Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

It has been three years in the making, but books are like that. Makes sense, really, a book tends to stick around the house longer than a newspaper story, so it should take longer to produce, no?

Last year, there was an event with a line up of people to get a signature on Mark's last book (his 23rd) that seemed a mile long. It was a great day for selling books, to be sure. Finally, one woman stepped up to the table and handed Mark a copy of one of his first books, published in 1985. He looked at it and said, "My! You have hung on to this for all of those years?"
The kind women replied, "Oh no, I bought it at a garage sale for 10 cents."

The moral of the story is that people don't generally throw books away.
Especially when the author signs them.

Ben and I have teamed up to create something very special, a book titled "Escape to Reality. How the world is changing gardening and gardening is changing the world." You can see that there is nothing ambitious about it.

We launch our new tome this month: look for it in book stores and consider buying it for the gardeners and environmentalists on your Christmas gift list. 

Here is a taste, from Chapter 3:

To Think Like a Plant
"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." ~Winston Churchill

We get a lot of gardening questions. Most of them are specific references to a plant, bug or design challenge. Just yesterday we were asked what those leafy perennial plants are... "You know the ones?" he said. We looked at each other, "You mean hosta?" Bingo! We were right. It is an intuitive thing.

There is another question: the question behind all questions, "How can I succeed in the garden?"

The answer begins with a question. Do you know someone who can fish? Who goes out in a boat and always comes back with a catch? What do they have that the rest of us don't? The answer is simple: they have learned to think like a fish.

Want to become a successful gardener? Learn to think like a plant.
It is a language.

In high school, there was a select group of gifted kids who successfully learned how to communicate in French. Turns out neither of us were one of them.   People who are multi-lingual tell us that there is a lot of work in it, until you hit the 'sweet spot'. A point where the grammar, syntax, rhythm and sound make sense. It is a big night when you have your first dream in another language. That night, you 'arrive'.

Mark dreams in plants. One night he dreamt that it was mid-winter and was heading out the door of our home with a briefcase in hand, dressed for work when his wife stopped him and said, "You have been working hard lately. Why not just stay home and garden?"
He turned on his heels, changed into jeans, opened the door and there was the garden in full leaf and bloom, like a Spring morning, just waiting to be tended.
Ben is young, but someday he may dream in plants too.
Since giving up on impatiens (or they gave up on Mark), he has been dreaming about bees and birds, like tree swallows.

We like all plants, but not all plants like us.
Peas don't like us. Even when we grow peas together we can't grow them.
Most vegetable plants cooperate in our one-acre veggie garden.
Years ago, we discovered the answer to poorly producing veggie crops: chickens. Throw your wayward lettuce and pea plants to some chickens and they will thank you for it by producing the finest brown eggs.
The answer for over production is the same. Kale won't stop producing an abundance of leafy goodness for almost four months: July through October.

They say that kale has all kinds of redemptive health qualities that put it up there with the Gods of tasty food. Neither of us can stand the stuff. But, by feeding our chickens armloads every day we get our kale, reconstituted through the gut of a chicken, poached on a plate every morning. It is a wonderful way to feel like royalty.

How do you learn to think like a plant?
Easy. By failing. Who has a beautiful and productive garden without a rigorous process of failure? It happens so often in the garden that we forget what it really is.

We plant a few hundred annuals and veggies each year. Divisions of perennials are planted this time of year and shrubs and trees are moved around the yard like interior decorators move furniture.   Often a plant dies. Its failure to put down a root and thrive is not a slight on us, the gardeners, though it can be a disappointment. It is just part of the process; the same way film is expected to fall on the cutting room floor. Before digital, of course.

Following the advice of a landscape architect some 10 years ago, five red oak were planted within a couple of metres of the house 'to cool down the wall in the bright sunshine'. They slowly expired as their young roots found the alkaline, clay-based soil. Dead as door nails. The other trees that were planted at about the same time matured and now shade the south and west walls of the house. Mission accomplished, failure overcome.

How do you know you have arrived?
An experienced gardener can spot a thirsty hanging basket at 50 yards.
Experience will tell you when the Japanese beetle has invaded a linden tree from 300 yards. How? You will just know. A trained eye, one that has been conditioned by experience, is better than a book. Or higher education, when it comes to that.
When you have looked at enough healthy Linden trees you will know when it isn't right.
You will have learned to think like a linden. Through experience and your natural powers of observation, you will have arrived. And you will be thinking like a plant.
And there is great value in that, no?
Enjoy a great November in the garden:
Mark and Ben
Merchants of Beauty

Apply Wilt-pruf to broadleaved evergreens like rhododendrons, boxwood, holly and the like to prevent winter desiccation (apply when temperatures are above freezing).

Start your amaryllis bulbs now to make sure you are ready for our 2019 amaryllis photo contest. Every year we host an amaryllis photo contest. You will find contest details in our February newsletter. Start your amaryllis now and take photos when the fabulous blooms are at their peak.

Wrap fruit trees. Wrap the trunk of fruit trees with a plastic spiral guard to prevent rodent damage in winter. Mice and rabbits can wreak havoc on young, tender bark.

Plant garlic cloves about 4 cm deep and 10 cm apart. Use loose, open, sandy soil as they like water to drain away from them. Your garlic crop will be ready to harvest next August. Watch our video.

Wrap evergreens with two layers of burlap. One layer to protect against the burning sun as it reflects off snow and another to protect evergreens from wind. This is especially true for cedars, junipers and like, that are on the east side of a road, where they catch the prevailing west wind with salt spray.

