“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” – Pablo Picasso
You have plenty of time to think when you dig around in the dirt, as we do. That’s why we think of most gardeners as “backyard philosophers”.
The backyard philosopher doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but they have taken time to ponder all the questions. You know a backyard philosopher when you meet them – a thoughtful, productive, and down to earth type of person. A person who lives with a sense of purpose.

We have had the good fortune of meeting many, and so often it is losing a great one that brings these virtues into sharp focus. With sadness we learned last week that a friend and all-star gardener Celia Roberts had passed.
We knew Celia best as a volunteer on the board at Canada Blooms, where at one point she served as Chair of the Board in addition to various roles on Festival Committee, Design Committee, and as judge of the Floral Competition.
Celia Roberts
‘Blooms was just the thin end of the wedge as far as Celia’s service to her community– an active member of the Garden Club of Toronto, Garden Club of Ontario, Oakville Horticulture Society, Ontario Horticultural Association all as member, committee member, and leadership roles up to President of Oakville Hort (2001-2003).

Celia promoted excellence in Canadian horticulture through teaching at Botanical Gardens, horticulture societies and conventions as well as judging as an Accredited Design and Horticultural Judge both locally and internationally. When discussing Celia’s “superb Floral Art skills” close friend Lil Taggart put it, “She loved to teach – [and] often said she never taught a class where she didn’t learn or relearn something”.
What strikes us about Celia and so many passionate gardeners are the generosity with which they approach their passion: giving of their time to executive and board roles that keep our various horticultural institutions on course, and showing up to dig and divide perennials as Celia did when Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital was rebuilt.

Celia’s legacy is writ large by the impact of her lifelong work as a volunteer. She left a positive impression on everything she touched. We will miss her and are grateful for what we have learned from her.  

A life of meaning lived generously. A gardener’s life of purpose. 
As we approach the new year, special thanks to Jody Allair, our birding specialist who could power all of the electrical grid in Alberta, where he lives, with his enormous energy and passion.
And to our assistant Brenda Hensley, without whom we would be nothing.
Well, we exaggerate a bit, but this newsletter would certainly almost never happen and it would never happen on time.
Brenda is our organizer, fact checker and truth finder. With her in charge, we will never steer you wrong.

Sincere best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty and Beans
Let's stick with indoor gardening activities this month:
Order your seed catalogues or go online to view all of the new offerings. My favourites include Veseys in P.E.I., Ontario Seed Company, McKenzie Seeds, and Stokes.

Check indoor tropical plants for bugs. Squish them with your thumb or apply insecticidal soap. If you have spider mites spray with room temperature water ever day and make sure that you reach the underside of the leaves.

Read all of the gardening magazines that you can get your hands on: fill your head with new ideas. The new gardening season will be on you before you know it and you won't have time to think about it when it does.

The new seed racks are in at your local retailer. All of the new seeds are fresh: it is the law.

Don't let a non-gardener tell you that there is nothing to do in the winter. Check your dahlia tubers, begonia bulbs, water your amaryllis but not too much.
This week on the Green File tune in to hear more about Ben’s passion project and entrepreneurial endeavour – Cullen’s Foods!

Ben has been working on this “side” project for almost four years now, which is showing up on grocery store shelves across the country.  Over 700 stores to be exact. 
100% Canadian-grown, certified organic beans, with a story that takes you right back to the farm. Really. 
Mark recommends very highly that you listen to this podcast if you have any interest in eating better and accessing better quality food (read: local/sustainably produced). 
Ben is hiding his face in the corner, waiting for his Dad to stop bragging.  

Tune in - on Apple, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts.

“Where it began” to large extent, for Cullen’s Foods. Ben started attending the Guelph Organic Conference when he was just 15 and his sister Heather was studying for her Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Guelph.

It’s the GOC where Canadian organic movers and shakers go to move and shake – this year online yet again, where you can tune into seminars spanning organic production to marketing. Register at
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 December.
Your Guide to Helping Canada's Birds in 2022
By: Jody Allair
For my final 2021 installment of Birds in Focus I thought I would highlight a new guide that I have been working on with a few of my Birds Canada colleagues. It’s our new Guide to Helping Canada’s Birds, and I am very excited to share this handy reference to help us all take action for birds.​

These recommendations are backed by science and endorsed by Birds Canada. Whether you are new to birding, or have been a bird conservation advocate for decades, please use this information and let others know what they can be doing to help birds.
Townsend's Solitaire
Photo credit: Jody Allair
The list is fairly comprehensive and it includes ways you can become a champion for birds such as volunteering, becoming a bird-savvy consumer, and even how to get to know your birds and sharing what you learn. We also dive into how you can help reduce the biggest threats our birds face. These include some well-known threats like keeping cats inside, and making your windows safe for birds but also broader concerns such as reducing plastic use and taking action on the climate crisis.

I really hope you set aside a few minutes and visit the website: Your Guide to Helping Canada’s Birds | Birds Canada | Oiseaux Canada.
I want to end off by saying thank you to Mark, Ben and Brenda for having me be part of this wonderful newsletter in 2021 and thank you all for reading my monthly column.
Good Birding!
Jody Allair
Director, Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair
*The photo is my lovely neighbourhood Townsend’s Solitaire whom I watch and listen to everyday on my daily birding walks. 
Nerigoma Nanaimo Bars

The Nanaimo bar is a three-layered confection that has become an iconic part of Canada’s unique cuisine. The creamy chocolate goodness in these Nerigoma Nanaimo Bars has a twist you'll love even more!

Don’t miss an issue of Harrowsmith’s gardening, cooking, sustainable living and DIY tips. Find the Winter 2021/2022 issue on newsstands now and subscribe at