Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
Waking Up

April is the ultimate "awakening" - rubbing our eyes after a long sleep and stepping into the shower. An April shower, maybe.

This spring is especially welcome - since the letdown of Canada Bloom's cancellation, our impatience for sun on our faces and the company of friends and family is evermore.

We think it is time to get out and garden while we patiently await the return of normalcy to our lives - like a distant spring.


April brings rain which, if you're not as persistent as the Brits, might stop you from stomping around in the garden. That's okay because there is still plenty of time to start seeds
For Mark, there is nothing more comfortable than the smell of damp potting mix and the pitter-patter of April rain on the roof of his greenhouse. 
Ben makes-do with a heat mat and plastic domes in the kitchen window. 

Now is a good time to start your peppers, eggplant, petunias, geraniums and other slower germinating seeds. Mid-month we'll start tomatoes, cucumbers, melons...working back from planting date by the number of weeks on the packet.  

It is also a good time to cut back perennials left standing over the winter, allowing this year's growth to peak out. Ornamental grasses get cut down to 3-4 inches, and hydrangeas just have their blooms cut off if you prefer sturdier steams, or all the way to the ground for big, floppy flowers. You could put this material in the compost or do like Ben and add it with the straw he is using in the vegetable garden for mulch. Eventually it will break down there while providing the benefits of mulch in the meantime.

Speaking of mulch, make sure you add a thick layer of compost or composted manure to the vegetable garden before putting down your mulch.   3-4 cm will do.  Feeding your soil now is a great way to ensure a successful crop this season.

Summer flowering trees and shrubs, such as potentilla and butterfly bush, can be pruned now, but don't waste any time, if you haven't already, as they are ideally pruned in winter during dormancy.


A lot of us are dealing with Creeping Charlie, or ground ivy, in our lawns. This is one of the most difficult weeds to control, but if there is ever a time to do it - now is the time. 
It is easy to spot this early in the spring because it is likely green before the surrounding turf.  Get out there and tear it away as aggressively as possible before it has the opportunity to grab the sun's energy ahead of your lawn. Remove as much of the root as possible.

This will be an ongoing battle throughout the season, and this is your best chance to get ahead of it.

Next month, you can take another shot at the Creeping Charlie with a hoe before you overseed your lawn with quality grass seed (CIL Iron Plus Premium Grass Seed is what we recommend) - covering over the patches and allowing the lawn to compete.

Where you don't have weed problems, rake your lawn with a flexible rake to stimulate airflow as the temperatures warm up. Avoid hard rakes which tend to do more damage than good.

Lastly, apply spring fertilizer so there are nutrients available to your lawn as it is coming out of dormancy. CIL Iron Plus is what Mark uses.

It was a profound heartbreak to see Canada Blooms 2020 called off the night before the big opening. With so much hard work going in, it really was shaping up to be one of the best 'Blooms in years. 

Our congratulations go out to all the builders and award winners such as Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds who took home 5 awards, and James Garfield Thompson who was awarded 4 awards, including Best Overall Garden.

If you didn't have a chance to see the show before opening, check out some of these digital productions which capture the beauty. Thanks to Landscape Ontario, David Ohashi and Seyah Beheshti for producing and sharing these digital experiences - enjoy!

Enjoy the hopefulness of spring. We will be back April 15th with our first of the season Food Gardening newsletter.
Mark and Ben Cullen

Merchants of Beauty


We (Ben and Mark) are enjoying the migratory bird song as we work in our gardens. 
Hellebores are in bloom in Mark's garden and daffodils are beginning to break ground.   Ben is starting his tomatoes on the windowsill.

During the COVID-19 citizen "lockdown" we are grateful that this is spring: the season of hope.

What positive experiences are you having with your garden experience? 

We think we could all benefit from some horticultural good news.

We invite you to share your positive stories on our Facebook page

CIL Iron Plus 4-in-1 Recovery
A shot in the arm for your tired or thin lawn.
We tested and refined this product for many months on Mark's three acres of grass. We worked the details until our unique CIL Iron+ formula was made perfect for lawn thickening.
The grass seed in every bag is the best quality you can buy. The iron is chelated, which means that all of it will be absorbed by your lawn, turning it the deepest possible green fast.
A charge of nitrogen helps to get the grass seed off to a fast start, and the pelletized compost flows through your fertilizer spreader like a dream. Look for the new smaller bag for urban sized lawns. Item #5065-188 (7kg), 5065-189 (4kg)
Within 3 weeks of use, we recommend that you apply CIL Iron Plus fertilizer 33-0-3 for a long lasting, deep quality green up. (5.25 kg 5024-508, 10.5 kg 5024-509)
Made in Canada for Canadian lawns. Exclusive to Home Hardware.
A word about Home Hardware:

As some provinces have shut down retailers that are not deemed essential services, others have allowed Home Hardware to remain open.
The company is working hard with its dealers to provide solutions that work best in each market.   Some have changed hours of operation, are providing pick-up or delivery for online orders while some have closed their doors until further notice.
We encourage you to connect with your favourite/nearest Home Hardware locations for details.
Reminder: if you shop, do so safely and follow protocols issued by your health authorities.


We write a weekly column for the New In Homes & Condos section of the Saturday Toronto Star.
In case you missed it, these are the exciting gardening/environment columns we wrote in March.
The more recent columns have been written with our current situation with COVID-19 in mind.  

Some big ideas for small garden spaces

When nature is put into play to boost young immune systems

Dig into our Top 5 perennial food plants to kick off the gardening season

BIRDS IN FOCUS: Escape and Connect
By Jody Allair
"In the robin is a beginning for all those who would like to listen, for those who would hear the nuances of birdsong all around them" - Donald Kroodsma, The Singing Life of Birds (2005)
For me, birding has always been a dual-purpose pursuit, both escapism and a way to build connections to nature with the people who share my passion. As I write, social distancing is becoming the new normal for almost everything we do, and is likely to remain so for the next few months. I am motivated more than ever to spend time outside birding and taking in all that nature has to offer. As a father of a nine-year-old daughter, I'm focused on getting us outdoors - to find birds, but also to help us work through the stress and anxiety that COVID-19 has placed on all of us.
The author's daughter birding at Waterton Lake National Park, AB. Photo. Jody Allair

Seeing the joy on my daughter's face when feeding Black-capped Chickadees (click on links to hear the songs), or finding a Mule Deer in our local forest, or seeing a Pileated Woodpecker up close is an important reminder of what time in nature can do for our well-being. Nature can be a salve for our soul.
I often use the phrase "birds are magic." As hyperbolic as that may sound, I feel that it's true. And with spring now making its entrance, we can experience one of the great joys of the natural world, the return of birdsong.
To read the full-length version of my essay please visit:
Good Birding!
Jody Allair
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair

A Special Offer Exclusive for our newsletter subscribers


In the March issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we asked 'Who would you take with you to Canada Blooms'. We shipped out 100 pairs of tickets before the festival was cancelled.
Don't worry. We have our list of winners and you will receive your tickets for Canada Blooms 2021.


This is the 7th annual 'Searching for Spring' contest and it is always popular.
Take a photo in your yard that shows a ' Sign of Spring'.  

Send one photo to and let us know where the photo was taken.  It's a treat to see snapshots of Spring across Canada.
We will post all photos on  Mark's Facebook page.

In light of the COVID-19 situation across the country, we are not offering prizes this month.  Other than the satisfaction that you received the most 'likes'! 

Vote for your favourite photo!

Deadline for entry: April 6, 2020.

Enter today!

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