Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

Ben and Mark challenge gardening traditions.
Ever think about what a gardener really is?
Well, who are you? If you enjoy getting your knees dirty (a metaphor for all forms of gardening) what else are you? A walker, conservationist, birder, naturalist, not a naturist as in nudist, though you could be both.   
You get the idea.

Gardeners are readers too . 
E specially over the next four months or so, as we wait for spring thaw.
Which is one reason why we bring up the most exciting news since we announced that we started working together two years ago. We are launching our first ever co-authored book.

It begins simply enough with this question: how is the world changing the gardening experience and how is gardening changing the world?

Chances are pretty good that you don't spend a lot of timing thinking about this. Which is precisely why we needed to write about it. We attempt to stimulate your brain and some discussion about the future of Canada's most popular outdoor activity.
Gardening is as old as farming. We garden on a smaller scale that most people farm and we grow trees and flowers as well as food plants, where farms generally grow stuff that we eat. Or smoke.
If this ancient practice is still with us and a new generation is engaged in it in a meaningful way, which they are, how has our focus changed in the garden? What is the impact of our interest in soil and things that grow out of it on the rest of our world?  What does the future of gardening in Canada (and we are distinctly Canadian) look like?

We answer these questions and more.
Gardeners are social animals, generous givers, travelers , blood donors, pet owners, knitters, crafters and many other things. Which is why it is dangerous to pigeon-hole gardeners into a box.
One thing for sure, the image that today's Canadian gardener has an image in their head of a beautiful garden is not a broad sweep of impatiens across the front of the house and a picture-perfect lawn. Which is not to say that image is dead, merely dated.
What replaces the image of perfection, with all the control over Mother Nature that it implies, is complex and exciting.
We invite you to explore the subject with us. (note: this is not a how-to book)

The name of our new book is Escape To Reality, How the world is changing gardening and gardening is changing the world.

Beautifully illustrated by Sarah Duggan.
ISBN 978-1-77108-693-6
Publisher Nimbus, Halifax

December is Christmas, a time for giving for many of us. Here are some gift ideas that we recommend you consider for your own list and that of the gardeners on your list:

Under $10
Dirt.  You think we are kidding? You can buy very good quality soil for under $10.   Look for product with Mark's name on it.  Or a brand that you trust, similar to Mark's Choice and perhaps almost as good.

Plus:  flexible plant ties ,   spiral tomato stake box of plant fertilizer, several seed packets (with a seed catalogue, free),  Harrowsmith All Canadian Almanac  or the winter edition of Harrowsmith Magazine .
Under $20
Garden gloves ( good ones).  Cheap ones are a waste .
Stainless steel garden scoophand trowel, short handled garden fork or  cultivatorhummingbird feeder, quality  birdseed, bee hotel, and hand held hose end  nozzles.   
Under $50
A Backhoe (the ultimate weeding/planting tool, exclusive to  Home Hardware), quality  watering can (look for 'Hawes' - best in the business!), quality  hand pruners and  tree loppersbird feedersterrarium planter kit, and this list could go on and on.

Our new book would be a great addition to anyone's library. Not just the "dirty knees" type of gardeners on your list but the couch-type as well.  Anyone who enjoys looking at a beautiful garden would enjoy this book.


Order seed catalogues. We received our 2019 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 and birder, on your Christmas list.

Start your amaryllis bulbs now to make sure you are ready for our 2019 amaryllis photo contest.  Every year we host an amaryllis photo contest.  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.

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.

Best holiday wishes from us to you and yours. 
Mark and Ben


Join us in celebrating the launch of our new book Escape to Reality: How the World is Changing Gardening and Gardening is Changing the World.

Date: Wednesday, December 5
Time: 6:00 pm
Location: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. 1675 Lower Water St, Halifax, NS

More info.


Friends of Brighton Public Library Presents:
Mark Cullen

Date: Friday, December 7
Time: 1:30pm
Location: Brighton Community Centre. 75 Elizabeth Street, Brighton
Admission $15

Amaryllis Kit

To our Dutch bulb supplier we said, "Just supersize that for us!"
And they did.

