It is January and you are reading a gardening newsletter. One crafted for Canadian gardeners.
Are we nuts?
I reflect on this each winter, when I answer the most asked question, "Is this a slow time of year for you?" usually while standing buck naked in the showers at the health club where I like to work out. Men in showers don't like to just stand there and soap up. They like to talk. Go figure. There is a psychiatrist out there who can explain.
The answer is yes and no. I am not travelling as I do in spring, when Home Hardware sends me thither and afar to meet Canadian gardeners in their situ. But winter is my writing season. I am working on a new book. I try to get ahead of my newspaper columns and other writing projects. I am busy, in a passive kind of way.
I love winter. And the older that I get, the more I love it.
When I look out the window of my home office I am not the least bit tempted to prune the tree on which my bird feeders hang.
I plow a little snow, feed Clark the Duck, work in my woodworking shop and read. And right now I am up to my ears with volunteer work on the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute (117,000 trees on the highway, one for each of Canada's war dead since Confederation.) All of the obligations of planting and growing are ahead of me. Several months ahead.
And I think a lot about what it means to be a gardener in Canada
So, what DOES it mean? For one, our activity
in the garden provides many health benefits to us, the gardeners. And for those who choose to just sit and view the results of our handiwork, there are benefits for them too. Gardeners got that generations ago.
Today, what is dawning on everyone who loves to garden is that we are connected through our activity in the yard and our interest in creating beautiful and productive (as in food gardening) outdoor spaces with the broad natural world around us.
Who are today's Gardeners?
Gardeners are conservationists.
Gardeners are hikers, walkers, often bikers and gawkers.
We spend a lot of time absorbing the environment in which we do our best work.
Maybe it is time then to consider another word to describe who we are and what we do.
The word needs to connect us to nature and good food.
We are earth-bound naturalists (not necessarily naturists or nudists, though we could be).
We are eco-implementers and designers.
We are water savers, air purifiers, earth rangers (that one is taken) and wildlife habitat builders.
We are food providers and hunger destroyers. We provide the raw material for the most amazing meals on the planet.
We are sustainable thinkers.
We are social connectors and community builders.
We are artists whose work evolves as nature demands it: our work is never done.
We are solid citizens. We plant hope.
Prosperity is not measured in monetary terms in our world. Wealth creation happens when we partner with nature to create beauty.
The results of our work are dynamic, ever changing.
People and animals are welcome here.
Eleven years ago, I journeyed to Giverny, France to see the 2 acre garden of Claude Monet, the famous Impressionist painter. It has been beautifully restored and stands out for me personally as the greatest garden I have ever visited. I have returned twice since then and I have used many of Claude Monet's design principles in my own 10-acre garden.
It was Monet who said, "The richness that I achieve comes from nature, my source of inspiration."
It was during my first visit to his garden that it dawned on me that gardening is a multi-dimensional activity. It is far more complex than the common image of dirty knees and overalls, wellington boots and a rusty shovel.
Monet's garden stands out, not for what it is so much, as what it inspired: a lifetime of extraordinary artistic achievement.
Perhaps a new word to describe gardeners is not necessary after all. Instead, we need to continue to work at our image of the gardener: a sower of hope and a harvester of a better quality of life for all.
'Working on my image'... that is what I am busy doing in the winter.
I don't really have a 'to do' list for you this month.
Take the month off. Repot your hibiscus in February. Start your seeds in March and April.
In January, just loaf around in your favourite chair and read some great gardening books.
I can highly recommend The New Canadian Garden. It is packed with information that will lead you to gardening success AND it will help you understand how gardening today is so much different than it was just a few years ago.
Also, the most recent copy of Garden Making magazine is on the news stands. It is great if you are looking for great gardening ideas.
I wrote it. But don't let that stop you picking it up at the library or a quality book store, or a quality hardware store like Home Hardware. Check out the Marks Choice products while you are there. YES!
Checkout the newest edition of Harrowsmith Almanac (I am the gardening editor and I vote to change the name to include 'gardeners').
In mid November a good friend of mine and a great friend to the environment (and animals) passed away. Earl (Edward) Antler lived a full and fruitful life.
He was kind, worked hard and was very generous. I remember receiving a wonderful note from him with a cheque for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, about a year ago.
In the note, Earl said that he was donating because he wanted to thank all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. And he liked the idea that I was helping to shepherd the campaign along. On that day, I understood the responsibility that I had taken on: if I took Earl's money, I was in with both feet and dedicated to getting the best value for our donors.
