Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
Mark Cullen

Interested in starting your New Year off on the right foot? Here is a word that is worth ruminating over: Trust.

Try building anything, especially relationships, without it. When Mary and I built our country home 14 years ago we engaged a building contractor by the name of Rob Hurlburt whose name I am happy to share here as he is a fabulous builder.

Before we signed him up for the job, he said to us, "When I am done, we will either be good friends, or we won't be talking to each other." Fortunately, the former was true.

As we advanced through the various stages of building our dream home, we came to trust Rob implicitly. Every trades person who showed up to work did the job with aplomb. Rob's supervision made all the difference between frustration and joy on our part.

Building a house is much like building a country. I am sure that David Johnston, Canada's 28th Governor General and author of a new book titled 'Trust', would agree.

I received a copy of 'Trust' over the Christmas holidays and gave a copy to son Ben and his three sisters. I believe that the book, "Trust: Twenty ways to build a better country" is the perfect guide to build most anything.

It was an incredible honour to be awarded Member of the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston.

Some notable quotes from his book (with my comments for context):

"Trust is gained through our actions and decisions, on our doing and not merely saying, on the basis of evidence that can be observed and measured rationally."

We believe what we experience to a much greater degree than what we simply hear and see.

"Any society that is eager to learn and work together in an inclusive manner will see a sense of mistrust replaced by a sense of hope."

The book is full of hope.

"Leaders can accomplish almost anything they want as long as they do not take all the credit."

Spread the credit and take the blame/responsibility. A whole chapter.

"Listen first"

Words to live by.

"Trust arrives on foot and leaves in a Ferrari." A quote from Mark Carney, Bank of England governor.

Ben and I prefer an electric car, but you get the point.

"Canadians tend to think as a collective rather than as individuals."

Johnston talks a lot about who Canadians are, versus who we are not. Do you even remember when we worried about our national identity?

"Service and belonging to a wider world is the passport to a life of greater fulfillment and trust."

We are not alone.

"There is no one right way to get where you are going"

There is no substitute for an open mind and open arms.

"Knowledge - as opposed to military might or gross domestic product - will be the future currency of success."

This is one of the most powerful quotes, especially when read in the context of the book.

I was honoured to meet General Vance, Chief of Defence Staff and introduce him to the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute.

I believe that we will be quoting our 28th Governor General for generations. He is a quotable kind of person.

But more than that, he and his wife Sharon demonstrate through their actions how we can use trust to build better relations, businesses, schools and a nation.
We are very fortunate, indeed, to have both David and Sharon as honorary patrons of the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign. We are planting 2 million trees on and near the highway (details at 

Frankly, it is a misnomer to call them "honorary" as they are very active in their support. For instance, our engagement of the Canadian military in tree planting this year is a direct result of their influence and efforts.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with gardening: this is a gardening newsletter after all. The answer is that the book Trust has us thinking about the trust that you have in us as communicators and purveyors of Mark's Choice products.

Ben and I consider it a great privilege to be able to reach out to you each month through this newsletter and to provide the best quality gardening and birding products through our partners at Home Hardware. All of this is possible due to your trust in us.
We promise to never lead you astray or take advantage of our most valuable asset: your trust.
Sincere best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty

P.S. We would be even more grateful if you would pass this newsletter on to family and friends. It is the prime method of building our subscription base and as a subscriber you already know: we do not abuse the privilege by loading up your inbox.

P.P.S. It is the new year and we want to thank some extraordinary people in our lives (and by extension, yours also). Brenda Hensley is our capable assistant. This newsletter would not arrive in your inbox without her capable support. Nor would much of the work we do ever get completed. Bravo Brenda.

Our media partners at radio stations, newspapers, magazines and electronic news outlets across the country. Too many to mention. We reach over 2 million people each week. Full credit to them. We love them all. We strive to earn their trust every day.

Our thanks to Jody Allair, for reliably volunteering a birding contribution to our monthly newsletter. He has forgotten more than I will ever know about birds and he has an engaging enthusiasm for the subject. (Twitter: @JodyAllair)

Our business partners at Home Hardware and Premier Tech Home and Garden (CIL Iron Plus). Too many individuals to mention here but they know who they are. Each of them invests their competence, enthusiasm and commitment to customer service in every way and at every level. Our business partners lift us up.

Mary, my wife and Ben's Mom. She earns the "best supporting" award in our books.

Ben's fiancée Sam. A great example of why we need to have faith in the upcoming generation. She is great, together they are unbeatable. Come May, let's celebrate!


Not much.

