Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter
They have arrived, and we are celebrating.

On April 21st, the tree swallows flew in to Mark's 10 acre garden for their summer vacation. Just as sure as we spotted one of these amazing "flying cigars" torpedoing the air in the meadow, there were a dozen more and counting. They arrive together, travelling in a herd.

Last year they showed up April 9th, exactly 100 years to the day since the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Not that the two are connected, though they would be if we were talking about larks, "still, bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below."
A date like that just sticks in your mind, once it has found it's rightful place there.
Tree swallows are almost as amazing as hummingbirds. They are migratory, following the emerging insects north as winter thaws, one day at a time. When they arrive in our garden, they provide the most certain indication that spring is here that we know. One week after a record ice storm and one week before temperatures range above 20 degrees C.

It is May and the birdies are supposed to be singing, the grass rising and Holland bulbs blooming. It is just the natural course of things. While spring officially arrived 12 days late in our zone 5 garden, we don't worry about nature and her ability to handle the delay. Rather, we grow concerned for the people who are pent up and nervous on her behalf.   Worry is a human construct: nature takes care of herself without us fussing over her.
Inside each Canadian is a spring that gets gently tightened every day in Spring that we are unable to get out of doors. When the heat finally hits home and the sun shines, that spring releases a torrent of energy inside of us and we are sometimes at a loss as to what to do with it. Hosing down the driveway seems like a vacation south. Washing the car is an attempt to wear ourselves out, secretly hoping that it will get dirty again real soon so we can do it all over again.
Enough. There are so many, much more productive activities that you can do now that spring is officially here, as the swallows have announced.
1. Control insects and diseases. Apply Green Earth Dormant Spray to kill overwintering insects and diseases.

The combination of dormant oil and lime sulphur does a magnificent job of cutting your summer spray applications down and helping you produce tasty fruit from your fruit trees, roses from your rose bushes andgreat looking flowers on your flowering shrubs. 

The secret? Apply when night temperatures are above freezing and before the blossom or leaf buds have broken on your deciduous trees, shrubs and roses.

2. Prepare your containers . Containers should be emptied of last year's soil and replaced with quality stuff. We recom
mend Mark's Choice Container Mix, from Home Hardware. But then, we would, no? While it is amazing quality, made by the same people who make Pro Mix, who have been in the business since the 60's, you might find other brands that will do the job. But maybe not as well.
The point is to replace used, tired container soil with the best new soil you can get your hands in and put last year's container soil in your garden. If you live somewhere off the ground, like a condo, give the soil to a friend who owns some real estate.

3. Prepare the soil.    Meanwhile, back on the ground, enhance the quality of the soil in your garden with generous quantities of compost. Mark spreads two to three centimeters of compost over most of his garden this time of year. He lets the earth worms "work it in" to the sub soil. You can turn yours under by hand or use a rototiller if you wish.

4. Plant. Most Canadians live in a growing zone where frost is expected for at least the next couple of weeks. All of us can plant trees, shrubs, evergreens and roses now. If you find perennials that have not been greenhouse-forced, they can be planted out as well.  

5. Sow. Many veggies can be sown by seed now, regardless of frost in the forecast: peas, radishes, beets, carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

6. Fertilize your lawn . It was a long, cold winter for your lawn. It can't come indoors and sit by the fire during ice storms, so keep it in mind as you organize your May gardening activities. Treat it to the best product in the business, CIL Iron Plus fertilizer. The one with Mark's mug on the bag.

And to thicken a thin, tired lawn look for CIL Iron Plus 4 in 1 Lawn Recovery. Iron, nitrogen, pelletized compost (to flow freely through a spreader) and the best quality grass seed. Both of these amazing products are Home Hardware exclusives. You may even see them featured on TV.
Thanks for listening. Stay tuned come May 15th when we launch our first "Food Gardening" newsletter of the year. Coming to an In Box near you.
Botanically yours,

Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty

p.s. Mother's Day gift idea: Mark's Choice Back Hoe. Three versions of this incredible tool. We shot a new TV ad for it last week and the crew was blown away by it's performance. We must have sold half a dozen to young, uninitiated weed pullers and planters. A new generation of Back Hoers. Yes!

p.p.s. Please pass our newsletter on to friends and family and remind them that signing up for it is free and we guarantee that your e mail address will not be used for any other purpose other than to send you insightful, inspired gardening/birding messages twice a month. Period. End of story.
This is going to one of our busiest months ever, on the road, talking to Canadian gardeners.  Find the event details below.

Last year we started a new project to illustrate "Garden How-to" in a new, simple video form.

Check out some of these videos from our roster which are relevant to this time of year, especially thickening the lawn and starting from seed

Let us know what you think!"
Mark's How-to videos
This is going to be a great event.  

Join us at Angus Glen Golf Club for Garden by the Greens in support of Union Villa.


May 3 - Mark and Ben will be at Angus Glen for Garden by the Greens

May 15
- Mark will be at Alexandria Home Hardware

May 16 - Mark will be at Brockville Home Hardware 

May 17 - Mark presents The New Canadian Garden at the Wellington Arena in support of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute. Event hosted by Wellington Home Hardware and Picton Home Hardware.  See details below.

