Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it" - William Arthur Ward

One thing we have always agreed on is that Thanksgiving is our favourite holiday. Of course, we love the food - the celebration of harvest built around a feast. Food bringing people together, without the hassles and distractions of gift-giving. There is enough to be thankful for.

We also appreciate that it is an opportunity to take stock of our gratitude, and now there is science to support the practice of acknowledging what we are grateful for. According to Psychology Today , expressing gratitude can increase your number of friendships, improve your physical and mental health, allow you to experience greater empathy and less aggression, improve your sleep, self esteem and "mental strength". 

Given this scientific insight, Thanksgiving might be the one holiday where you can enjoy the feast and still end up healthier at the end of it all. Or so we choose to believe.

Thus, we've already taken some time to think about the things we are grateful for - a practice we should maintain throughout the year - and the list could far exceed this newsletter. 
Here are some of those items off the top:

- An excellent harvest. After a difficult (wet) spring, things came through. Mark had particular success with his apples - a record harvest after a hard pruning - and Ben has more than enough garlic to last him through to next year's harvest. A very considerable amount, that is.

- Recognition from our peers. When was the last time you were at a party and someone told you they were a "Garden Communicator"? It's probably been a while. Believe it or not, there's a few of us - enough to have our own association - Garden Communicators International (

We were incredibly honoured - and grateful - when news came in that we had been given a Gold Medal for our Summer Lawn Maintenance video at the GardenComm Media Awards in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many thanks to the panel, and to all our friends in the "GardenComm" community!

- Toronto's "Official Bee". We have been thinking and talking about bees for quite a while now, but we have been long overdue for bees to come forward with their own official mascot. Thankfully, Canada's largest city has gone ahead to appoint their own "official bee": The metallic green sweat bee - Agapostemon virescens, to be specific will wear the crown. 

We are assuming that there are enough crowns for the queen and all her workers. This is great news as the conservation fight continues, any recognition helps the cause. Kudos to Toronto city council, and to learn more check out our colleague Kate Allen's article in the Toronto Star.

- Youth Activism. On the subject of conservation, we are both feeling inspired by youth-led movements around the globe addressing climate change, led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. On last Friday's "Strike for the Climate" in Guelph, Ben was impressed not just by the energy but by the average age of the demonstrators - without an official estimate he would guess about 16. 

It is abundantly clear that the next generation is not joking around when it comes to this subject, and all of us have some difficult questions to answer to. It is our hope that the youth will be heard at Thanksgiving suppers across the country as we head into an important election, one where those most affected by the outcome are still not eligible to vote. Check out this video  by Thunberg and British columnist George Monbiot which touches on the importance of trees as a solution to this crisis - something we can definitely get behind.

- Our readers! The greatest joy of what we do is the opportunity to connect with people who are passionate about the things we care about. So, thank YOU for reading our newsletter, communicating with us, and sharing our message with friends. If you appreciate our monthly ramblings, it would mean everything to us if you could share this letter with friends and recommend a subscription. It is free, after all, and the more to subscribe the more we can share in spreading the good word about gardening - and gratitude!


The gardening season isn't over yet! Here are some of the things we expect to be getting into in the coming days:

Spring flowering bulbs. One bulb Mark is particularly excited about this year, is the Liberation 75 tulip, which is part of a campaign to plant 1.1 million tulips across the country to honour the 1.1 million Canadians who served during WWII. $1 from every bag goes to support the Royal Canadian Legion and the balance of funds goes towards supporting the Canadian Tulip Festival. There are still bulbs available - get yours at

- Backfilling holes with asters, mums, rudbeckia, butterfly bush. If you haven't been to the garden center since May 24 weekend, give them another visit! Not only are the fall colours beautiful, leftover perennials are likely on sale and happy to be popped into your garden at this time of year.

- Thickening the lawn. Grass is a cool season crop, so this is the perfect time of year to cover patches and improve your lawn's competitiveness against weeds. CIL Iron+ Lawn Recovery contains the seed, soil and fertilizer all in one bag to ensure that this job is done right.

- Top-dress with compost . Remember, 'digging in' compost is a thing of the past - all that disruption is just bad for the soil. Simply apply the compost to the surface of the soil and let the worms do the hard work of pulling it into the root zone.

