My trip to Tennessee and Alabama last week was intended to take me to somewhere warmish, and with some signs of spring. It didn't. Even though central Tennessee often has signs of daffodils popping up by now, I didn't see a single one. But upon arrival home (truck full of my tree and shrubs from the wholesale nurseries I'd visited, no further transmission problems through the mountains), I found our own daffodils have buds well above the foliage. The hyacinths have substantial buds and the snowdrops are already in bloom (photo below).
But the big excitement (for us plant nuts) is to find my hellebores in bloom. Also known by the name, 'Lenten Rose,' these tough plants start blooming in late January and will still be in bloom in early June. I had a shade bed above the driveway where I've had difficulty finding plants that grow well there. But about 15 years ago I planted a couple of Helleborus and they happily dug in. Over the years I've added a few more and now they are happily growing and reseeding themselves throughout the beds.
Barry Glick calls an, "idiot-proof plant." Barry has been hybridizing and selecting helleborus varieties for years and you can read about his work in the January issue of Southern Living. He's a fellow Garden Writer of America member so I cross paths with him at conferences. If you'd like to read more about this tough, evergreen plant, check his website. If you are dazzled the the colors he has developed and want to order some, you'll need to send him an email and see what he has available. It's entirely possible the Southern Living article generated so much excitement, he may not have any left.
Being back in central Tennessee, specifically in McMinnville, was both sweet and sad. Sweet, because I used to go there every spring and buy plants from the nurseries and truck them back to Missouri. The sad part was that not much looked familiar. The nursery names were the same, but the old connections I had there are gone. I did find a few good plants, specifically an 'Autumn Sunset' maple, about 16 ft tall, with a root ball weighing about 250 lbs, along with some balled and burlapped shrubs (doesn't look that big in the pickup at top, did it?) I mention the weight because when I backed my pickup up to the back of my rental pickup in Memphis, intending to pull the Big Tree and shrubs from one truck to the other, my tailgate latch broke. That was important, in the rain, because the Big Tree would now have to be lifted up and over the tailgate! Grrr. Thankfully the nice guys I posted about before, at Enterprise Rental, hoisted the big tree up and over and into my truck. With all the additional weight of the plants, I worried for the next 7 hours of driving that the ailing transmission would go out completely as I drove over the mountains in Arkansas. But gratefully, I made it to my own driveway, Josh tinkered with the tailgate and got it open, and we now have the Big Tree and the assorted shrubs unloaded and ready to be covered by snow tonight.
One plant I still have from those trips back in the late '70s, is a start of Crow's Foot Ivy, that was growing on one of the nursery barns. It's evergreen, with especially large leaves. Sometimes I put layers of the leaves on a serving plate to add color to a dish. (No, they're not particularly edible, but they aren't poisonous, either). The ivy grows along the edge of my house foundation and front porch.
The one thing in McMinnville I'd hoped might remain, was the old Gay-Lo Cafe, downtown. On my annual spring trips years ago, the local nursery workers went there for lunch for the great home cooked meals and the place was always crowded. Over time I'd gotten acquainted with one of the ladies who owned the place and I raved about her apple cake so often she finally gave me the recipe. The Gay-Lo (named for the two owners, Gayl and Lois, as I recall) is now just apartments, but the apple cake recipe survives. So here it is, a memorial to a fine eating place in downtown McMinnville, Tennessee. It's baked in a sheet pan and is so good you will have to pace yourself.
Gay-Lo Apple Cake
McMinnville, TN March 21, 1977
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups sliced, tart apples
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in the eggs. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt and mix. Add in the apples and mix lightly. Oil and flour a 9 x 14 in. cake pan, then pour in the batter and spread evenly. Bake for about 1 hour or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.
In a saucepan, combine:
1/2 cup (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Melt the butter and brown sugar, adding in the flour then the water, mixing. Simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened and add the chopped nuts. Spread over still-warm cake, then let cool completely before serving.
And here's one more helleborus from my garden, the only red one I have. I'm hoping it will cross with the white and greenish-white ones I have with it. The foliage is evergreen so even when they're not in bloom, they still are attractive plants.
This month I'm planting peas, onions, potatoes, bachelor's buttons, poppies, dill and cilantro. Spring isn't here, but early planting time is!