Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

"No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn" - Hal Borland, author

It feels like we've spent a lot of time taxiing the runway, waiting for the gardening season to "take off". For us, take-off is marked by Canada Blooms (March 9th-18th), the official start of the Canadian gardening season.

The theme for this year's show is "Let's Go to The Movies", so you can expect to see some of your favourite films making appearances in the various feature gardens - from "Jungle Book" to "Star Trek".  Another stand-out garden will be the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute Garden, by Genoscape. The Living Tribute is obviously a cause that is very close to us, and we couldn't be more excited to see Genoscape building this monumental garden.

Make sure to stop by the "Botanical Bar" by the Toronto Botanical Garden to sample some natural elixirs, and the Master Gardeners' booth with your questions. Don't be afraid to bring the children in your life, as Mark's Choice is sponsoring a Workshops Area for children aged 5-95. Space is limited, so we recommend pre-registering for these workshops online.  Of course, you can expect to see us there and we would love it if you would come and say hello (see below for when and where to find us). 
Airplane metaphors are top of mind for a reason, as we both did some travelling in February. It started with a family vacation to Sarasota, Florida, where we would highly recommend the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, especially their children's garden, to those with little ones in their lives. 

Mark's grand-kids (Ben's niece and nephews) shrieked and hollered as they ripped around the child-friendly art work and installations in the shade of a massive Banyan tree.

From Florida, Ben flew straight to Belize City where he joined up with S.H.A.R.E. Agriculture Foundation for a monitoring trip of Belize and Guatemala. We have worked with S.H.A.R.E. for a number of years, which is an organization that partners with local organizations (often farmers cooperatives) in the most remote areas of South and Central America to provide resources to communities where needs are highest. 

You might remember Mark talking about "Pumps for Food" a couple of years ago, which was an irrigation project in El Salvador to help farmers cope with increasingly dry, dry seasons.

The projects Ben saw on this trip were similarly practical and equally effective: water purifiers, education programs, seed and livestock improvements to mention a few, all of which help agricultural communities improve their social, economic and environmental well-being

If you are looking to support an organization which is effective at what they do, we couldn't recommend them highly enough. Details at
Now that we both have our feet back on the ground (after Mark visits daughter Emma in England this month), here are some of the things we are thinking about for March:

It's time to prune apple trees, thinning out old, thick branches and dead wood to open up the tree for spring. Watch the video.

-  If there's still snow where you are, take the opportunity to knock snow and ice off your shrubs, evergreens and trees to prevent broken limbs.

Buy garden seeds or look in your area to find out about Seedy Saturdays and Seed Exchanges, which are a great way to find heritage varieties and meet local growers. If you're going to buy your seed from a seed company or retailer, it's still early enough to get a broad selection.

-  Before the end of the month, you can begin starting your cooler season crops such as onion, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower and kale which are okay to transplant up to a month before last frost. It helps to protect them with a row cover, but starting seeds in March is a good opportunity to lengthen your growing season.

Start your dahlia bulbs inside using 1-gallon pots and a quality potting mix, which will give you a jump on their blooming season.

-  Get out to your local Garden Days or Festivals. Gardeners are emerging from their hibernation, and horticulture clubs everywhere are getting active. If you aren't already a member, look up your local club and see what they are offering...many have already started running workshops for the season. 
Friday March 2nd at 1:30 pm, Ben will be speaking at the Stratford Garden Festival in Stratford, Ontario, explaining
Why You Should and How You Can Grow Your Own Herbs and Teas

Tuesday March 6th at 7:00 pm, Mark will be speaking at Old Town Hall in Newmarket, Ontario about Trends in Canadian Gardening

Friday, March 9th at 11:00 am, Ben  will be speaking at Canada Blooms Main Stage with long time friend Denis Flanagan of Landscape Ontario

Friday, March 9th at 1:00 pm, Mark and Ben will be speaking at Canada Blooms Main Stage about Flight Back to Nature: how gardening in Canada has changed

S aturday, March 10th at 11:00 am , Mark will be speaking at Canada Blooms Main Stage with Denis Flanagan of Landscape Ontario

Monday, March 12th at 11:00 am, Mark will be speaking at Canada Blooms Main Stage with Denis Flanagan of Landscape Ontario

Monday, March 12th at 1:00 pm, Mark will be presenting on the Garden Solutions Stage at Canada Blooms

Tuesday, March 13th at 11:00 am, Mark will be speaking at Canada Blooms Main Stage with Denis Flanagan of Landscape Ontario

Wednesday March 14 at 1:00 pm, Ben will be presenting on the Garden Solutions Stage at Canada Blooms, talking about Water-wise Gardening

Some parts of the country are experiencing some mid-winter warm weather, don't worry if your spring flowering bulbs, such as crocus or daffodils, start peeking through the soil. They are adapted to cold snaps and will be fine when the temperature plunges again. The same is true of your softwood shrubs and trees which might start to break bud - don't worry! They have been through this before.
If you haven't already, be sure to check out @markcullengardening on Instagram. We are still 'growing' on this medium and would appreciate the follow!
Mark and Ben
Merchants of beauty
Backhoe  (mini, mid-size, and full-size)
True story:  
"This weeding tool of yours saved my back!" 
I was buck naked, sitting in the hot steam sauna, at the club where I workout, when a faceless stranger blurted this out from the other side of the room.
This happened just two days ago and I don't know his name.  He identified me by my voice in the fog-dense atmosphere of the steam and was very friendly.  My voice can be an occupational hazard.  People may not recognize me with a ball cap on or glasses, but my name frequently registers with them when they hear me speak.
Which is to say, that there is at least one more person out there who has discovered the magic of the Mark's Choice Back Hoe.   I love Back Hoe stories!   
The Backhoe is a multi-function weeding tool.  You can pop large, deeply rooted weeds out of the ground by dropping the sharp, pointy end of the head into the soil behind the weed.  Give it a tug and out pops the weed.
This is the first weeding tool that you will purchase that does not need sharpening when you bring it home.  It is pre-sharpened.    It features a stainless steel head, serrated back-side for combing chickweed and moss out of the garden and a 59" solid ash handle.  I love this tool 

We were going to nominate it for an academy award but we thought we should leave the hardware for other people.  I am just delighted by the performance of this amazing tool.
This run-away sensation also has a brother and sister.  One is the same long handled tool with a head that is 2/3 the size of the original model.  It is great for use in tightly planted gardens and small, urban spaces.