We truly believe the Mark's Choice amaryllis is the ideal hostess gift. And don't forget to buy one for yourself. We give away 60 of them to friends and family each Christmas season.
The Mark's Choice amaryllis kit is available at Home Hardware ($24.99). 
The premium-sized (30-32 cm) 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.   We believe the Mark's Choice amaryllis kit offers the highest quality and value.
Let us know if you agree, or don't!
Home Hardware item# 5029-304 (striped) 5029-303 (red)
Amaryllis Stake
We use an amaryllis stake for every amaryllis we 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 our 8th annual amaryllis contest in February.


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 columns we wrote in November:

By Jody Allair 
A Birding Tradition - the Christmas Bird Count
You could argue that any time of year is a good time to go birding. But there is something special that happens each December, no not the arrival of presents under a tree, I'm talking about Christmas Bird Count season. The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual winter birding tradition that began in 1900, making it North America's longest-running Citizen Science project. Participating is a fun way to experience winter birding and socialize with fellow birders in your community!
Photo credit: Todd Hagedorn

Each year, volunteer groups complete over 2000 counts across the Western Hemisphere. Each count takes place on a day from December 14 to January 5. Last year in Canada alone, 14,000 participants counted 2.8 million individual birds in almost 500 counts across the country. Many CBCs have been run by volunteer groups for decades, contributing valuable data on local, regional, and national trends and distributions of winter bird populations. The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants forms one of the world's largest sets of wildlife survey data. The results are used frequently by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess the population trends and distribution of birds.
If you would like to join a CBC flock, visit Bird Studies Canada's website at: to find a count near you.
The Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids) shares the fun of the traditional CBC with new generations of young birders across North America. Coordinated nationally by Bird Studies Canada, CBC4Kids events are hosted by naturalist groups across the country as an exciting way for youth to explore winter birds, build identification and monitoring skills, and connect with local birding communities. Last season, 142 bird species were reported from 58 CBC4Kids events across Canada!
You can find all of the information you need to join or host a CBC4Kids event or bird walk on our  CBC4Kids webpage .
You could also win great prizes by sharing your photos from this season's CBC or CBC4Kids!  Check out the contest details .
Good Birding!
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

The Harrowsmith brand is just like the seasons, changing and evolving, annually. Still, there are four pillars that the new management hold strong to: Make. Grow. Sustain. Share.  They deliver good, solid content in your hands, in every possible way and more of it! Ben and I are happy to be the "garden editors" for Harrowsmith. 

In 2019 look for more how-to videos, podcasts and our inaugural print copy of the summer issue. This will be available exclusively to subscribers only, so, don't miss out! 

Subscribe now and check out their new trailer

Two years ago, we introduced this contest. It was so much fun, we're bringing it back!
We would like to see a photo of your pet in your garden. You know you have one somewhere. Dig out a photo and enter our contest.
Don't have a 'garden' photo with your pet? Send us a photo of your pet with your real Christmas tree.

Send one photo to

We will post all photos on our Facebook page.

We have 3 prize packs for this month's winners. The 3 winners, who get the most 'likes' will receive a copy of our new book Escape to Reality + a copy of the winter issue of Harrowsmith magazine and a Harrowsmith Almanac ($37 value).
Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.

Deadline for entry: December 9, 2018
Deadline for voting: December 16, 2018
Enter today!


Photo by Cheryl Stensrud
In the November issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of 'your garden today'.

The photo with the most likes won a copy of Donna Balzer's new Gardener's Gratitude Journal.

Congratulations to Cheryl Stensrud.

Mark is pleased to be honorary chair for the fundraising efforts at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.  This is a horticultural treasure at the geographic centre of the City.  It deserves our support. 

If you agree please go to and consider making a Christmas present to the many volunteers and staff who make it special.

Since the inception of the Hearts and Flowers Annual Giving Campaign, your donations have supported the Toronto Botanical Garden with the financial resources to connect people to nature. This year, our end-of-year donation appeal is imbued with excitement for the TBG's impending transformation: from small botanical garden to world-class living museum of plants!

Each year we choose a small project to represent the campaign. This year, we ask for your support to build a virtual launch pad for the biggest project the TBG has ever undertaken through this transformational journey. Your generosity and your vision for a world-class garden will take us there.

With your support, the future of your garden is bright. Please give generously to the 2018 Hearts and Flowers campaign.

Stay in Touch 
Mark'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.