Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

"Man is rated the highest animal, at least among all animals who returned the questionnaire."   Robert Brault
If you are like us, you are beside yourself. With anticipation.

There is no month like May on the gardener's calendar. Everything that we dreamed of through the winter has the potential take root in the next 30 days.

As we drift towards June and the heat of summer, the course that we set in May will burst forth, for better or for worse. 

Mark's backyard, August 2018

We were feeling guilty about the start that we have enjoyed to our season. Canada is, after all, a nation that straddles nine growing zones. Nine! That is a range of growing zones that varies between a low of minus 50 Celsius and the relatively frost-free gardens of lower mainland BC and parts of Vancouver Island. Wednesday, May 1st the forecast for Whitehorse, Yukon is 16. Not bad.

Here in southern Ontario we will receive 8 degrees and rain.
More rain.
Ok. Notwithstanding damaging floods, we are ok with rain. We lived through the drought of summer/fall 2016 and promised ourselves that we would never complain about rain again.

Alas, climate change is with us and regardless of the reasons for it we embrace what natures sends our way. Which, like life itself, has its ups and down, joys and sorrows.

We recall the Sunday in April, just a couple of weeks ago, when the first flock of tree swallows arrived in Mark's 10-acre garden. Dressed, as they are, in tuxedos , it is quite a celebration. Classy birds. 

They are pairing off now and checking into the nesting box hotels on our property. 40 of them. If it were possible to spoil a bird species, we would spoil this one.

And the hummingbirds.

Which reminds us that now is a good time to put out your hummingbird feeders. Even if you live north of our zone 5 gardens, in zone 4 (Ottawa/Montreal) or Edmonton (zone 2) it is best to put hummingbird feeders out before they arrive. They will come as native plants produce bloom, following the serviceberry trees in blossom. You can track them at 

Note that the first hummer was sighted in Winnipeg last year on May 13th. In Toronto April 26th.   This mapping guild will help you determine when to hang your feeders.


Speaking of dreams and expectations, at Ben's suggestion, Mark took on an extra task this spring when he created a willow-twig fort for his grand children. If you have a pussy willow or any plant that grows fast from long, bendable branches you can do this now.

The upright branches that are stuck about 30 cm deep into the soil will root, bud out and eventually create a living green igloo for the kids to hide and play in. The growing branches will need occasional pruning (with quality Mark's Choice hand pruners). No big deal, considering the fun we anticipate.

The "to do" list below is intended to be helpful in a practical way. There are so many garden "chores" that we can undertake in May, there is not much time for optional play.

However, if your ambition outstrips your obligations to the usual garden activities, you might consider building an insect hotel, like the one Mark created in his back yard, planting a hedge for privacy and bird habitat, laying out a new veggie garden (see Ben's column) or reading a new book.

On the latter point, we highly recommend Escape to Reality, how the world is changing gardening and gardening is changing the world. It won't tell you how wide the hole should be nor how deep, but it may expand your vision of a beautiful garden in your own yard or condo balcony.

At the very least it will change your view of the gardening experience. We might even convince you to leave your cell phone in the kitchen while you wile away some hours outdoors in the yard.

We say "we" because we wrote the book. Brand new. Worth giving to Mom on Mother's Day. 
But buy yours early so you can have a quick read before you wrap it. 
$25.95 at all book stores including some Home Hardware stores.

It is May: the month of great gardening anticipation and sore backs. May you enjoy every moment, including the hot bath afterwards.

Ben and Mark Cullen
Merchants of Beauty

p.s. note the exciting contest below.. you could win a $50 Home Hardware gift card! Easy to enter.

p.s.s. if you have a lawn and want a green one, the best thing you can do for it is feed it the new CIL Iron Plus. It is the most sophisticated lawn food on the market. Guaranteed visibly greener lawn in 72 hours or your money back. Made in Canada. Only at Home Hardware. Sorry if this sounds like a commercial. It is nonetheless 100% true. 


Control insects and diseases. Apply  Green Earth Dormant Spray to kill overwintering insects and diseases. 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.