After the first serious frost, dig up your dahlias and lay the 'bulbs' (tubers) in the sun to dry for a day or two. Store in a large, craft paper leaf bag with dry peat moss or shredded newspaper in a cool but DRY place.   Plan to plant them up in March for a repeat performance next season.

Do not cut back fall flowering ornamental grasses, coneflower, rudebeckia and all of the autumn flowering plants that produce a seed head. The birds will forage the seeds well past the first snow fall.

Rake leaves onto your garden. Off your lawn, on to your garden. Or into your compost pile. Either way, they will rot down over the winter and provide needed nourishment to all plants that grow. Do not put them to the curb.

And look for the 2019 edition of Harrowsmith's Almanac. Amazingly packed with essential information.

Mark's Choice World's Best Rake

If leaves are falling on your yard, you have a great opportunity to give your garden an early Christmas gift: a soil boost.
Rake your leaves off of your lawn and on to your garden.
(Remember when we shoved leaves into large paper bags and dragged them to the curb... no more!)
The leaves on your garden will disappear as worms come up to the soil surface to pull them into the soil and convert them into nitrogen-rich earth worm castings.
The rake that you use can make this job a joy or a chore.
We recommend the Worlds Best Rake, the Mark's Choice ultra-flexible fan rake. This rake will 'throw' leaves up to 7 meters. The high-grade metal used in this tool is so flexible you can stand on it and it will bounce back with memory. Every time.
You have to try it to appreciate it.
True, it costs more than a garden-variety fan rake.
But then, many of life's most memorable experiences do.
This will be the last rake that you ever buy.

Item #5062-302 .   
Mark's Choice products are exclusive to Home Hardware.

The most important application that you will make all year. And later is better.

Fall Lawn Fertilizer is formulated to build up the natural sugars at the root zone of grass plants. You will get a faster green up come spring, less snow mold and a stronger, healthier lawn.

The later that you apply this in fall, the better. So, the timing of application varies from region to region. Wait for a few 'killing frosts' which will slow down the metabolism of grass plants, creating the perfect conditions for application.

Available at Home Hardware # 5024-160 (6kg), 5024-170 (12kg)


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 columns we wrote in October:

It's time to honour our fallen heroes

By Jody Allair 
Mourning Dove
I am incredibly fortunate to travel the world as a birding guide with Canadian-based Eagle-eye Tours ( ) and show people stunning and unique birds in remote corners of the planet. I recently had someone ask me if my everyday backyard birds now seem too ordinary for me to pay attention to (I think the term used was "boring"). Simple answer - backyard birds are never, ever boring. In fact, nothing gives me more pleasure than to watch their daily routines. My passion for birds started in the backyard, and one species that I always enjoy spending time with is the Mourning Dove.
Photo credit: James Lees

Mourning Doves are a common feeder bird across much of southern Canada and are being found overwintering further north each year as our winters become increasingly warm. These attractive birds sport grey-brown plumage, large black spots on the back, a long and elegant tail which flashes white when flared, and - on adult birds - a pink wash along the base of the neck. Their "mournful cooing" is reminiscent of a small owl (there was a time in my childhood when I thought the neighbourhood was filled with hidden hooting owls!).
In western Canada, a new dove on the block seems to be having an impact on Mourning Dove distribution. A relatively recent introduction, the larger and more dominant Eurasian Collard-Dove has been expanding its range northward and appears to be competing with Mourning Doves in suburban areas. Definitely worth keeping a closer eye on your backyard doves this winter to see if this trend continues.
And speaking of keeping a closer eye on your backyard...Saturday November 10th marks the beginning of the 32nd Project FeederWatch season. This very popular Citizen Science Project is coordinated by Bird Studies Canada and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. From November to April, thousands of FeederWatchers count the kinds and numbers of birds at their feeders, then submit their observations to Bird Studies Canada. This information helps scientists study winter bird populations. To learn more or to register, visit:
Good Birding!

Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

The holidays are approaching, and that means winter is almost here! Harrowsmith's Winter issue, out this month, offers plenty of ways to get in the spirit of the season - from tips on winterizing your garden and creating interest year-round by Mark and Ben Cullen, to features on ice fishing, backyard skating rinks, the annual Christmas Bird Count, and stories from Canadian growers and homesteaders, sharing how they do things in their part of town. 
Plus, plenty of delicious recipes for the holidays! 

Pick up a copy and start planning your best winter yet.

This month we encourage you to share a photo of 'your garden today'.

While most plants have finished blooming, and your annuals are enriching your compost pile, there is still beauty to be found in the fall garden.

Send one photo to

We will post all the photos on my Facebook page.

The winner, who gets the most 'likes', will receive a copy of Donna Balzer's Gardener's Gratitude Journal.

This three year gardener's journal is designed to help you write your own garden memoir, with room to write plus colourful images and illustrations, growing tips, wisdom and garden stories.

Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.

Deadline for entry, November 8, 2018
Deadline for voting, November 15, 2018
Enter today!


In the October issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of your fall d├ęcor.

The photo with the most likes is the Grand Prize winner. Congratulations to Pattie Demers. Pattie received a copy of the 2019 Harrowsmith Almanac, 4 packs of Mark's Choice seeds and a $50 Home Hardware gift card.

Photo by Pattie Demers

The next 5 photos with the most likes each won a copy of the 2019 Harrowsmith Almanac and 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds. Congratulations to Don, Penny, Al, Terri, and Denise.

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.