Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

"He who plants a tree
                 Plants a hope." Anonymous

12 years ago, my Dad (Ben's grandpa) Len Cullen passed away from pancreatic cancer. It had been a long and painful journey for all of us who loved him, but mostly, of course, for him.
We remember the family get together the following Father's Day at our country home, with Mom sitting on the porch, looking out into the back yard. She saw birds mostly. Though our back yard is dominated by flowering perennials and shrubs, Mom was blind to most everything when birds were active in the yard. Perhaps, like Noah on the Ark, she was wishing the birds would bring her a sign of hope.

Ivory Silk Tree Lilac in 2015

It was with some effort that I drew her attention to the lilac tree that we planted that day, in memory of Dad. Pointing at the new tree, "Oh" she said, "wouldn't he be pleased to see that." A smile crept across her face. She was clearly happy.

We often plant trees in memory of people. And why not? As we watch them grow and flower each year we are reminded of that person. How can you argue with an oxygen-producing machine with green leaves, planted as a living tribute to someone that you remember fondly?

You can imagine the angst that I felt this summer when I had to cut that tree down. The winter had caused major limb damage and a nearby red maple was crowding the Ivory Silk tree lilac. I had to make a choice: either the lilac or the maple had to go.


I know that the maple will live for another one hundred or more years. The lilac would live a fraction of that time span, at best.

Down it came in minutes. Chain saws are remarkable that way: they finish the job that took years for a tree to complete in no time at all.


I have pre served the wood of the lilac to be dried for use in my wood-working shop. I have no idea what I might make of it. Perhaps some bird houses that will provide habitat for some new families of tree swallows. What a fitting metaphor of Dad's life. His greatest pleasure was bringing others joy. That was the reason he created Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village in Whitby, Ontario in the 1980's. He loved to bring joy to the lives of others through plants and colour.

Dad would find the idea of bringing joy to a family of swallows quite agreeable.
I was feeling bad about cutting the tree down until just the other day. We had the family over for dinner, including our three grand children. They had a wonderful time, running 'round the yard, teasing each other, playing in the sand box and just doing what young kids do.

And then, in a fit of exhaustion, one of them found the lilac-stump and sat down. From this perch, Neil could see the action around the sand box and the grassed-in activity area of the yard.

I smiled and I said to myself, "Wouldn't Dad be pleased."

National Tree Day

On March 2, 2011 a private members motion to declare the Wednesday of National Forest Week, National Tree Day, received consent from the House of Commons.  The motion was presented by Royal Galipeau, M.P. , at the urging of Tree Canada.
National Tree Day serves as a celebration for all Canadians to appreciate the great benefits that trees provide us - clean air, wildlife habitat, reducing energy demand and connecting with nature.
This year National Tree Day falls on Wednesday, September 26th.

What a great time of year to plant a tree. Fall planting is just as good and arguably better than spring to plant. Not only that, there are many trees to choose from at retailers or through landscapers. Why not consider planting a tree this month in memory of someone?

If you don't have the space to plant a tree, consider donating to the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute. We are planting 2 million trees on the highway between CFB Trenton and the coroner's office in Toronto at Keele St and the 401. One tree for each Canadian who died at war and one tree for each Canadian who volunteered for military service during times of war.
By the way, the Ministry of Transportation has given us assurance that trees planted on the Highway of Heroes will not be disturbed for road expansion or maintenance in future.


September is a very active month in the garden. Not only is there much to do (and harvest!) but cooler temperatures and shorter days often give us energy and motivation to be more active out of doors.


This is the best time of year to start a new lawn or thicken an established one. Sow grass seed or lay sod. Use Mark's Choice quality Lawn Soil (weed free!). Grass is a 'cool season' crop and loves our lower evening temperatures, shorter days and heavy morning dew. Apply CIL Iron Plus, the most sophisticated lawn fertilizer on the Canadian market, to your established lawn now. 

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. A Home Hardware exclusive. 

Harvest. Your tomatoes are producing to beat the band (if you have tomatoes). Same for peppers and most any fruit-producing vegetable.



Apples. Pick them when ripe. If they fall to the ground, try the new Mark's Choice nut-gatherer. Mark is using his almost daily this time of year in his orchard. Amazing! Your back will thank you. Product #5010-033. Watch the video.


Dead head. Perennials and roses that have finished flowering will often produce more flowers come fall when you remove spent flowers before they go to seed.


Dig and Divide. September is the perfect month to dig and divide perennials that are big, out of hand or just ready for division. Peonies divide best this month. Hostas, day lilies, monarda (Bee Balm), rudbeckia, Echinacea: virtually all perennials with a dense fibrous roots or fleshy roots (like a hosta).


Dig up the entire clump and divide it with a serrated garden knife
It is ideal for sawing through thick roots. Water divisions well after transplanting.
Mark and Ben

Core Aerator

Aerate your lawn if it is compacted. Heavy foot traffic will squeeze the air out of the soil and prevent the roots of grass plants from breathing.

We recommend a small core aerator for this job.
The new Mark's Choice Core Aerator is exactly what you need to reduce soil compaction where foot traffic is a problem on the lawn.

The wide step on base allows for more downward force. Each step removes 2 cores of soil from the lawn. This opens up the soil and allows moisture and air to flow to the roots of grass plants.

Two handle design allows for secure grip.
Powder coated finish.
Item# 5010-144

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 August:

Not to chase summer away, but, Harrowsmith's just released 2019 Fall Almanac will give you a credible excuse to drink more coffee and swing in the hammock a little longer. 

There are some great distractions in this edition: the history of the Milk calendar, the story behind the iconic Hudson's Bay Company blanket, goat tales from Caberneigh Farm and tempting root veg recipes. 

Mark and Ben Cullen offer their own unique views on cabbages, their cousins and root vegetables. 

Learn how to stack wood Scandi-style, grow apricots in a cold climate and explore the best urban star parks in Canada--and you can do it all while baking that sweet potato cake with smoky maple frosting on page 80.


This month, we are inviting you to submit a photo of your favourite part of your garden.

Email one photo to and tell us why it is the favourite part of your garden.

We will post your photo on Mark's Facebook page

The top winner, who get the most 'likes' will receive a $50 Home Hardware gift card, a copy of Mark's book The New Canadian Garden, 4 packets of Mark's Choice veggie seeds and a copy of the 2019 Almanac. 
The next 5 winners will receive a copy of the 2019 Harrowsmith Almanac and 4 packets of Mark's Choice veggie seeds.

Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.
Deadline for entry, September 9, 2018
Deadline for voting, September 13, 2018
Enter today!


In the August issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of your favourite mid-season flowering plant. 

Winning photo by Carley Spriggs
The photo with the most likes is the Grand Prize winner. Congratulations to Carley Spriggs. Carley received a signed copy of Mark's book The New Canadian Garden and a $50 Home Hardware gift card.

The 2nd and 3rd place photos each won a signed copy of Mark's book and 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds. Congratulations to Wendy and Kathy.

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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.