WHERE WE ARE GOING
"Do you know where you are going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?" ~
Diana Ross, 1975
Seems there is a lot of angst out there.
A Christmas letter that we received just a week ago ended with the following, "We begin a new decade with some fear for our planet, our nation and the future our grandchildren will face."
Fair enough. We share those fears.
However, we are in the interesting position to see some positive news on the horizon. We are gardeners, after all. We would not do what we do if we viewed the future as hopeless. We plant and sow for tomorrow. There is some faith on the part of the gardener mixed into the recipe of each successful garden. Many of our readers will understand this.
When we muck about in the soil, grow our own food, create a more beautiful landscape around our home and embrace nature, it is literally impossible for us to remain moribund.
Here are 5 trends that we see for "a better world":
1. Small efforts help biodiversity in big ways. Sometimes, a small effort goes a long way. That is certainly true with pollinators, where research shows a small refuge in an urban environment can do as much to help birds and insects as protecting vast swaths of wilderness. That is because these pollinators migrate, they search desperately for somewhere to land and feed as they cross the urban jungle. One garden can make all the difference.
: It is easy to do (plant mostly native flowering plants) and fun (a foraging bee is fascinating to watch: take your time).
2. Value of Trees. The value of a lot of things is changing. The value of a taxi license, for instance, is not as high as it was just a few years ago. Uber and others like them changed that.
The value of real estate in Vancouver and Toronto is changing.
The value that we attach to trees is also changing. So much attention has been paid to trees of late that the Federal Liberals promise to plant 2 billion trees over the next 10 years. They have ear marked $3 billion to get the job done. Politicians act, for the most part, in response to the will of the people. Clearly, they read this one accurately, as our understanding of the complex nature of trees and the myriad positive contributions that they make to our environment and society are being realized and appreciated by more and more people.
This year, plant a tree or two. Or pay a not-for-profit to do it for you. We recommend the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign
3. Grandparents speak up. And speak with their feet. Grandparents want their grandchildren to know that they want to make a positive contribution to the environment. On May 10th, 2020 (Mothers Day) hundreds of grandparents, their kids and their kid's kids will "Walk for Nature".
4. Gardeners show us how to reduce, reuse, recycle. At a recent meeting of nursery growers, one member raised the growing awareness of plastic waste as an urgent issue for the industry to address. Like politicians, businesses listen when consumers make demands. Gardeners are generally environmentally conscious consumers, and can help push progress by asking questions and demonstrating waste minimizing strategies in the garden. We love to see recycled materials showing up in garden features across the country, such as old windows re-purposed as cold frames.
reuse your plastic pots. Start your own seedlings. Encourage your local garden retailer to introduce a plastic pot and tray recycling program. We have seen this work successfully at many garden retailers, including Sheridan Nurseries in Ontario.
5. Local lives. Carried by local food movement, people are looking to smaller local producers to source flowers and plant material. This has the obvious environmental benefit of fewer kilometers traveled for the things we buy, but it has also empowered upstart entrepreneurs to market themselves by way of social media and local farmer's markets. Two of our favourites to follow are Antonio Valente at @antoniovalenteflowers and Melanie at @dahliamayflowerfarm.
buy locally produced plants and flowers. One obvious place to connect with growers is at your local farmers market. Other retailers are embracing the trend also.
Whatever your resolutions this year, we wish you a successful, healthy and fulfilling 2020.
Our best wishes to our most loyal customers and friends: you.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty
MARK'S CHOICE PRODUCT OF THE MONTH
Imagine a bird seed blend that is so tasty birds fight over it.
We have blended Mark's Choice bird seed with top rated seed: widely attractive to many songbirds, clean and insect free.
As the snow piles up in your yard, watch it come to life with bird song, chatter and activity.
Surely THIS is how Canadians best participate in winter!
The Mark's Choice team worked hard to develop tasty combinations of quality bird seed that appeal to the broadest possible pallet of bird taste buds.
