for smaller gardens. Introduced in 1837 by Joseph Myatt. There is also a 'Prince Albert' (1840). ('Queen Victoria' is widely available. Pennard Plants stock 'Prince Albert').
'Hawke's Champagne' AGM (early to mid)
Delicately thin, long, scarlet stems with a sweet flavour from early Spring. An old variety, but easy to grow and ideal for forcing. Attractive to look at (available from Brandy Carr and Pennard Plants).
'Stockbridge Arrow' (late)
Heavy cropper producing suffused-red stems (that are extremely tender) by May. The best of the newer varieties and grown heavily for forcing in Yorkshire (Marshalls).