Earl leaves his lifetime sweetheart Erica ("Rickey") and his daughter Susan Antler, the executive director of the Composting Council of Canada.
Thank you Susan for introducing me to your most extraordinary Dad.
Also lost was Walter J Hachborn, one of three founders of Home Hardware.
To meet Walter was to know him.
He would remember you from that moment on: your wife's name, how many kids you have (maybe their names) and he would never cease caring about you. He was THAT one-of-a-kind of a guy. His greatest gift was making people feel important and special.
But he had many gifts.
I remember when my father Len passed away in the summer of 2006, receiving a hand-written note from Walter expressing his feelings about my loss, using words that rang with sincerity. He would not rush that kind of thing.
Perhaps Walter will be best remembered as the team builder who put his dealers first and foremost in all his work. And work he did: he was still walking to work each day until his early 90's.
In my 13 years working with Home Hardware I am grateful for the brief times that I had with Walter and the fine example that he set for all of us in the Home family.
We will miss you Walter.
As you welcome a New Year, enjoy your month off. We will connect again at the end of January.
Keep your knees dirty,
Merchant of Beauty
Welcome to 2017.
The Year of Canada's 150th Birthday.
Here's Your Chance to Give a Birthday Gift to Canada
One of the most-asked questions of us is, "how much is the cost of a tree on the Highway of Heroes?" The answer is $150 which includes extensive soil remediation (remember that it is a highway), mulching, planting, 5 years of maintenance and of course the cost of the tree itself.
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.
Beauty of Winter Contest
This month's contest will help us appreciate the beauty of winter. Take a photo of the view from your window (or front door) right now.
I am very curious to see what winter looks like across Canada.
Deadline for entry is January 9, 2017.
Voting deadline is January 16, 2017.
(Reminder: pot up an amaryllis bulb to make sure you're ready for my annual amaryllis contest. Details in the February issue of Gardening With Mark.)
In the December issue of Gardening with Mark, I invited you to share 'a photo of your pet in the garden'. Thank you to all who entered their photos.
I really enjoyed this contest as did many others! What a treat to see all of those great photos!
The photo with the most 'likes' also won a $50 gift card for
Congratulations to these Winners:
Russell Daigle, Adeline Kong, Lori O'Brien, Brenda Reid, Susan Aitkenhead, Erin Reid (grand prize winner)
Product of the Month - Mark's Choice Birdseed Mixes
I invest over $1,000 a year in large bags of bird food each year. With 14 feeding stations, this is not hard. In the past I bought large quantities of black oil sunflower seed. The birds in my yard just seem to love it.
However, not all birds love the black oil as much as the striped - or for that matter the safflower seeds (that squirrels hate, by the way).
So we have mixed them into a tasty combination of quality bird seed that appeals to the broadest possible pallet of bird taste buds.
(Home Hardware item# 5453-365)
Also available in the Mark's Choice line of birdseed:
Bird Feast Songbird Blend
in the entire line up of Mark's Choice quality products. (item# 5453-067 4kg, 5453-072 8kg)
Deluxe Blend with Berries and Nuts
- I put out a bowl of this every time the guys come over for 'the game'. A perfect Super Bowl treat! (Only kidding - ok) Lots of protein for winter time bird feeding. (item# 5453-362)
Mark's Gardening Connections
Organic Master Gardener Program
The Organic Master Gardener program in Stony Plain is Alberta's first and most extensive organic master gardener program. Under the umbrella of the Multicultural Heritage Centre, the program is geared to adult learners of all levels of gardening experience.
From those absolutely brand new to the soil, to those who have years of experience in their own yards, or for those who want an addition to a resumé, the OMG program in Stony Plain is an excellent means to enjoyable learning. And this is a certificate program.
Students study 2-3 times per month from February to October each year. The first class for 2017 will be on Wednesday February 8, from 5:00 to 9:00 pm. Half of the 26 (3 hour) courses are the Gaia College curriculum www.gaiacollege.ca and the other half are locally developed courses, created for our north central Alberta soils and growing region. Students receive no tests or exams, but are asked to compile a portfolio of work throughout the year.
For a detailed syllabus, go to www.multicentre.org
go to the to the Organic Master Gardener tab and click on 2017 registration. Scroll down that page to see the full 2017 brochure. Or contact email@example.com.
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
'. Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.