Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

A couple of weeks ago, we were privileged to attend the Toronto Garden Contest Awards at City Hall.  Mark's Choice and Home Hardware were sponsoring the awards.

We would like to share this letter with you.  It was received by the judges, attached to a contest application. Shanthi's garden won an award for it's outstanding beauty and we think you will see why.   

This story speaks to all gardeners.  If you think, for just a moment, about why you garden and how the experience makes you feel, we think you will agree that this story touches your heart.

As we approach the Christmas season: the season of Peace, we can't think of anything more appropriate.

We thank Shanthi for giving us permission to publish her story. 
"Dear Judge,

My name is Shanthi, I been living at this address since 2012 Summer, I have been renting this house from 2012 to 2014 December, I bought the house I was renting in 2014 December. When we moved into the property, there was no flower, plants or anything on the property except trees, dried grass, and lots of dandelion.

After I took ownership of the property I have worked on my gardening with the help of my son and daughter, and made my house and property beautiful, when we moved into the area, not a lot of neighbors were doing gardening, since 2015 I see a lot neighbors working on their gardens, and it makes me happy and the neighborhood beautiful. One of my neighbors wanted to give me few of her plants, and I gave her some of my plants in exchange, this helped, and encouraged neighbors to do more gardening.

I have over 50 rose plants, 30 big rose plants, and 20 or more small rose plants.
I have flocks in seven colors, hydrangea flowers, jasmine from Asia and Canada, Bougainvillea, Anthurium, Grape, Apple, Pears, Raspberry, Vegetable, and a lot more. I have done gardening all over the property from the front to backyard; I also have lots of indoor plants like orchids, jasmine and more. I have perennial, and annuals plants, lots of them.

I started doing gardening when I was in my teens in Sri Lanka with my mother; I have lost most of my family members in Sri Lanka during the war, including my husband and mother when I was 20 years old. During that time I needed something to help me find peace.

My son and gardening has helped me a lot to find peace, and gardening is my hobby.  I feel that if you show love to the plants and trees they will show their love back to you by producing more flowers, and more plants, and that makes me happy.  We don't throw out old vegetables, fruits, or dried leaves, egg shells, tea bags waste into the garbage, my son dig's and bury these, this process help's the soil and plants to grow healthier.

I sometimes buy or get free wood chips from companies that cut trees in the area and fill them up on top of plants, and trees, this saves me time watering the plants and helps the plants absorb water a lot better, and keeps the plants warm in winter. This is how I built my garden with the help of my son and daughter, and I'm really happy that you have considered my garden to receive an award.

Thank you so much, this encourages me to do a lot more for my garden.

God Bless You
Shanthi Kuganesan"

Shanthi with her family
Please read on for more gardening news. 

Have a great Christmas season and God bless you too.

Mark and Ben
Merchants of Beauty
Order seed catalogues. We received our 2018 Veseys catalogue this week.

Save your real Christmas tree to stand in your garden for the winter.  Hang suet on it and let the birds forage.

Apply Wilt-pruf to broadleaved evergreens like boxwood, holly and the like to prevent winter desiccation (apply when temperatures are above freezing).  Use Wilt-Pruf on your Christmas tree to help it retain moisture longer.

Drop by your local Home Hardware for many great gift ideas for the gardener, birder, hiker and of course the handy 'man' on your Christmas list.

Read our most recent newspaper story for Indoor Plant inspiration.

Start your amaryllis bubs now to make sure you are ready for my 2018 amaryllis photo contest.  Every year we host an amaryllis photo contest on my Facebook page.  You will find contest details in our February newsletter.  
Start your amaryllis now and take photos when the fabulous blooms are at their peak.  You can view last year's contest entries here.

Pick up a Poinsettia plant to brighten your holiday home. Poinsettias may be popular in the winter but they cannot stand freezing temperatures. In the walk from the store to the car, be sure to wrap your plant in a plastic bag. A good store will provide you with cold protection, no questions asked. Choose a bright room in the house but do not place the poinsettia in direct light. 
Remove the decorative wrapping (it looks good but it hinders proper air flow and water drainage). Unlike many other plants, the poinsettia's soil will need to stay slightly moist. Watering will depend heavily on your home's climate.

Cyclamen is another great winter plant that is often forgotten.  This delicate flower-producing plant is a winter treat.  Temperature and water are the most important factors in keeping a cyclamen healthy. Ideally, temperatures don't go below 4°C or above 20°C. Proper watering is essential.  They are a bit fussy. Always water from below and water thoroughly.  Leave the plant sitting in water for about 15 minutes. 

Remove and allow excess water to drain away. 
Too much water, or water on the surface, can cause mouldy soil and stem rot. Fertilizing is moderate: half-strength fertilizer for flowering plants will do the trick. No more frequently than once every two months.
Orchids are generally considered 'hard to grow'. This is not necessarily true. There are orchids that are so easy to care for that we put them in the same category as African violets: only orchids are easier. If you enjoy ignoring your indoor plants, allowing them to go dry for long periods of time, we have the answer for you. And many of your friends are going to think that your brown thumb morphed over the New Year into the greenest of green!  Look for Phalaenopsis orchids to begin your collection.

Relax, enjoy and indulge.  Our long Canadian winter provides lots of time to be alone and to work off the excess of the holiday season.

A popular question at this time of year: 'How do you choose a Christmas tree'?

Mark will tackle this question December 12 when he appears on The Morning Show on  Global.   Tune in between 9:10 and 9:20am for some helpful tips.

