Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
Mark and Ben Cullen
Suddenly, we feel alive.
We have seen our first robin, our first green tuft of growth (a snowdrop) and we have sown our first seeds for the gardening season (geraniums).

The slow warming of the soil and the awakening of the garden moves us in ways that are hard to discern, at first. We experience a restlessness that is rather convenient for a couple of guys whose major work occurs in the spring: a good excuse to spring (that word again) out of bed and get to work.

Mark cheated: he has just returned from London, UK where spring sprung about 6 weeks ago. The flowering cherries, magnolias and daffodils were magnificent. If this photo doesn't satisfy, have a look at our Facebook page for more.

How 'bout you?

April is the perfect time of year to scratch that itch that drives us out of doors, especially during the first sunny days of the season. If you live on the prairies or the north or Newfoundland, don't worry, the warmth and sunshine are coming just as sure as the earth tips on its axis a little bit with each passing day: that much closer to the sun.

Watch the video
This month, we are cutting down the perennials that we left standing over winter to allow the new growth to push through. Ornamental grasses need shearing to the ground or just a few centimetres above it. 

Hydrangea should have their heads cut off, that is, last season's flowers. Old fashioned Annabelle hydrangea should be cut down to about 30 cm to avoid big, floppy plants later in the season that will need staking. Add this "waste" material to your compost and it will no longer be wasted.

When the frost has finally left the ground, start spreading finished compost or Bio Max manure over the beds to feed the soil about 3 or 4 centimetres thick. This provides natural nutrients at the root zone.

April is the biggest month of the season for seed starting. First, like now, we sow peppers, eggplant, petunias, geraniums and all the slow germinating seeds. By mid-month it is time to sow tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and the rest of the faster germinating seeds. 

The secret, which is not a well kept one, is to count back from your planned planting date by the number of weeks recommended on the seed packet. Tomatoes, being a hot season crop, will get planted end of May, through early June. They will be at their peak planting size about 6 to 7 weeks after we sow the seed. See how that works?


This week, Home Hardware launched the spring TV campaign for our unique, Canadian-made lawn care products in the CIL Iron Plus line up.

If you want a great look lawn this spring, follow our recipe below and be sure to check out the new line up CIL Iron plus product exclusive to Home Hardware. Guaranteed to meet your expectations. 
Made in Canada.  


April is a great time of year to get the kids out in the garden too. Let them get used to just mucking about. Encourage them to get dirty. They say that we eat about a half a bushel of dirt in our lifetime. There is nothing wrong with getting an early start to that project.

Mark and Ben in the greenhouse (a few years ago)

The point, of course, is that everything that lay still, frozen and dormant for the long winter months is coming to life out there, just outside your back door or on your balcony, right now. Why deny the youngsters the experience of renewal that we call spring?

We saw this awesome kids' fort at Hillier Nurseries on our trip this fall, you could use pussy willow or forsythia. Mark made one for Ben when he was a kid, out of forsythia, which was an idea he got from a Waldorf school in Germany.

Now would be the time of year plant a circle of fast-growing plant material from your cuttings, so that in 2-3 years' time you'll have an enclosed fort. Just an idea. 


It is with great pleasure that we announce the support of the federal government of $2.9 million over the next three years.
Planting 2 million trees takes time, effort and money.   117,000 trees are being planted on the Highway of Heroes, one for each of Canada's war dead since 1812.

1.8 million more trees are being planting on land near the highway, one for each Canadian who volunteered for military service during times of war.
This is a $10 million campaign, of which more than $3.5 million has been donated by private Canadian sources, including generous support from TD Friends of the Environment and Frank Cowan Insurance.

Not to be discounted are the many donations that we have received from people like you. Maybe YOU! Over 2,500 individual Canadians have stepped up to the plate and donated their own hard-earned cash.

We note that the support of the federal government, through Veterans Affairs Canada, would not have happened if we had not first raised this money from private sources. In other words, if you donated to the campaign your money is essentially now doubled! If you plan to donate, the same rule applies.

The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign team wish to thank everyone who supports us. We have much more work to do.   For public tree planting days and locations go to

It's April.
A new beginning.
We hope that you will join us in a breathing deeply some fresh, clean air in the garden.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty


Plant. Don't wait for the 'traditional May 24 planting weekend' to plant frost-hardy trees, shrubs, evergreens, perennials (that are not 'soft' and greenhouse forced), roses and hardy annuals like pansies, violas, ranunculus, anemones and spring flowering bulbs which are in full bloom in pots at your favourite garden retailer. 

Worm castings. Our  secret to starting the best seeds.  We add one tenth worm castings to seed starting mix.  We use 10 scoops of  ProMix to one scoop of worm castings.  The Canadian supplier agreed to package their wonderful worm castings in a  Mark's Choice bag , so that we could have them available at Home Hardware stores across the land.  Ask for product #5025-710.  
Worm castings convert the raw, organic material in the soil into a rich material that is loaded with microbes, beneficial bacteria and mycorrhiza, all of which assist in the growing process of all plants, especially in their early stages of growth.  Watch the video.

Recipe for the Best Lawn on the Block:


Rake. Use a (Mark's Choice Worlds Best) lawn rake to remove loose debris and get the grass blades to stand up.


Sow fresh grass seed on thin patches. To make this job easy, just apply CIL Iron Plus 4 in 1 Recovery. The best product of its' kind in Canada. Fast green-up, thickens your lawn and repairs damaged areas.


Apply CIL Iron Plus lawn fertilizer. The only product on the market that is guaranteed to produce a visibly greener lawn in 72 hours or your money back. The Iron is exceptional quality, the nitrogen slow release for longer results.



Aerate your lawn where soil is compacted with a hand aerator. 

