Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

Gardeners spend a lot of time planting and nurturing.

Have you noticed how much effort this takes? And before you put a spade in the soil, you think about what you would like to plant and why. For colour? For fruit or foliage? To hide an unsightly view? A tree: to hang an old tire in, one day, for grandchildren to swing on?

We plant for many reasons and as we slow the pace of the gardening season down in the month of August, we are in a reflective mood. 

Weed growth is slowing, the lawn is hardly growing at all, in fact Mark has gone six weeks without mowing.  With this grand reduction in garden work, there is a hammock calling your name. Or maybe some comfy outdoor chair or bench?

Ben and I have been reading a fascinating book this summer that is changing our vision of a utopian garden.

Nature's Best Hope, by Douglas W. Tallamy is a game changer. In it, he suggests that every person with access to even the tiniest piece of real estate, even a condo balcony, can contribute to the successful future of the planet.

How? By planting with biodiversity in mind. That is, by choosing plants that attract beneficial insects and support the broad range of wildlife that calls the great out of doors "home".

Here is a number to remember: 4,095 . These are the number of caterpillars that a pair of adult downy woodpeckers deliver to their fledgling young each day that they occupy the nest (before they learn to fly).
We hear you say, "What? How is that possible?"
The answer is "shear determination". Think of that the next time you are bent over the lambs quarters or pigweed in your garden, giving it a yank, roots and all.

The point of course is not to make you feel guilty for the investment that you make in your garden, but to expand your mind to think of the plants in your garden as more than good looking, or shade creators or producing some fruit.

Instead, think of the plants that you nurture as part of a larger plan that protects beneficial insects, provides habitat for them, and nourishes them. Your garden can be a host to a complex system that supports good soil, insects, toads, frogs, snakes, songbirds and more.

Moreover, your garden can be part of a system of gardens, connected by air and geography that hummingbirds visit without regard for neighbourhood fences or asphalt roads.   Your effort to create a garden is part of a chain of gardens and public green spaces that supports untold wildlife.

Why is this important? Tallamy says, "If pollinators were to disappear, 87 to 90 percent of the plants on planet Earth would disappear."
Humans would not be able to survive without them.

Lets go back to our original question, "Plants: for what purpose?"
Answer: for our very existence. And that of the living things around us.

Now may be the best time in our history to feel a bit noble about your gardening efforts.

We, for one (that is, the two of us), are delighted to see a spike in the popularity of gardening activity across Canada and around the globe. If we can thank this pandemic for just one thing it is this: we are now focused on who we are and who we share this planet with, to a much greater degree than before COVID-19.

We are reminded often these days that "we are not alone: we are in this together". Indeed. The caterpillars and songbirds are on our side.

Plant away! And continue to dream of a wonderful garden, but not JUST a garden for you but one that benefits all of nature.  

As we swing in the hammock this August, that is our mid-season wish for you.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty.

TODAY: Green File Episode 6 
with Jennifer Llewelleyn, OMAFRA Nursery Crop Specialist 
- Now on Apple Podcasts AND Spotify!

On this week's podcast we are talking to Jennifer Llewellyn of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Jen is the provincial Nursery and Landscape Specialist. Jen holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Horticulture from the University of Guelph and is an ISA Certified Arborist. 
Jen has the privilege of working closely with the nursery, landscape and arboriculture sectors to troubleshoot issues regarding the production and maintenance of woody and herbaceous ornamental plants. She writes for several industry publications and is well known for her column, What's Bugging Your Trees? in the Ontario Arborist as well as her blog and Instagram as " ONnurserycrops". She is also co-author of " BugFinder", the ultimate scouting app for nursery and landscape.

Tune in - now available on Apple Podcasts AND Spotify!


