Mark Cullen's newsletter
Gifts and a Bird
As I contemplate the month of December, I have two big things on my mind: Canada's official bird (and a voice of authority to review it) and gift suggestions for you and the other gardeners on your Christmas list. 
There is much more to this newsletter than that.  I urge you to read down for the latest news in Canadian gardening.  Be informed or be out of the loop! 
Here goes:
A National Bird for Canada

Photo Credit: Peter Ferguson
Mid-November, we heard the news that the Gray Jay (or Whiskey Jack) is officially the national bird of Canada.  Great.  We need an official bird more than we need an official lot-of-things.  

Allow me to fill in the corners of this one for you, by asking some important questions of my #1 friend in the birding business, Steven Price, President of Bird Studies Canada (who are #1 in THEIR business, not-for-profit as it is).
Mark:  Steven, thank you for your monthly contributions to my newsletter.  We are getting GREAT feedback!  Now, about our new National Bird, the Gray Jay, you had a hand in the selection, no? 
Steven: Actually, Bird Studies Canada was a supporting partner in the Royal Canadian Geographic Society/Canadian Geographic contest.  BSC helped build the list of 50 original bird nominees, write some of the background stories for the birds, participate in the online debate, and promote the entire idea through many media interviews.
What was the criteria for selection of the bird?

Bird Studies Canada did not define the criteria, RCGS did.  The Gray Jay came third in the national online poll, somewhat behind the first-place Common Loon.  You might say the loon won the popular vote, but the jay won the 'electoral college'! (good one Steve!)  A national bird should span most of the country, as well as spark interest and curiosity in birds and the environment.  The winner - the Gray Jay - passes those tests with 'flying' colours! (ok, that's a bit corny - but Gray Jays love corn, no?  I get ahead of you.... sorry)
Why, in your opinion, was the Gray Jay picked?

The Gray Jay is:  'curious, bold, friendly, sociable, charming'.  Also, it's widespread across Canada.  That makes for a good national symbol.
What makes the Gray Jay peculiar to Canada?

Most of the world's Gray Jays live in Canada.  In fact, it was formerly called the Canada Jay.  While the range does creep into the boreal forest and Rockies of the northern United States, most of the Gray Jay's distribution is in Canada.  It touches every province and territory, but is absent in the prairies and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence area.  They stay over the winter too, unlike the Loon.  Gray Jay usually lives where there are abundant conifers, especially various spruce species.
What habits/characteristics stand out about this bird?  Song/feeding habits/habitat etc.
How can we attract them to OUR yards?
Gray Jays come as close to being friendly as any bird.  They will visit a campfire or picnic site, alight on your hat or shoulder, and take a scrap you offer or steal one if you don't!  Gray Jays are truly omnivorous, eating seeds, fruits, insects, carrion, suet - just about anything.  If you live near conifer forests, almost any food at your feeder will be on the Gray Jay's menu.
What is your opinion of the Gray Jay (or whisky-jack) as a choice for our national bird?
The Gray Jay has been selected by Canadian Geographic magazine as their recommendation for the federal government to adopt as an 'official' national bird.  Whether the government confirms that choice is still 'to be determined'!  (so, I was wrong - this bird is not 'official' yet.  Mark)  But the Gray Jays widespread range and endearing habits make it an engaging choice for sure.
What does it mean to be a 'national bird'?

I hope a national bird helps all of us - gardeners, birders and all conservation-minded people - discuss and promote understanding and further protecting our environment.  A national bird should help tie us to the outdoors, to the wonderful and beautiful natural places still left in Canada.  And if you are fortunate enough to see one in your garden, then you have a ready talking point at any time!

Anything you would add?
The Gray Jay is often referred to locally as the 'whiskey-jack'.  It's widely believed that the name arises from 'Wisakedjak', the friendly, trickster god known from Algonquin, Cree, Ojibway and Dene stories.  One spirit's name reinforced by another kind of spirit!
There you have it folks.  Straight from the great birder's mouth.  Go to for all kinds of great birding info and your chance to join "Project Feeder Watch".  

Gifts For You / For Others
What are you going to give or ask for this Christmas?  Let me illuminate you as I find gardeners among the easiest people to buy for:
Think of all of the experiences that you would value sharing with family and friends. 

A trip to a park Not just any old park but one with flowers and heritage trees, like High Park in Toronto, Stanley Park in Vancouver or the Public Gardens in Halifax (why do they close these during the winter?).  Tour a local community or allotment garden, in season. 


Toronto Music Garden

An outdoor garden concert.  Check out the concerts planned for the Toronto Music Garden, the Montreal Botanic Gardens or the VanDusen gardens in Vancouver.   You get the idea.  