We have introduced a new hand aerator to the Mark's Choice line up at Home Hardware that works like a charm. 

Item #5010-144.


Stay tuned for the mid-month newsletter highlighting 'food gardening'. It will arrive in your Inbox March 15.
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.

March 29-31 - Ben will be speaking at the Backyard Living Expo.  (Saturday, you might just find Mark in the Cullen's Food booth helping Ben sell his beans.

April 26 and 27 - Mark and Ben are speaking at the Peterborough Garden Show.  Ben speaks Friday night at 5:30pm at the Opening Reception. Mark speaks Saturday at 10:30am.

May 4 - Join Mark at the Grand Opening of the Oshawa East Home Hardware. Mark will present 'Lawn Care Tips featuring CIL Iron Plus', followed by a book signing.  11am - 1pm.

Last month we wrote about Ben's new food business, Cullen's Foods. He has launched with a line of 3 beans: dark red kidney beans, black turtle beans, and navy beans. The response was tremendous from our newsletter readers. Thanks so much for your interest.

In the last month, the list of retailers selling his product has grown. Here is the complete list of current retailers:



Since we launched our new book, demand has been incredible.  Thank you for your positive feedback.  Escape to Reality, how the world is changing gardening and gardening is changing the world has been a wonderful lift.  

One reader said, " I thought this might be kind of airy fairy and philosophical in tone perhaps based on title. I actually liked it. A good mix of practical and stories. Too bad your editor couldn't pull your Mark humour. Liked the illustrations."

We know him and he is paying very high praise indeed. 
We believe that if he liked it this much, you will love it. 

Available at book stores everywhere, including Home Hardware.
Not to mention everywhere that we speak publicly.
$25.99. hardcover.  ISBN 1771086939 / Home Hardware #5010-211


Canada Blooms, Canada's largest flower and garden festival, occurred in March and we just want to thank you for coming out. Truth is, not all of you could make it, we get that. However, we were impressed by the number of newsletter readers who identified themselves and gave us feedback on the festival.

This was the first year of the Mark's Choice presenting sponsorship and we were proud to be associated with this amazing event.

We hope that every one of our newsletter subscribers can make it out next year March 13 to 22, 2020.

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


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.

By Jody Allair
Purple Finch
What's in a name?

Bird names are funny things. Sometimes they're spot-on in describing the plumage, behavior, or the characteristic sounds of a bird. Good examples include "Red-tailed Hawk," "Black-throated Green Warbler," "American Dipper," and "Eastern Whip-poor-will." But there are also bird names that defy common sense. My favourite example is "Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet," a bird that can be found in the extreme southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Central America.

Naming a bird species by a feature it does NOT possess - in this case, a beard - is just plain odd. But don't get me wrong. I love that name because of its weirdness, and the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet is a real charmer.
Another strange bird name is "Purple Finch." Yes, it is a finch, but the adult male is definitely not purple. I'll admit that the alternative "Pinkish-rosy-red Finch" is not all that appealing, either. Names aside, the Purple Finch is an absolute stunner and one of my favourite birds to see and hear in my backyard.

Photo credit May Haga
The Purple Finch is quite similar to the House Finch. But if you look carefully, you will notice that male Purple Finches are almost completely rosy-red whereas male House Finches have only a limited amount of orange-red colouration on their head, chest, and rump along with grey-brown streaking along their sides. Female Purple Finches have a bold brown-and-white head pattern with rich brown streaking underneath. Conversely, female House Finches are uniformly grey-brown with blurry grey streaking underneath. Finally, Purple Finches appear stockier and rather short-tailed compared with House Finches.
Purple Finches can be found across the forested regions of Canada. They are a year-round resident in southern Canada outside of the prairies. In winter, they'll move in search of cone crops and will even move down into the southern U.S. if food is scarce up north.
Make no mistake - despite the strange name, the Purple Finch is one of the most beautiful birds in Canada. And luckily for us, one of its favourite foods is black-oil sunflower seeds. So keep those feeders stocked and clean this spring!
Good Birding!
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

Ready to exchange your sub-zero Sorels for a pair of wellies? Our article on composting in Harrowsmith's spring issue will help get you in the groove. 

Ben and I also wrote a story about the tulips at Ottawa's Canadian Tulip Festival.

Harrowsmith covers a lot of ground in this Earth-themed issue from BC's best hop-based beers to PEI's beefy Burger Love festival. And, in between--learn why Harrowsmith loves Manitoba. 

From dill pickle vodka to flapper pie to Danielle French's South Pond Farms feature on how to host your own full moon feast, they have you covered from the wellies up.
We are pleased to be the gardening editors of all-Canadian Harrowsmith.

This is the 6th 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

Everyone who enters a photo (and provides a mailing address) receives a packet of Mark's Choice wildflower seeds.

The Top 5 photos with the most 'likes' will win a copy of Harrowsmith magazine and the grand prize winner (with the most 'likes') receives a $50 Home Hardware gift card and a copy of our new book Escape to Reality, how the world is changing gardening and gardening is changing the world.
We will post all photos on Mark's Facebook page.

Vote for your favourite photo!

Deadline for entry: April 10, 2019.
Deadline for voting is April 18, 2019.

Enter today!

In the March issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of your amaryllis in bloom. We launched the contest early to make sure the winners received their tickets to Canada Blooms before the Festival opened.
We're happy to report that everyone who entered the contest, won a prize. IF you chose tickets, they were mailed out ASAP. If you chose Mark's Choice wildflower seeds, they were mailed out at the beginning of March.
Did you win tickets to Canada Blooms? We would love to hear your feedback. What was your favourite part? Email with your comments.
Stay in Touch 
Mark and Ben's Gardening Connections  

Toronto Star
Home Hardware

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.