Plant your dahlia tubers in one-gallon pots and place in a sunny place indoors until end of May, planting time.
Sow fast growing seeds like zinnias, marigolds, cucumbers, squash etc. or wait until the ground has warmed sufficiently to sow directly outdoors.
Apply CIL Iron Plus 4 in 1 Lawn Recovery to thicken an established lawn or grow a new one.
For an established lawn, apply CIL Iron Plus to thicken and feed your lawn after a long, cold winter.
Use quality potting mix when potting up window boxes, hanging baskets and the like. We use Pro mix and our own Mark's Choice Container mix.

D andelions are unwanted by some gardeners. We are not in this club as they are pollinators, we hug them.
However, if you wish kill dandelions we recommend that you do it in a responsible way.  Wilson Weed Out Ultra is a biological herbicide.  The active ingredients originate with the broad bean, which has naturally herbicidal properties.  Weed Out kills the root and all. 

Pruning Gloves
Not just any pruning gloves, these Mark's Choice garden gloves are tough yet flexible.

You will be able to pick up small branches while avoiding the pain of rose thorns or the "burn" of juniper foliage. The long sleeves provide extensive protection.

We use these when we work with thorny and prickly plants. Sometimes, we forget to take them off, that is how comfortable they are.

Exclusive to Home Hardware.

May 4 - Oshawa East Home Hardware - Grand Opening. 11am - 1pm

May 14 - Brockville Home Hardware - 6:00pm - 8:00pm
May 23 - Madsens Greenhouse - 6:30pm-8:30pm
May 28 - Orillia Home Hardware - Ladies' Night
June 1 - Minden Home Hardware - Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event


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 April.
Swim ponds are making a splash

By Jody Allair
Yellow Warbler

May is finally here! For me, that means the return of amazing neotropical migrant birds that spend the spring and summer months in Canada. As a life-long birder, I consider May the best month of the year. No other time has the same diversity of brightly coloured, singing songbirds. These birds include thrushes, tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings - and of course those flying jewels, the wood-warblers.
During the month of May, most North American wood-warbler species are nearing their final destination in Canada's boreal forest. Some of these amazing migrants have travelled from as far away as Central and South America. They all fly at night and use constellations and the earth's magnetic field to help them navigate. Truly amazing stuff!

Photo credit May Haga
One wood-warbler that can commonly be found in spring and summer across much of Canada is the Yellow Warbler. The striking males of this species are bright golden-yellow with fiery-orange streaks and females are greenish-yellow with softer orange streaks. Their "Sweet-sweet-sweet I'm so sweet" song is one that is probably quite familiar to those who spend a lot of time outside gardening (which I assume includes many of you!).
If you want to attract Yellow Warblers to your yard, make sure you have a good mix of native shrubs like Red-osier Dogwood and Choke Cherry with some scattered trees. I have often found Yellow Warblers nesting in backyards very close to houses, provided there is enough shrub cover. Wood-warblers like the Yellow Warbler eat primarily insects (one of the main reason they spend their winters in the tropics), so be sure to create a safe space for native insects to flourish.
Happy spring migration, everyone!
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair

Have you heard? Harrowsmith is publishing its inaugural summer issue BUT, you have to be a subscriber! This exclusive print edition will not appear on any newsstand--it's like a secret society club, and you should join! 
You will find articles on ornamental grasses and water gardens, written by Mark and Ben Cullen.

We are honoured to be the garden editors of Harrowsmith. Subscribe by May 19th so you don't miss out on the endless summer they have packed in their pages.

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 our book Escape to Reality + a copy of the Harrowsmith 2019 Spring issue + a $50 gift card for Home Hardware. 

The next 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win: a copy of the Harrowsmith 2019 Spring issue + a packet of Mark's Choice wildflower seeds.

We will post all of the photos on Mark's Facebook page.   Vote for your favourite photo!
Deadline for entry: May 6, 2019.
Deadline for voting: May 13, 2019.
Enter today!

Photo by Karen A.

In the April issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to take a photo in your yard that showed a 'sign of spring'.
The To p 5 photos with the most likes received a copy of Harrowsmith magazine. The Grand Prize winner also received a copy of our new book Escape to Reality and a $50 Home Hardware gift card.
Congratulations to: Karen A., Irene O., Terry C., Adeline K., and Patricia G.

Stay in Touch 
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Toronto Star
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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.