There is also a short-handled 'mini' backhoe.  It features the same stainless steel, pre sharpened 2/3 sized head on a shorter, 16 inch solid ash handle.  Perfect for weeding and planting raised beds or while working in a crouch position.
I chose the backhoes as the product of the month to tie in with our monthly contest/giveaway.  Keep reading for more details.   By the way, I recommend that you use this tool while wearing clothes.   It really is sharp, and I don't want you to hurt yourself.  

Spring is a pivotal time for looking both forward and backwards. The content offered in Harrowsmith magazine is timeless and designed for renewal and adaptation. If you'd like to see what the Harrowsmith was up to last season, check out the  Spring 2018 digital issue for an exclusive sneak preview.

It was full of ideas with wild edible recipes, mushroom foraging, climate change and its effect on the wine industry, outdoor pizza ovens, popular bird apps to download, how to grow your own bird seed and the perfect edible itinerary for a bike trip across Prince Edward Island's Confederation Trail. 
If you love what you see, subscribe now for more inspiration for inside and outside your home, for all seasons.

Better yet, visit Harrowsmith in person at Canada Blooms (March 9-18) at the Enercare Centre, Toronto. The Learning Stage (sponsored by Harrowsmith magazine) will feature industry notables. Over the span of the 10-day show, Harrowsmith will be hosting several speakers addressing a variety of subjects that will inspire and motivate! 
Photo by Dorothy R
In the February issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of an amaryllis bloom you grew. 

This was our most popular contest to date with a total of 98 photos and 1634 'likes'! 
Thank you to everyone who shared a photo and voted.
The 5 photos with the most 'likes' won a choice of 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 also received a $50 Home Hardware gift card.
Congratulations to Dorothy R. (grand prize winner), Leona M., Ken S., Erin B., and Denise F.
You can view the winning photos here.
As we look forward to the new gardening season, we plan to spend a day in the tool shed cleaning our favourite tools.  Keeping that in mind, we would like to hear from you if you have used a Mark's Choice backhoe.  There are 3 sizes and we find specific uses for all three.
Send us your feedback to let us know what you think of the Mark's Choice backhoe.  Everyone who sends a comment or a photo of their Backhoe (and their mailing address) will receive four packets of Mark's Choice seeds.
Email your feedback (and mailing address) to
We will randomly pick 5 winners to receive their choice of a pair of tickets to Canada Blooms OR a signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden, plus a copy of the current Harrowsmith Magazine.
Enter today!
Deadline for contest entries is March 5, 2018.  

House Finch

For many people, the most anticipated sign of spring is the sight of an American Robin. For me, in southern Ontario, it is the song of the House Finch. House Finches are year-round residents of backyards, parks, and rural landscapes across most of southern Canada. I've grown up with these sharp looking finches, and they are one of the first birds I remember identifying as a small child at our families' backyard bird feeder in Peterborough.
Adult male House Finches are quite colourful, with a rosy to orange-red head and chest, and brownish-grey streaks on their belly and back. The females are uniformly grey in colour, but have the same streaking and conical bills as the males. House Finches can be tricky to separate from the very similar looking Purple Finches. One of the easiest ways to tell them apart is the amount of rosy colouration on the birds. 

Photo Credit Megan Wilcox

Purple Finches have more colour on their heads and have rosy-coloured streaking on their bellies and backs. Female Purple Finches have bolder brownish-grey streaking on their underparts and very distinctive white eyebrows and moustaches, which make them look quite different from female House Finches. Purple Finches also wander across Canada's North and never seem to stay in a yard for longer than a couple seasons.
House Finches have a fascinating history in North America. They're originally a western species whose range was primarily in the U.S. In 1940, they were introduced to Long Island, New York and have since spread west, connecting back to their original range. They are now found right across the U.S. and southern Canada. Interestingly, the western House Finches can be found in a greater diversity of natural habitats, including oak savannahs, open coniferous forest, and even dry deserts!
It's quite easy to attract House Finches to your backyard with a mix of black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seed, and even hummingbird feeders that have openings large enough for a finch's beak. Having a mix of taller shrubs, particularly conifers, in the yard will provide good nesting habitat for these birds as well.
Photo credit Missy Mandel

What makes House Finches special isn't just their wonderful colouration and the ease with which you can approach them, it's the fact that they can become permanent residents in your yard. This provides a very unique opportunity to not just watch these birds, but to get to know them. House Finches are also susceptible to diseases like conjunctivitis, which can be spread by dirty bird feeders. So please make sure to clean your feeders regularly.
So why are House Finches my favourite sign of spring, especially if they've been in my yard all winter? In early February, just when it seems like winter will never loosen its grip, male House Finches will fly up to the top of the highest tree in the yard and sing loudly - telling winter that enough is enough, and to bring on the warm spring weather. At least that's what it sounds like to my ears.
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

This message brought to you by 
Mark's Choice Bird Feast,  exclusively at Home Hardware.

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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