If you can't buy a ticket before Christmas, write a nice note that you will take the receiver of your gift and you will pack a box picnic. 


Garden tours.  

There are myriad public tours of private gardens every season.  

The biggest and best (in my opinion) is Through the Garden Gate in Toronto.  

Celebrating their 25th year, every gardener on the planet would enjoy this.  Especially if they get to share it with someone special. 

Garden tours exist in almost every medium to large urban centre.  Go online and search for some of the best ones near you and plan to share the experience this spring/summer with someone that you like. 


Garden.  Just you and me and the bees.   Offer to plant a gardener's garden come spring. Or dig the holes (more to the point!), do some weeding, pruning (if you are competent in this area) or fertilize the lawn.  

You get the idea.  YOU are the gift: your time, talent and energy. 


Bee hotel This is an idea that is taking off right across the country and I take full credit for it.  Take just about any old stuff that you have around the garage and build habitat for beneficial insects and small animals like toads, frogs, snakes and salamanders.  

Remember: the secret to attracting 'beneficials' is rot and decay.  Most of us have lots of old lumber, firewood, mouldy cardboard, bricks, sand, flagstone or what-have-you lying around somewhere. 



Admittedly not everything listed here is free.  So while we are on the topic, here is a short list to help make it easy for you. 
Under $10
Dirt bag .  You think I am kidding? You can buy very good quality soil for under $10.  Look for product with my name on it.  Or a brand that you trust, similar to my own and perhaps almost as good.
Plus: flexible plant ties, plant id stakes, spiral tomato stake, lawn mower scraper, box of plant fertilizer, several seed packets (with a seed catalogue, free), Harrowsmith All Canadian Almanac or Garden Making (Canadian) Magazine.
Under $20

Garden gloves (good ones).  Cheap ones are a waste .
Stainless steel garden scoop, hand trowel, short handled garden fork or cultivator, garden twine and dispenser, clay pots, hummingbird feeder, quality birdseed, bee hotel, lawn sprinklers and hand held hose end nozzles. And my newest book The New Canadian Garden ($20, Dundurn Press)   
Under $50

A Back Hoe (my version of the ultimate weeding/planting tool, exclusive to Home Hardware), quality watering can (look for 'Hawes' -best in the business!), quality hand pruners and tree loppers, bird feeders, butterfly habitat, terrarium planter kit, balcony planters, window boxes, stainless steel digging tools and frankly this list could go on and on.

If you are still scratching your head, go to your local Home Hardware and look over the Mark's Choice line of product.  In the world of retail, 'good, better, best', Mark's Choice garden supplies and tools are 'better still'.  It is my intention, when we design new additions to the line up, to provide superior service and excellent gardening results.  
I have many letters of thanks that endorse my line of products at Home Hardware.  After 12 years of product development I am very proud of the results.  We are improving the line up and adding to it all of the time.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah.
Keep your knees dirty,
Mark Cullen
Merchant of Beauty
Things To Do This Month:

Sign up for Project Feeder Watch.   At regular intervals from November to April, thousands of FeederWatchers count the kinds and numbers of birds at their feeders, then submit their observations to Bird Studies Canada. This information helps scientists study winter bird populations.

Project FeederWatch participants receive a full-colour bird poster and calendar, a FeederWatch Handbook and Instruction Book, access to the data entry portion of the FeederWatch website, and the chance to contribute to a continent-wide bird research project. 

Project FeederWatch is a joint program of Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In Canada, you must be a member of Bird Studies Canada (BSC) to participate. BSC membership benefits include a subscription to our bi-weekly  Latest News e-newsletter, four issues a year of  BirdWatch Canada magazine, free participation in any of our volunteer programs, and a charitable tax receipt for the full amount of your membership.

Sign Up for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute newsletter. We are planting 117,000 trees - one tree for each of Canada's war dead since Confederation. A living, breathing memorial.   Stay in touch and keep up to the date with the campaign.  Visit to sign up today.

Become a #150Tree Champion.  For every $150 donation to the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, you will receive a "150Tree Kit" that includes a small '150Tree', a HOHLT t-shirt and an official certificate to commemorate your gift to Canada.  Certificates will be delivered upon donation and your t-shirt and '150Tree' will arrive in the spring, for you to plant in the location that means the most to you! More details here.

Check out the 2017 Harrowsmith Almanac.
Harrowsmith's Almanac provides Canadians from all walks of life with 320 pages of fun and useful information on country living and treading a little more lightly upon the earth.  
Along with Harrowsmith's own 40th anniversary, this year's Almanac issue looks ahead at some of the many anniversaries being celebrated in 2017, including this country's 150th. 
A reflection of a changing world, Harrowsmith's 2017 Almanac puts the spotlight on how high tech is changing the way we farm on one hand, while on the other work horses are still proving their relevance on a modern organic farm. In the only 100% Canadian made almanac on the market there is plenty to look forward to.

