Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
First, we need to acknowledge that many of the people receiving our monthly newsletter live outside of the Greater Toronto Area. Access for you to Canada Blooms in Toronto could be difficult, though 5% of attendees come from "out of province".
We mention this, as the largest flower and garden festival in the country and the 2nd largest on the continent (2nd only to the Philadelphia Flower Show) is going to explode in five weeks, beginning March 8th. Canada Blooms has created a reputation for itself, in its 23 years, that pretty much covers the country.

We have travelled to almost every corner of Canada, between us, and we are constantly impressed by the number of people who have either attended 'Blooms or simply know of its reputation.

To not write about it, would be to ignore the biggest garden event in the off-gardening-season. Though, we aren't sure what garden-event attracts more than 160,000 people during the gardening season, but there likely are a few out there ...... the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa? And certainly, The Butchart Gardens in British Columbia attracts many more people over the entire season.


For the uninitiated, 'Blooms is a four acre show-place of floral artistry, state-of-the-art landscaping, a kids' activity garden, two full-time stages of entertainment and horticultural education (over 200 hours over the 10 days) wrapped in a colourful, fragrant garden theme.

There is a massive marketplace, with over 60 vendors, where you can buy garden gear and plants, much of it unique to the festival.

Canada Blooms is a lot of things, but more than anything, it is an inspiration for all Canadians who either love to garden or simply enjoy looking at gardens, which is pretty much all of us. It is no coincidence that it arrives at a time of year when many of us have had our fill of reading and dreaming about garden possibilities and just want to get out there. Snow, ice and low temperatures may prevent us from being active in our yards the second week of March, so the organizers intentionally tempt us indoors for this once-a-year "outdoor" experience.

Owned and managed by two not-for-profit organizations, the Garden Club of Toronto and Landscape Ontario, our profession's trade association. 'Blooms is driven by volunteers. Over 600 of them.
Imagine 12 bus loads of adults, willing to devote their time and effort to a public event for which they receive nothing more than the satisfaction of sharing the fruits of their labour.

There is a mental image of 'Blooms worth hanging on to.
That, and the many images that you will create with your phone or camera when you walk through the 17 feature gardens and 10 balcony and front-yard gardens. Plus, the floral competitions, both professional and amateur.

Indeed, words leave us short. A bit like trying to explain to an expectant first-time parent what they are in for. Until they experience it, it's very hard to know how it feels. Only problem with this analogy is there are no dirty diapers. But plenty of dirt! (see how we did that?)


Mark's Choice, our brand of quality tools, birding and garden supplies at Home Hardware, is the presenting sponsor this year. As a result, we have tickets.

Here are 2 ways for you to get yours:


#1.  Enter our contest by sharing a picture of your favourite public garden. Any garden or park does the job. This is a bit of a test, to see if you have any photos of your favourite public garden in your inventory. We have plenty we could loan you if you are short, but that would be cheating. 


Toronto Botanical Garden


We will post all photos on our Facebook page. The top 25 photos with the most "likes" win two tickets to Canada Blooms, at the Enercare Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto - March 8 to 17th. (Value $40.)


If you can't get to 'Blooms, we will send you two packets of Mark's Choice wildflower seeds as a consolation. We know, not quite the same thing. But still, great seeds!

Email one photo to

Tell us:  where the photo was taken, and provide your mailing address.

Deadline to enter is February 7, 2019
Deadline to vote is February 14, 2019

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#2.  Make a minimum $40 donation to the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute and we will send you two tickets to 'Blooms as a Thank You gift from Mark's Choice. 
The first 100 donations qualify for this offer.  

When you reach the 'checkout' page, please add "Canada Blooms tickets" in the 'Note/Message' section.  

All of this is to say that now is a good time to put Canada Blooms on your calendar.
See you there,
Mark and Ben
Merchants of Beauty
Details at


Buy new dahlia bulbs. They will arrive at your local garden retailer any day soon and you should get them while the selection is at its best. Plant in one gallon sized containers in March. (more next month)
Nurture your amaryllis and take pictures while at its peak of colour and performance. Get ready for our exciting amaryllis contest next month. Big, valuable prizes like a $50 Home Hardware Gift Card, Mark's Choice veggie seeds and much honour at stake.

Start petunia seeds in February. Most others wait until March or April. Stay tuned!

Feed the birds. Use a quality seed mix so that it does not get wasted and you attract quality birds.  We recommend Mark's Choice Bird Feast (and the other products the my line up) exclusive to Home Hardware.
You will pay more and you will get more birds.  P articipate in Project Feeder Watch . See below for details. See our Toronto Star story here.

Buy seeds.  Whether you choose to shop the seed catalogues or peruse the seed racks at your local Home Hardware (where you will find premium seed varieties in the Mark's Choice line up) be sure to do it soon.  
First, you are only going to get busier as the gardening season approaches.   Secondly, the selection is at its best.


680 NEWS
Our regular radio feature on 680 NEWS in Toronto, The Green File, has moved to weekends.

Makes sense, really, as you plan your weekend activity in your yard and garden. be sure to listen Saturday at 8:48 am, 12:48 pm, 3:48 pm.
Sunday 6:48 am and 6:48 pm.

We really enjoy these broadcasts and hope that you find our tips timely and helpful. That, after all, is the idea.

Mini Greenhouse Kit with Light Stand
What a great way to start seeds this season!
We've enjoyed testing this product for the last two years, with great results.

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.


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 January. Lots of information here for the couch-gardener (which is all of us this time of year). Check out our birding column, last on the list. Timely. Informative. Personal. That's us.

By Jody Allair 
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Are you interested in helping birds? Get involved in the 22nd Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 15-18, 2019. In this easy Citizen Science project, people around the world count birds for at least 15 minutes. You can count birds anywhere - from the warmth of your home, while out walking, or at your nearest park, for example. After you submit your data online, researchers use it to study bird movements and populations - tracking bird migrations, monitoring changes in abundance for different species, and more. Your Great Backyard Bird Count contributions create a real-time snapshot of where birds are around the world!

During the 2018 event, a whopping 192,456 participants from around the world submitted 176,905 checklists and tallied 6310 species. That's more than half of the world's bird species recorded in just four days! In Canada, 14,008 checklists were submitted and 251 species were recorded, putting us in second place behind the U.S. for number of checklists submitted over the four-day count period.
We hope you'll join us in this fun, family-friendly bird watching event. Learn more about how to participate by visiting
This year, we will once again be running our Bird Studies Canada Great Backyard Bird Count Story Contest. We want to hear about your exciting, funny, and heartwarming experiences! For details visit:
Good birding!

Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

Oh, these grey wool sky days! Though our Ontario barometer hasn't permitted the joy of a few laps around the backyard rink, birding is still weather-resistant-across Canada. 
If you were inspired by the Harrowsmith Winter 2018/19 article on National Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the next Great Backyard Bird Count is February 15-18th. 

As the Harrowsmith 'garden editors', Ben and I have 2 articles in the Winter issue: How to prepare your garden for the cooler months and Add interest to your property for year-round enjoyment.

In the January issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of the view from your window (or front door) right now.
The winner who received the most likes, received a copy of David Johnston's book 'Trust', a $50 Home Hardware gift card, and a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac. Congratulations to Betty R.

Winning photo by Betty R.

The next 4 winners, who received the most 'likes', received a copy of David Johnston's book 'Trust'.
Congratulations to: Claudia, Norm, Cathy and Marilyn

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.