If you missed last week's segment on The Morning Show, you can watch it here:  Christmas gifts for the gardener in your life

Watch The Weather Network to find out our favourite Christmas trees. We will explain the difference between a Fraser fir and a Balsam fir.

We will also show you the new 'ketchup potato chip' poinsettia and explain how to take care of your poinsettias through the holiday season.

Amaryllis Kit

I truly believe this is the ideal hostess gift.  And don't forget to buy one for yourself.
The Mark's Choice amaryllis kit is available at Home Hardware ($24.99).  The premium-sized bulbs support so many blossoms and flowering stems that many people have reported 3 or 4 stems with 4 flowers on each stem.
The soil, pot and bulb are all included in the gift box.   I believe the Mark's Choice amaryllis kit offers the highest quality and value.
Home Hardware item# 5029-304 (striped) 5029-303 (red)
Mark's Choice Amaryllis Stake
I use an amaryllis stake for every amaryllis I grow.  Install the stake early, before the leaves are too large.   If you are growing a premium-sized amaryllis bulb (like the Mark's Choice kits) the flower stalks will have multiple blooms. 
The stalks will need support to make sure they don't fold under the weight of blooms.
Home Hardware item# 5093-711
Reminder: Start your amaryllis bulbs now and take photos of the blooms. You will be ready for my 7th annual amaryllis contest in February.

The NEW Harrowsmith website serves up more of what you crave.
  • Read exclusive content found only online.
  • Watch videos that bring our unique stories and eclectic cast of characters to life.
  • Delve deeper with longer narratives.
  • Explore more-with maps, a rich tapestry of photo albums, recipes and gardening tips!
It's all here waiting for you.
Go online to discover more about your favourite topics:
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Visit today. Visit often.
Look for Dan's article in our upcoming, inaugural magazine-size winter issue!

Photo by Suzana W.
In the November issue of Gardening With Mark, I invited you to share a photo of 'your garden today'. We were searching for beauty in the fall garden.
The 5 winners, who had the most 'likes' each received a signed copy of my book 'The New Canadian Garden' and 4 packets of Mark's Choice garden seeds ($28 value).  The Grand Prize winner, with the most 'likes' of all, received a $50 Home Hardware gift card, plus the New Canadian Garden and 4 packets of Mark's Choice garden seeds. 

Congratulations to: Suzana W. (grand prize winner), Willemina B., Maureen F., Ann B., Bev C., and Pam H.
Last year, I introduced the 'Furry Friends' contest.  It was so much fun, I'm bringing it back!
I would like to see a photo of your pet in your garden.  You know you have one somewhere.  Dig out a photo and enter my contest. 
Don't have a 'garden' photo with your pet?  Send me a photo of your pet with your real Christmas tree.
Send one photo to
I will post all the photos on my Facebook page.
I have 3 prize packs for this month's winners.  The 2 winners, who get the most 'likes' will receive a copy of the 2018 Harrowsmith Almanac + a copy of the winter issue of Harrowsmith magazine.  The #1 winner will have the most 'likes' of all!  And will receive a 2018 Harrowsmith Almanac + the winter issue of Harrowsmith magazine + a $50 gift card for Home Hardware.
(deadline for entry is December 14, 2017.  Voting closes December 18, 2017)

Enhance Your Winter Bird Feeding Experience 
with Project FeederWatch

Submit observations from your backyard!

If you feed birds in your yard, your hobby can support bird research and conservation. By joining Project FeederWatch and sharing information about the birds visiting your feeders between November and April, you can help scientists at Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology track changes in bird numbers and movements.
The 31st season of Project FeederWatch runs from early November until early April. Taking part is easy! Just count the numbers and kinds of birds at your feeders, and enter the information on the FeederWatch website.

Photo by Gord Belyea

To register for Project FeederWatch, please call 1-888-448-2473, or visit our website to sign up online at The $35 Project FeederWatch enrollment fee includes a Bird Studies Canada membership and a one-year subscription to BirdWatch Canada magazine. You will also receive educational materials, including: a large full-colour poster of common feeder birds, a bird calendar, a comprehensive instruction and data booklet, a useful bird-feeding handbook, the latest FeederWatch results, articles on bird behaviour, answers to your bird questions, and more!
Contact for more information or visit

This message brought to you by 
Mark's Choice Bird Feast bird food,  exclusively at Home Hardware. 
Proud supporters of Bird Studies Canada.

Healthy Gardening for Today's World

Applewood Garden Club 's annual special evening features three well-known gardeners: Mark Cullen, Frank Ferragine, and Denis Flanagan. The Three Amigos will look at how people around the world are making biodiversity work, and how you can grow flower and vegetable gardens that are beautiful as well as good for the planet. 
Mark Cullen will address biodiversity's importance around the world as well as in your garden.
Frank Ferragine, speaks on urban farming in your own backyard, as well as global efforts to increase food production in a sustainable way.
Denis Flanagan's topic is achieving beauty and diversity in ornamental gardens.
Date:         Tuesday,  January 23, 2018, 7 pm           
Location:    Great Hall, Unitarian Congregation, 84 South Service Road,
                    Mississauga, L5G 2R9. (just east of Hwy. 10)
Tickets: $20. Available after Dec 10 through Wendy Bell, 905-891-7884, and at Home Hardware, Applewood Plaza,
1077 North Service Rd., Mississauga.
Presented by the Applewood Garden Club, Mississauga
Proceeds to Highway of Heroes,
Stay in Touch 
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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.