Start your amaryllis bubs now to make sure you are ready for my 2017 amaryllis photo contest.  Every year I host an amaryllis photo contest on my Facebook page.  You will find contest details in my newsletter, early 2017.  Start your amaryllis now and take photos when the fabulous blooms are at their peak.  You can view the 2016 contest entries here.

Sit back and relax with a copy of my new book The New Canadian Garden.  In my new book, I explore new trends, horticultural innovations, and the creativity that has been tapped by a generation of younger gardeners. I chronicle the significant changes that are redefining today's gardening experiences, including the boom of online information on gardening, which can be very practical, but also drives a growing need for a focus on understanding, technique, and the local gardening experience. 
Combining the best practical information with an insightful approach that improves gardeners' skills and enhances their experience, The New Canadian Garden is the book Canadians have been waiting for.
Currently available at 40% off, until December 15, through Dundurn Press.

Give a Birthday Gift to Canada

Become a Champion by making a $150 donation to buy a "Hero Tree", one of the 117,000 that will be planted along the Highway of Heroes.

Buy a tree, get a tree
For every $150 donation, you will receive a "150Tree Kit" that includes a small '150Tree', a HOHLT t-shirt and an official certificate to commemorate your gift to Canada.  Certificates will be delivered upon donation and your t-shirt and '150Tree' will arrive in the spring, for you to plant in the location that means the most to you!

Encourage others to join the movement
Inspire others to do the same and join you in becoming a Champion. Take a picture, make a short video help make this go viral! On social media, share the news of where YOU will be planting YOUR '150Tree' and WHY using the hashtag #150Tree. For $150 you will receive a tax deductible receipt, a certificate worthy of framing, a limited edition t-shirt and, in the spring, we will send you a tree of your own, to plant where you please, in memory of someone or all of the people who gave us everything so that we can enjoy most anything.  Including next year's garden.  
Furry Friends Contest 

This month's contest is different.  I would like to see a photo of your pet in your garden.  You know you have one somewhere.  Dig out those photos and enter my contest.  

Don't have a 'garden' photo with your pet?  Send me a photo of your pet with your real Christmas tree.

Email one photo to  Please include your pet's name.

All photos will be posted on my Facebook page .

The 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win a copy of the 2017 Harrowsmith Almanac and the Grand Prize of a $50 Home Hardware gift card (to the photo with the most likes).

Deadline for entry is December 9, 2016.
Voting deadline is December 16, 2016.
Contest Winners

In the November issue of Gardening with Mark, I invited you to share 'What your garden means to you'.  Thank you to all who entered their stories.  It is a treat to see beautiful pics from across the country.

The 5 comments with the most 'likes' each won a copy of the 2017 Harrowsmith Almanac.
The comment with the most 'likes' also won a $50 gift card for Home Hardware.

Congratulations to these Winners: Linda M. Giddens, Lesleigh Campbell, Linda Stauth, Liz Rogers, Pam Fominoff

Product of the Month - Mark's Choice Amaryllis Kit

Every year I feature this beautiful kit in my newsletter.  I truly believe this is the ideal hostess gift.  And don't forget to buy one for yourself.

The Mark's Choice amaryllis kit is available at Home Hardware ($24.99).  The premium-sized bulbs support so many blossoms and flowering stems that many people have reported 3 or 4 stems with 4 flowers on each stem.

The soil, pot and bulb are all included in the gift box.   I believe the Mark's Choice amaryllis kit offers the highest quality and value.

Home Hardware item# 5029-304 (striped) 5029-303 (red) 

Pot up an amaryllis bulb soon to ensure you have blooms in time for my annual contest.

Mark's Choice Amaryllis Stake
I use an amaryllis stake for every amaryllis I grow.  Install the stake early, before the leaves are too large.   If you are growing a premium-sized amaryllis bulb (like the Mark's Choice kits) the flower stalks will have multiple blooms.  
The stalks will need support to make sure they don't fold under the weight of blooms.
Stay in Touch 
Mark's Gardening Connections  

Home Hardware

Gardening Events
Event Schedule

My monthly Event Listings are so popular we were running out of room in the newsletter.  All event listings have moved to .
Event lists are organized by Province and accessible through these links:
Do you have a 'gardening' event you would like to promote?  I would be happy to include your event listing on my website.

Send your info to with the subject line 'Event Listing'.  Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.