May 25 - Mark and Ben will be at the Wellesley Home Hardware Fish Fry

June 2 - Mark and Ben will be Cobourg Home Hardware for their Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event 

June 3 - Ben will be at PACE strawberry social

June 6 - Mark will be at Proudfoots Home Hardware in Stellarton, Nova Scotia

June 7 - Mark will be at Windsor Home Hardware in Windsor, Nova Scotia

June 21 - Ben is speaking to the Trenton Horticulture Society


By Jody Allair

Eastern Bluebird
For many people, bluebirds represent the quintessential bird. They have a wonderfully endearing song, very cute faces, and - of course - they are adorned in stunningly vibrant blue feathers. In Canada, we have three species of bluebird: Western Bluebird, found mainly in British Columbia; Mountain Bluebird, which ranges from Manitoba west to British Columbia and the Yukon; and Eastern Bluebird, which ranges from Saskatchewan east to Nova Scotia.

Eastern Bluebird
Photo credit: Ron Ridout

Growing up in Central Ontario, I was lucky to live fairly close to Eastern Bluebirds. I spent many hours watching males attracting females to nest boxes by waving at them (one of the funnier courtship displays in the bird world) and observing family groups foraging together in fallow fields in late summer. Because their preference for using nest boxes draws them close to us, it doesn't take long to develop affection for this wonderful member of the thrush family (Family Turdidae).
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, "How can I attract Eastern Bluebirds to my backyard?" Eastern Bluebirds do not regularly visit bird feeders, but if you live in a rural area in Southern Ontario, you may have some luck attracting them to your yard with mealworms - especially during the winter months when food is scarce.
If you live in a rural area with a mix of grassland, fallow fields, and farm animals, you should have no trouble getting Eastern Bluebirds to nest nearby by putting up an appropriately sized nest box. It may take a year or two to attract a bluebird, but not to worry; this same nest box will work for Tree Swallows as well. Nest boxes are not only a great way to provide nesting habitat for species like Eastern Bluebirds, but they also provide a unique opportunity to watch and record the breeding success, or failures, of birds.
For those wanting to become Citizen Scientists and help organizations like Bird Studies Canada monitor the health of bird populations, consider taking part in Project Nestwatch. You can learn more about this fun and educational program by visiting:
Good birding!
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

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


As Spring can be such a hurried affair. We have been collectively pacing, waiting oh-so-patiently for the last grip of winter to loosen, Tulips and pussywillows sit in our window sills, promising that backyard blooms are en route.

Returning migratory birds have begun to dot the bare branches of the treetops again, signaling that it's true, we've endured another season! Why not treat yourself to a stay at a B&B--the best place to recharge for the months ahead. 
Plan your getaway now and grab some new breakfast ideas from the experts--the innkeepers! Harrowsmith offers a guide to the best "Suite Sleeps" in Central and Eastern Canada in their Spring 2018 issue
Harrowsmith's editor-in-chief will be practicing what she preaches at The Treetop Haven in Mount Tyron, PEI this week! 
Photo by Coleen Spatafora
In the April issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we asked you to share a photo that showed a 'Sign of Spring'.  We probably should have saved this contest for the May issue.  
Spring was slow to arrive.
That didn't stop more than 100 subscribers from entering the contest.

Everyone who entered a photo received 4 packs of Mark's Choice seeds.
Thank you to everyone who shared their photo.
The photo with the most 'likes' won the Grand Prize:
A signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + A $50 gift card for Home Hardware + 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds. Congratulations to Coleen Spatafora
The next 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' won: a copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + 4 packs of Mark's Choice Vegetable seeds. Congratulations to: Lisa Ettenson, Hani Louis, Sarah McLean, Heather Howe, Joanne Bedard, and Beverly Ferguson
You can view all of the photos here
For the May contest, we invite you to show us your favourite spring blooms!
Send one photo to
We will post all photos on Mark's facebook page.
The photo with the most 'likes' will win the Grand Prize:
A signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + A $50 gift card for Home Hardware, a copy of the Harrowsmith 2018 Almanac + 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds.
The next 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win: a copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + a copy of the Harrowsmith 2018 Almanac + 4 packs of Mark's Choice Vegetable seeds.
We will post all of the photos on Mark's Facebook page.   Vote for your favourite photo!
Deadline for entry: May 6, 2018.
Deadline for voting: May 13, 2018.
Enter today!
Circular Planting Bag - New for 2018

The Mark's Choice Circular Planting Bag is the answer to the question "How do I grow flowers at the base of a tree, in hard soil around garden ornaments, or on the hard surface of a patio?" 
Simply fill the bag with quality Mark's Choice soil and plant it with appropriate flowering plants. Water thoroughly. It is the perfect way to grow an abundance of colourful plants where they otherwise can't grow.
  • Quick and easy garden solution
  • Prevents weeds
  • Retains moisture
  • No digging
  • Less watering
  • Easy fill zippered opening
  • Grow plants anywhere on any surface
  • Made from landscape fabric with double-ply sides and bottom
  • Holds four 30 L bags of soil
  • Can be reused year after year
6" H x 32" diameter
Opening: 10"

Home Hardware item# 5055-003
Mark's golf tournament, in support of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, will take place August 23, 2018 at the Port Hope Golf and Country Club.
We are limiting the number of golfers to 92, to make sure everyone enjoys their day in the sun.  I encourage you to sign up ASAP, spaces are booking VERY quickly.
The registration fee is $150 for 18 holes of golf with a power cart.  This also includes a lunch-to-go, goodie bag, buffet dinner, prize table, and MORE!
Last year was so much fun!  And we raised more than $40,000 for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute

Stay in Touch 
Mark's Gardening Connections  

Toronto Star
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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.