Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
God Gave Canadian Gardeners Winter.....

You might wonder how to finish this sentence.  In our view, God gave Canadian gardeners winter for a variety of reasons.  Here are just a few (in case you have forgotten):


1. Time to dream.  Winter is not just for hockey or, in the case this season, winter Olympics.  It is a time for us to reflect on what we experienced out of doors this past year, especially where our gardens are concerned.  How did your experience shape your plans for this coming year?


Watch this short video for a quick walk through my mid-August garden.


2. Plans, what plans We mention plans intentionally.  Really, is there a better time of year to plan the garden of your dreams?  They say that you have to 'dream it' before it can become reality.  Whatever 'it' is, perhaps this year you try some new veggie varieties (Mark's Choice seed packets are on the racks now at Home Hardware), expand the garden, add some pollinating plants (i.e. native) or build a deck, patio or walkway.   Now is the time to dream it.


Fusion garden by Parklane Nursery


3. Call a professional.  It is SO predictable.  The warm weather of spring and early summer turns our attention to the garden and we get all fired up about making changes.  You call a garden contractor or designer and you get put on hold.  Literally, you wait for weeks or maybe a month just for a visit from a professional who is run off their feet that time of year. The same people this time of year? No.  They would love to hear from you.  And we will speculate that you will get better quality work as a result.


How so? When a contractor, who is in the highly seasonal business of gardening, can sit with you, ask you questions and digest the information into an action plan that suits you both, you always end up better in the end. Likely, they can start the work earlier and sometimes they can offer better, early season pricing.  We are here to plant the seed in your head.  The rest is up to you.


4. Read, listen and digest.  What a great time of year to pick up some gardening magazines, read on-line blogs, listen to podcasts and you name it.  This is your best chance of the year to gather ideas, inspiration and facts.  Like squirrels gathering nuts in autumn, this is our time.  You won't regret the mind-expanding exercise of all of this. 

Could we be so bold as to suggest that you browse ?  Visit our library where there are over 4,000 newspaper articles archived. 

5. Buy some flowers
.  Bring some spring-time colour and fragrance inside your home with a pot full of flowering bulbs.  Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths.  You name it.  
They are not expensive, and they pay dividends as they lift your spirits, brighten any room and stimulate your olfactory system -that part of your brain that responds to natural, sweet scents.   Uhmmmmm.   You get the idea.

6. Buy some more
 flowers .  Valentines Day is a Wednesday this year.  Buy your sweet heart, and your other loved ones, some flowers.  Mark made a habit of bringing home a small flowering plant for each of his four kids each Valentines Day when they were living at home.  He has no regrets. 
You won't regret buying fresh cut flowers, roses or otherwise, for your #1 sweetie.  Why? Cause their love is as sweet as todays blossom bright.  The scent of which inspires you. 
And silk flowers just don't cut it.  Take our word for it.   
That is your introduction to 'gardening in February'. 
And your to-do list as well.
A reminder that Canada Blooms, the largest garden festival in the country, opens Friday, March 9th and runs until Sunday, March 18th.  The National Home Show occurs under the same roof at the Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto and your ticket gets you into both events.

Be sure to check out the largest, most ambitious garden in over a decade: The Highway of Heroes Living Tribute garden.  Designed and constructed by award winning artist Joe Genovese of Genoscape.  It will truly impress you.  We know, we have seen the plans.   

Mark with Joe Genovese in one of his award-winning garden.

Watch this short video that will inspire you. Details at
Highway of Heroes Living Tribute

Speaking of our favourite not-for-profit, the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute team has a special announcement: Mr and Mrs. David and Sharon Johnston have volunteered as our honorary patrons.    
Recently off the job as Canada's Governor General, David is still very busy.  His wife remains the Honorary Captain (Navy) for Military Personnel Command of the Canadian Armed Forces among other things. 
To say that we are delighted to have their support would be a dramatic understatement.
For details go to and be sure to sign up for our free monthly newsletter.
Have a great month, stay well and remember to do some dreaming.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty
p.s. Ben became engaged in January.  His mother and Dad are so happy!  Sam(antha) is a delight and an inspiration.  Ben chose well.  Congratulations to both Ben and Sam.  

Mini Greenhouse Kit with Light Stand
This is a complete kit for the first-time seed grower. 
It comes with a double thick standard 1020 tray and a tall humidity dome with adjustable air vents. 

The 18" SunBlaster light can be used with the included stand or you can rest the light directly on the humidity dome.  
The NanoTech reflector increases the amount of light reaching the seedlings.
What a great way to get started this gardening season.
Home Hardware # 5121-577
Mark's Choice Garden Seeds are in!
Home Hardware locations have just recently received their 2018 supply of fresh garden seeds, including Mark's Choice.  Look for them on the top of the Ontario Seed rack.  

Each variety has been specially selected for top garden performance, disease resistance and flavor.  There is a huge difference between 'home grown' vegetables and similar product that is often shipped from afar and delivered to your local food retailer. 

This is very true of Mark's Choice veggie seeds.  I have 'garden tested' them all in my two-acre food garden.  You will pay a few nickels more for Mark's Choice ($1.99) but you will enjoy the best possible flavour and productivity from your garden.   