-   Continue fertilizing annuals and veggies for the remainder of the season. A 20-20-20 works fine.
-   Early season perennials can be cut back, such as veronica and roses. They should rebloom in a month or two.
-   Prop-up your tall-growing perennials with stakes, such as rudbeckias, coneflowers, hydrangea (with their heavy flowering heads), to prevent them from falling over.
-   Winter-hardy plants get their last fertilizer application before the fall. From here-onward they will take care of themselves, stashing sugars into their roots.
-   If you've been keeping on top of weeding through June and July, you will find August not too bad. Stay on top of it.
-   Shop for new plants! As long as you water enough, planting in the heat of the summer is fine and by now, many of the garden centers are starting to discount their perennials and shrubs- you might just find a great deal!
- Thicken your lawn (soon). Late August is the best time to sow grass seed. Where thin spots exist, spread Mark's Choice quality lawn soil 4 cm thick and rake smooth. Broadcast quality grass seed at the rate of 1kg per 100 sq. meters. Rake this smooth, step on it with a flat-soled shoes and water until germination.
If you live in Central Canada, your lawn is probably brown and dormant from the hot and dry weather. To thicken your entire lawn, use Iron Plus Lawn Recovery 4-in-1. It contains top quality grass seed, pelletized compost, nitrogen and iron... and you can apply it using your fertilizer spreader.  Late August for best results.
Water the lawn deeply after you apply 4-in-1 Lawn Recovery.   Keep the seed moist until germination. You will be amazed by the results.

Nut Gatherer
Fallen walnuts are a bane to Mark as he has about 30 large black walnut trees flanking his property.
A bane no more! We discovered this amazing nut gatherer. It makes the job fast and fun. Not only that but we discovered in testing this product that it will pick up golf balls, small to medium sized apples, pears, crabapples and even tennis balls. Virtually anything that is reasonably solid and round(ish).
We love handing this product to strangers to give a try, after we have dumped a pail of walnuts in front of them.
Easy. Fast. Fun. No instructions included. Just roll your new Mark's Choice nut gatherer over any annoying debris that fits through the flexible tines. And say, "nuts to this job".

Home Hardware item#5010-033


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 July.

Garden outside of the lines with these native plant species

Consider the hard-working bugs amongst us

These six flowers are blooming right now and they make a lot of scents

Eight garden tips for right now

Helping Our Feathered Friends at Home
By Jody Allair
Birds never really have much down time and mid-summer is a perfect opportunity for us to give birds (like this Rose-breasted Grosbeak) a good head start before undertaking the difficult journey down to their wintering grounds.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Photo credit: Jody Allair

Here are simple things we can all do right now to help our feathered friends at home:
  1. Make a plan to plant native trees and shrubs in the fall. Offering a variety of native plants that bear berries, seeds, or nectar - or support native insects - keep birds fed and attract them to your yard all year round.
  2. Remove non-native invasive plants which can have negative impacts on wildlife, including birds. Possible examples include: dog-strangling vine, Phragmites, burdock, Japanese knotweed, and garlic mustard.
  3. Check carefully for nests before you prune bushes, trees, and hedges.
  4. Don't be too tidy. Leaving a brush pile in the corner of your yard can provide shelter for birds, including recently fledged young.
  5. Take action to prevent bird collisions. Find out how to make windows and other glass surfaces (e.g., balcony railings) safer for birds.
  6. Provide cats with entertainment and exercise with a "catio", harness walking, or indoor playtime. Choosing alternatives to allowing cats to roam outside will save bird lives.
  7. Keep bird feeders and baths clean to protect birds from mold and disease. Project FeederWatch has great instructions for feeder care. If you see sick birds or hear reports of sick feeder birds in your area, you should take additional precautions to keep birds safe. For example, if you are in a part of Eastern Canada where trichomonosis is occurring, please put away seed feeders and bird baths during the summer months (hummingbird and oriole feeders are okay to keep out). You can learn more about trichomonosis on the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative website.
For those looking to learn more, consider trying Birds Canada's free online course (Beta version) on "Making birds feel at home" for more tips on keeping birds safe and healthy.
Good Birding!

Jody Allair
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair

A Special Offer Exclusively for our newsletter subscribers

Harrowsmith magazine is offering a special promo exclusively for our subscribers.
Subscribe to Harrowsmith at the special rate of just $26.
Click on this link to take advantage of this special promo.

August is the most colourful month in the garden.

Send us a photo of your favourite mid-season flowering plant.

Email one photo of your garden to

We will post all photos on our Facebook page.

The photo with the most 'likes' will win a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' + a $50 gift card for Home Hardware + a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac.
2nd and 3rd place will each receive a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' + a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac.

Deadline for submitting a photo is August 10, 2020
Deadline for voting is August 16, 2020

Enter today!

Photo by Ernie W.
In the July issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of your garden.

The Grand Prize Winner received a $50 gift card for Home Hardware, signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' and a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac.
Congratulations to Ernie W.

The next 4 winners received a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' and a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac.
Congratulations to: Linda D., Carol Ann M., Cherie R., and John T.

Mark and Ben's Gardening Connections  

Home Hardware

Toronto Star