Which is the perfect excuse to relax, dream a little about the garden you want to achieve this coming season and, if we may be so bold, to pick up a copy of our new book Escape to Reality, how the world if changing gardening and gardening is changing the world.

An ambitious title that hits the bull's eye with amazing illustrations by Maritime artist Sarah Duggan and stories that we weave in an effort to take you down a garden path that will stimulate new thinking and conversations across the country.

Gardening is the most popular leisure-time activity in Canada.
We think that this book is worthy of your time, at a time in our history when it is needed most.
ISBN 978-1-77108-693-6. 
Available everywhere including Home Hardware. $25.95

Pot up an amaryllis . 
Especially a Mark's Choice top size amaryllis as it will produce more blooms and flower stems than the runts often sold for cheap elsewhere. 

Exclusive to Home Hardware. 
Item#5029-303 (red) #5029-304 (striped). $24.99

Enter our contest with a photo of your garden in winter and you may win a copy of David Johnston's new book TRUST and a $50 Home Hardware gift card. $80 value. (details below)

Birdseed Mixes
With 14 feeding stations, we buy a lot of birdseed! In the past, we bought large quantities of black oil sunflower seed. The birds just seem to love it. However, not all birds love the black oil as much as the striped.
So, we have mixed them into a tasty combination of quality bird seed that appeals to the broadest possible pallet of bird taste buds. 

Mark's Choice Sunflower Plus is Exclusive to Home Hardware.
(Home Hardware item# 5453-365)

Also available in the Mark's Choice line of birdseed:
Bird Feast Songbird Blend - the best-selling product in the entire line up of Mark's Choice quality products. (item# 5453-067 4kg, 5453-072 8kg)

Deluxe Blend with Berries and Nuts - Lots of protein for winter time bird feeding.  (item# 5453-362)

Nyjer Plus with Sunflower Chips - not just for finches and nuthatches, though, they love it too! (item# 5453-364)

Finch Blend with Sunflower Chips - the perfect variety of seed for the perfect little winter time birds.   (item# 5453-363)


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 December. Take special note of the one where Ben talks about his impressions of two great unorthodox British gardens:

By Jody Allair 
Pine Grosbeak
During the winter months, thousands of Canadians put out bird feeders and bird seed and revel in the bird life that visits their yards. Nothing helps cast aside the short days and long nights of winter quite like the sights and sounds of birds at your feeders. This winter, many people - particularly in eastern Canada - are getting an early holiday present in the form of Pine Grosbeaks.

Photo credit: May Haga

Pine Grosbeaks are, in a word, stunning. These large finches are found throughout Canada's boreal forests and mountains. They have a lovely song, bright pink plumages in the males, and a very confiding personality. They're almost like big, flying Christmas ornaments.
When seed and berry shortages occur within the range of Pine Grosbeaks, it causes the birds to move south (a phenomenon known as an irruption) in search of food. This happens every few years, particularly in the East. If you're interested in attracting these amazing finches to your yard, you should use larger hopper-style or tray feeders with black oil sunflower seeds (you may need lots if a flock of these big eaters takes up residence in your yard for the winter!). Please make sure to clean your feeders thoroughly and regularly to keep them safe for birds. The most effective method is to wash them in hot, soapy water; then soak in mild a mild bleach or vinegar solution, rinse with clean water, and allow to dry.
I hope you make some time to enjoy our feathered friends over the holidays.
Happy Holidays and 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

In southern Ontario, we are still waiting for our first heavy snowfall. Our winter has been mild with occasional rainy days. We are very interested to see what winter looks like where you are. Take a photo of the view from your window (or front door) right now.  
Email one photo to and please let us know where it was taken (town/province).

All photos will be posted on the MarkCullenGardening Facebook page.

The 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win a signed copy of David Johnston's new book TRUST. Plus, the Grand Prize of a $50 Home Hardware gift card and a copy of the new Harrowsmith Almanac (to the photo with the most likes). $86 value.

Deadline for entry is January 7, 2019.
Voting deadline is January 14, 2019.

(Reminder: pot up an amaryllis bulb to make sure you're ready for our 8th annual amaryllis contest. Details in the February issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben.)


I n the December issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of 'your pet in your garden'.

The 3 winners, who received the most 'likes', received a copy of our new book 'Escape to Reality' + a copy of the winter issue of Harrowsmith magazine and a Harrowsmith Almanac ($37 value).

Congratulations to: Liz P., Chrystal S., and Kelly O.

Photo by Liz P.
Photo by Chrystal S.
Photo by Kelly
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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.