Simply Salad Blend item# 5063-168
Early Frost Pea item# 5063-169
Golden Delight Yellow Zucchini item# 5063-171
Prevail Green Bean item# 5063-161
Slenderwax Yellow Bush Bean item# 5063-162
Fanfare Hybrid Cucumber item# 5063-165
Kestrel Hybrid Beet item#5063-163
Lollo Rossa Red Lettuce item# 5063-166
Ingot Hybrid Carrot item# 5063-164
Tango Green Leaf Lettuce item# 5063-167
Seaside Hybrid Spinach item# 5063-170
Blue Spice Basil item# 5063-172
You might be surprised to learn that chickens don't mind the cold--it's dampness that raises their tail feathers. Have you entertained the notion of introducing chickens to your backyard?

Harrowsmith contributor Nicole Robertson offered a colourful behind-the-scenes look into her hen house at Caberneigh Farm in Uxbridge, Ontario in our Winter 2017-18 issue. 

Curious about what a Chicken Happy Hour with Silver Laced Polish Crested friends might look like? Her article illuminates some unexpected and delightful aspects of chicken husbandry. Rumour has it that there are two rambunctious Nigerian goats at Caberneigh now--be sure to read more about Nicole's motley crew in our upcoming issues.

Visit the Harrowsmith website for more info.

Photo by Melissa G.
In the January issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of the view from your window.  We truly enjoyed seeing your beautiful photos from across the country.  Thank you to everyone who shared a photo.
The 5 photos with the most 'likes' won a signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden.  The photo with the most likes won the Grand Prize of a $50 Home Hardware gift card + a signed copy of my book.

Congratulations to: Melissa G. (grand prize winner), Bonnie S., Sylvia V., Judy J., Kathy H., and Elaine C.
This is our most popular contest each year.  In fact, photos started arriving in my Inbox last month.  We are thrilled to launch the 7th edition of our Amaryllis Photo Contest.
We invite you to submit a photo of your amaryllis blooms.
Email one photo to  I will post all of the photos on my Facebook page.
Winners will be determined by the number of 'likes' a photo receives on my facebook page.  Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.
You have a choice of prizes this month.  If your photo is one of the Top 5, you may choose between a pair of tickets to Canada Blooms ($34 value) OR a signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden and a set of 4 Mark's Choice vegetable seeds ($34 value).
The grand prize winner will receive a $50 Home Hardware gift card as well as their choice of the above prizes. 
Enter today!
Deadline for contest entries is February 12, 2018. 
Deadline for voting is February 19, 2018.

American Tree Sparrow

Do you enjoy watching sparrows? It's true that they're not as flashy as some of their peers. Perhaps that's why they're easier to overlook. Others might lump sparrows into a category of unidentifiable "little brown birds." Sparrows are wonderfully diverse and fascinating birds. If you take a closer look, you will discover a surprisingly colourful - and, dare I say, beautiful - group of birds that you will relish having in your yard.
Several sparrow varieties are common and widespread across Canada, including House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. In the winter, another species migrates south to southern Canada to spend the winter: the American Tree Sparrow. Despite its name, the American Tree Sparrow is very much a Canadian bird, and it nests (usually on the ground) across the northern tree line from Alaska to Labrador.

Photo credit: Ron Ridout

American Tree Sparrows are quite colourful, with their bright rufous crown, eye-line and sides, white wing bars, and pale grey chest with a distinctive black spot in the middle. An even closer look will reveal one of my favourite features of this great little songbird, a unique bicoloured bill that is peach below and black on the top. At just over 6 inches long and weighing about 20 g, these hardy little northern birds can handle very, very cold Canadian winters by foraging together in flocks, eating small seeds in weedy fields, or by helping themselves to bird seed at your feeder.
One endearing quality of American Tree Sparrows is their ability to vocalize wonderfully musical "teedleoo" notes as they're foraging in small flocks throughout the winter months. Even if the wind-chill is -30 or if they're in a blizzard, these birds always sound cheery - just one of the reasons I'm always glad to welcome sparrows to my yard.
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

This message brought to you by 
Mark's Choice Bird Feast bird food,  exclusively at Home Hardware. 
Proud supporters of Bird Studies Canada.


March 2 at 1:30 pm - Ben is speaking at the Stratford Garden Festival.  'Why You Should Grow Your Own Herbs and Teas'.
March 6 at 7:00 pm - Mark is speaking at the Newmarket Old Town Hall. 'The New Canadian Garden'. 
March 9 at 11:00 am - Mark is on the Canada Blooms main stage with Denis Flanagan. 
March 9 at 1:00 pm - Mark and Ben are speaking at Canada Blooms. 'Flight Back to Nature: how gardening in Canada has dramatically changed'
March 10 at 11:00 am - Mark is on the Canada Blooms main stage with Denis Flanagan
March 12 at 11:00 am - Mark is on the Canada Blooms main stage with Denis Flanagan
March 12 at 1:00 pm - Mark is speaking on the Garden Solutions Stage at Canada Blooms
March 13 at 11:00 am - Mark is on the Canada Blooms main stage with Denis Flanagan

For my golf tournament (with partner Rev Dr. Jim Clubine) in support of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute.

Visit for more details.  
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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.