I often mix this product in with Deluxe Blend with Berries and Nuts, about one third Sunflower/ two thirds Deluxe Blend.
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)
Nyjer Plus with Sunflower Chips
- not just for finches and nuthatches, though, they love it too! (item# 5453-364 3kg, 5453-115 9kg)
Finch Blend with Sunflower Chips
- the perfect variety of seed for the perfect little wintertime birds. (item# 5453-363 3kg, 5453-352 11kg)
MARK AND BEN IN THE TORONTO STAR
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.
First, a thank you to our good friend Jody for his reliable and educational contribution to our newsletter every month.
You are the BEST Jody! Thank you ever so much for what you do.
To learn more about Jody's work, including his exciting 'Birding tours abroad' go to
~Mark and Ben
BIRDS IN FOCUS: Discovering a World of Birds
By Jody Allair
'Tis the season when many of us are taking some extra time off to spend with family and friends. The holidays are a funny mix of keeping up with social commitments and relaxation. For me, it's always an enjoyable combination of family time, good food and of course, birding! One of my favourite traditions is participating in the Christmas Bird Count.
Photo credit: Birds Canada
As you read this, you may be thinking about your goals for the coming year. Might I suggest that you take some time to discover the endlessly fascinating and inspiring world of birds? Birds enhance our communities and can bring joy to our lives. Finding them is easy. From forests to oceans, to your own yard or from your balcony, birds can be found everywhere. Simply put, getting to know birds, like gardening, is one of the best ways to connect with the natural world, and is the first step towards making positive changes for conservation.
Getting started is easy. You could borrow a bird guide from the library, download a free App such as the Merlin Bird ID App, put up bird feeders, join an outing with your local naturalist club, or become a Citizen Scientist with Birds Canada.
And for those of us who are already there, why not explore ways to share your love of birds with your family and friends? The world of birds is a gift that will keep giving, throughout this new decade and beyond.
I would like to take a few moments here to thank all of you for reading my monthly Birds in Focus column and a special thanks to those of you who reached out to me over the past year. I also want to say an extra special thank-you to Mark and Ben Cullen and Brenda Hensley for inviting me to be part of this fantastic enewsletter.
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
For decades Harrowsmith Magazine has shared great stories about Canadians who have lived simply, respected the environment and have learned to make, reuse and recycle rather than add to waste. Now, with Harrowsmith Radio, we're telling those great stories a new way - via podcasts that put those stories right between your ears.
Harrowsmith Radio brings you personal, intimate interviews with the people and companies that are treading softly on the Earth. Listen in as Canadians like Dr. David Suzuki, Mark and Ben Cullen, Steve Maxwell, Signe Langford and many others share advice, tales and tips to help you live your best life, responsibility.
Harrowsmith Radio. Subscribe now on the Apple podcast app or wherever you get your fine podcasts, or listen on the Harrowsmith website.
CONTEST - BEAUTY OF WINTER
In southern Ontario, we watched as our snow melted quickly before Christmas. Sunny days with temperatures around 5 degrees, left us with green (and mud) for the official start of winter.
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. Try to shoot trees, landscape, birds or any natural features of interest.
The 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality'. Plus, the photo with the most likes will also receive a $50 Home Hardware gift card.
Deadline for entry is January 5, 2020.
Voting deadline is January 12, 2020.
(Reminder: pot up an amaryllis bulb to make sure you're ready for our 9th annual amaryllis contest. Details in the February issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben. Your local Home Hardware store may still have some premium amaryllis bulbs available. Look for the Mark's Choice brand for the best quality, largest blooms.)
In the December issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share your ideas for Christmas gifts for gardeners.
The 5 winners, chosen randomly, received a copy of the winter issue of Harrowsmith magazine and a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality'. Congratulations to: J. Elves, B. Reynolds, S. Bedard, D. Rimnyak and L. Blackburn.
The Grand Prize winner also received a $50 Home Hardware Gift Card. Congratulations to K. Lagettte.
Mark and Ben's Gardening Connections
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
'. Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.