Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
"What is this life, full of care
We have no time to stop and stare "  ~William Henry Davies

Inscription on monument in Archbishop's Park, London, England.
In our recent landmark book "Escape to Reality", How the world is changing gardening and gardening is changing the world, we dedicate a chapter to our gardening friends on the other side of the Atlantic, in the UK.

A trip over there is always a horticultural education, if you let it. Some of the most visited gardens in the world are located there. Take Sissinghurst Castle Garden, the garden that made the colour white famous. Or Kew Gardens, the most storied botanical garden on earth.  

The Hive at Kew Gardens

Or the World Garden in Kent, where young Tom Hart Dyke created a modern journey around the world using plants. He hatched the idea after a stranger held a gun to his head, while being held captive in Columbia 20 years ago.  He was taken hostage while looking for rare plants in the jungle (true story).

Mark and his wife Mary visited all of these gardens just over a week ago. Some for the first time and a few that they, or at least Mark, had seen before. No matter, a repeat visit to a garden always offers a new experience. The changing nature of gardens demands it.

It is true, we can learn a lot from the British where gardens are concerned.
While the temptation is to visit the public gardens that are created for public consumption, there is much to be learned from the allotment garden experience as well. Some are locked up tight and others are accessible to the public.

We like to find someone at work in an allotment and approach them first-off. We introduce ourselves as "enthusiastic gardeners from Canada." When it is necessary, we play the "writers for the Toronto Star" card. And the conversation is soon off to the races, the gate is unlocked and in we go. We have yet to have a bad experience.


One allotment is in Rye, south east England on the Sussex coast.   Mark found himself standing at the gate of the garden just 10 days ago, where he met Hugh, a steward of the place.

These photos demonstrate just how much produce it is possible to squeeze out of a small space. Notice how they use vertical space to support runner beans, they tie up tall vegetables and plant intensely for highest productivity... also note how few weeds are present. Weeds are intruders that sap water, nutrients and sunlight from our intended beneficiaries.

You could say that we can discover new ideas and learn from a visit to an allotment or community garden in most any small town or large city in Canada. And you would be right.

As you approach the beautiful community of Jasper, Alberta from the north you are greeted by an extensive allotment garden that stretches down the main drag on the east side for a block or more. An impressive first impression.

Our point? The allotment gardens of Jasper do much more than produce food for the local community. They make a statement that says, "this place cares for its' people. We take care of each other and ourselves." Call it civic pride if you like.

A small building block in a town that demonstrates some of the best qualities of being Canadian to an international base of visitors.
Public gardens, allotment gardens: maybe not so small building blocks of community building. What do you think?

Enjoy the peak of your garden colour and productivity this month. August brings out the best in our gardens.

Mark and Ben
Merchants of Beauty

The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign is near and dear to us. Mark is volunteer Chair of this endeavour, which is planting 117,000 trees on the Highway of Heroes between CFB Trenton and the coroner's office in Toronto. One tree for each Canadian lost at war since 1812.
Plus 1.8 million more trees on "the other side of the farmers fence" to acknowledge each Canadian who volunteered for military service during times of war.

This month, we received excellent news: our campaign is being awarded the Green for Life - Community Award from the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association. With over 5,000 professional members from coast to coast to coast, this organization is considered the consummate authority in the trade.

This award is extraordinary. To earn it, our volunteer-based organization had to meet strict criteria including:
Community spirit . The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign engages politicians, staff, private sponsors and individual donors and volunteers in an effort to plant a living tribute that will last for many generations.

Innovation. Our campaign engages state of the art planting techniques that have been field tested by Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Our goal is to maximize the survival rate of all trees planted.

Environmental Sustainability.   We have determined that these trees, planted near the busiest highway in North America, will sequester over 3 million tonnes of carbon over 100 years, produce 520 million pounds of oxygen each year (as they reach maturity) and release over 200 million gallons of cooling water into the air each day.

Community Impact. The largest public display of memorial trees in the world will transform the experience of driving the 401 highway for many generations to come. As trees mature, they will self-regenerate. Is it possible that a squirrel will be able to travel 170 kilometres from Toronto to Trenton without touching the ground?

We want to thank our partners including the Government of Canada, Champions, volunteers, staff, honorary patrons and volunteer board for their dedication and hard work.