- Fallen leaves : mulch & rake. That is, mulch them with the lawn mower and rake them into the garden. Per above, the earthworms are more than happy to feast on these and turn them into beneficial organic matter.

- Harvest . Any time now, frost is going to finish off your veggie garden, so start collecting those pumpkins and squash. By now, your pumpkins will be pretty maxed out for size, so take a minute to appreciate what you've accomplished. If you're especially proud, see if there's time to enter your local veggie growing competition. We always get a kick out of pumpkins and squash at the fall fair.

- Apply Iron Plus Fall Lawn Food 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 #5024-137

Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty

Smart Scoop Bird Feeder
Mark has 12 bird feeders on his property. This one is always the first to be emptied.
It is an amazing 2 in 1 feeder: a seed scoop and a feeder.
Adjustable port size to accommodate a range of seed types and attract a variety of birds.
Convenient and easy to use.
Drainage holes help prevent water buildup.
Easy to clean.
Exclusive to Home Hardware
Item# 5453-694

Fill with Mark's Choice Bird Feast to attract a wide range of songbirds to your feeder.


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 September.

Three Billion Birds Have Disappeared
By Jody Allair

A previous version of this article was featured in the Bird Studies Canada blog on 20 September 2019.

If you remember there being a lot more birds in your area in your childhood than there are now, you're not imagining things.

Results of a comprehensive study published in the journal Science indicated that there are nearly three billion fewer birds populating North America's landscapes than there were in 1970.

To arrive at this estimate, researchers from the U.S. and Canada combined data from long-term monitoring projects - including those conducted by the dedicated participants in Bird Studies Canada Citizen Science programs - with data on birds migrating at night tracked by weather radar. These methods allowed the researchers to improve on the accuracy of previous estimates of population changes, providing a clearer picture of just how much bird populations have shrunk over the past several decades.

It is no surprise to hear that birds are declining - this is what other published research, and reports like the recent State of Canada's Birds 2019 , have been telling us for some time. What is shocking about this new research, though, is what it reveals about the sheer scale of the loss of our birds.

Some of the hardest hit populations are of birds familiar and dear to many of us across Canada, such as the Red-winged Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, and Wood Thrush.
Yellow headed Blackbird
photo credit: Jody Allair

The news is difficult to hear for those of us with a particular concern for birds, but it also points to larger concerns about ecosystem health and the state of our world's biodiversity. It adds to research on other groups of species signalling that a biodiversity crisis is underway. This is something we must address to preserve and recover the functioning of living systems that people, birds, and all Earth's inhabitants depend on.

You can take action through Bird Studies Canada's Top 6 Ways You Can Help Birds and by getting involved in our volunteer programs from coast to coast. You can also join the social media conservation conversation sparked by this new publication by using the hashtag #BringBirdsBack.

Jody Allair
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
Bird Studies Canada
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair

Harrowsmith's 2020 Almanac is on newsstands now! Don't miss our article on How To grow your own hops. In the fall gardening section, you will also find our garlic tutorial.

We are pleased to be the gardening editors to Harrowsmith magazine.

This month, we encourage you to share a photo of your fall decor. We are looking for inspiring ideas using pumpkins, corn stalks, ornamental kale, etc.
A visit to your local farmer's market is a wonderful way to shop for fall decorating accessories.
Email one photo to
We will post your photo on Mark's Facebook page.
The 5 winners, who get the most 'likes' will receive a copy of the 2020 Harrowsmith Almanac and a packet of Mark's Choice wildflower seeds.
The Grand Prize winner will also receive a $50 Home Hardware Gift Card, courtesy of Mark's Choice Lawn and Garden products.
Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.
Deadline for entry, October 6, 2019
Deadline for voting, October 20, 2019
Enter today!


Grand prize winner: Betty R.
In the September issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to submit a photo of your favourite part of your garden.
The photo with the most likes won a $50 Home Hardware gift card and a copy of our book Escape to Reality. Congratulations to Betty R.
The next 3 winners received a copy of the 2020 Harrowsmith Almanac. Congratulations to Terry M., Lorraine M., and Cory S.

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