Through some trials we have made this happen.

Details at:  and
Ben and Mark


Last month, a very special bronze image of our grandpa and Dad Cullen was revealed at Cullen Park in Whitby, Ontario. Len Cullen lived large in this community where he opened Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village in 1980. How well Mark remembers that day and all of the activity leading up to it (Ben was a gleam in his eye at the time).

Cullen Gardens would go on to become the most popular tourist attraction (non government supported) between Toronto and Montreal during the 80's and early 90's.
Our Dad and Grandpa was an inspiration to many, but most of all he was a great father and grandfather.

We are reminded of the great support Mom/Grandma Connie was through all of Len's endeavours.


-   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!

Take care of your lawn.  Fertilize your lawn with  Iron Plus Lawn fertilizer.  The results are incredible.  Your lawn will be so green it will appear almost blue-green.

- Thicken your lawn.  Mid-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.

To thicken your entire lawn, u se    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.  
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 value your feedback. What do you enjoy most about our newsletter? Is there anything that you would like to see and learn that we have not included?

Do you read our mid month Food Gardening newsletter? How useful is it to you?


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.

BIRDS IN FOCUS: The American Robin
By Jody Allair
The American Robin is one of the most familiar and widespread backyard birds in North America. Most people can recognize its cheery, low, whistled song that has a speech-like quality because of the paused phrases. It's also very attractive, which we need to be reminded of sometimes when it comes to our common birds (don't even get me started on the stunning plumage of male Mallards!).
Photo credit: Jody Allair

Now allow me to let you in on a little secret - the American Robin is one of the coolest birds in North America. They can live in the treeless Arctic tundra, in urban backyards, and everywhere in between. Where many birds have declined due to habitat loss, American Robins have been able to adapt and thrive in the presence of humans. That's not to say that they aren't impacted by issues like cat predation and collisions with windows and vehicles. But overall, they are survivors.
One interesting element of their biology is their diet. American Robins are omnivores and eat a diverse combination of insects, worms, and berries. They even alter their diet at different times of year, and can survive some very cold Canadian winters by eating berries and fruit. So in addition to making your yard insect and worm friendly, consider planting fruiting trees and shrubs that can provide food in the winter.
Something that occurs regularly at this time of year, often with American Robins, is the appearance of seemingly helpless baby birds in your yard. I frequently get asked what we should do with these birds. The answer is usually quite simple. If they are fully feathered and are hopping about, then leave them be. They have fledged from the nest and are being fed and watched by the parents - even though you might not see the parents around. If they are tiny, without much in the way of feather growth, then they have fallen from the nest and should be put back into the nest if possible. For more details on what to do with baby birds, visit:

Good birding!

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

Seasoned gardeners know that the season never ends--even though saying "fall" in the middle of this very late summer is almost like swearing! But Harrowsmith's 2020 Almanac will be on newsstands August 5! 

As you enjoy those first sweet ears of corn with a local IPA, read our article on How To grow your own hops. In the fall gardening section, you'll also find our garlic tutorial.

We are pleased to be the gardening editors to Harrowsmith magazine.


Show us how proud you are of your backyard and gardening talents.
You could win:
GRAND PRIZE: $1,000 Home Gift Card
FINALISTS (4): $250 Home Gift Card each
PLUS:  One random draw for a $250 Home Gift Card
Home Hardware is proud to be a major national sponsor of Communities in Bloom and to help homeowners take care of their community and their gardens.
Deadline to enter is August 15, 2019

August is the most colourful month in the garden.

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

Email ONE photo to
We will post your photo on Mark's 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 Summer issue of Harrowsmith magazine.
2nd and 3rd place will each receive a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' + a copy of the Summer issue of Harrowsmith magazine.

Deadline for entry, August 11, 2019
Deadline for voting, August 18, 2019

Enter today!

Photo by J. Brown

In the July issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to show us your garden.
The photo with the most 'likes' won the Grand Prize: A signed copy of our book Escape to Reality + A $50 gift card for Home Hardware. Congratulations to J. Brown
The next 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' won: a copy of our book Escape to Reality. Congratulations to: G. Sherer, Mrs. J. Copeland, C. Li, J. Pigeon, and K. Loney.

Stay in Touch 
Mark and Ben's Gardening Connections  

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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.