Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

As you may know, Mark is the founding chair of a campaign to reforest the Highway of Heroes in Ontario. While there is a Highway of Heroes in every province, this was the only highway travelled with repatriated Canadians who were lost in the Afghan conflict.

As they travelled down highway 401 to the coroner's office in Toronto, countless numbers of Canadians quietly lined the highway and overpasses to pay tribute to our fallen. This tribute became so powerful that the provincial government at the time created an act to permanently enshrine this 170 kilometer portion of the highway to our fallen.

Mark with Silver Cross Mother Barb Johnson and her husband Ron

Mark tells this story to help focus Canada Day reflections on the meaning of what it is to be Canadian. We hope you enjoy it.

Ben and Mark

What is the currency of a tree?

Do you see value in them? If so, what does that value look like?

To one incredibly special designer, a tree is the stroke of a brush, a line of green on an otherwise blank canvass. Scott Wentworth is a Landscape Architect in Picton, Ontario (Wentworth Landscapes). He works in Prince Edward County in what must be one of the most idyllic settings in Canada, surrounded by nature, the cool waters of Lake Ontario and the laid-back people of a vacation playground.   Hard to believe he gets any work done.
But work he does.

When we asked Scott to look at a five-acre parcel of vacant land on the south side of the Highway of Heroes in Whitby, he saw an opportunity to tell a powerful story. He looked up the battle map for the Battle of Vimy Ridge and envisioned something extraordinary.

Using 3,598 trees, he "painted" the battle lines of the Canadian battalions that lined up in the early hours of April 17, 1917 on the west side of No Mans Land. On the opposite side of the treeless walkway stand more trees, "the enemy". 

The trees that Scott chose for this location are all native. In time, the effect will be a jaw dropping image of a battlefield that changed the course of our history.
To walk through it today, without knowing what was in the artist's mind, would not be very special. Most of the trees recently came out of cold storage and look rather dormant. Our Hero Tree Steward, David Turnbull assures us that they will break into leaf and they will create a shady, cool, protective canopy that will be visible from the highway.

But more to the point, with some work, we have an opportunity to create something of a national treasure on this site. With signage to explain the vision, some park benches, enhanced parking and some tender loving care, this planting can become the signature park of the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign.

Who knew. When you decided to support our efforts to reforest the Highway of Heroes you may have imagined a bunch of trees, lined up like soldiers along the highway, providing shade and protection for wildlife and a visually pleasing image for passersby.
Scott Wentworth had a different idea. With Scott's help we are not just planting trees. We are creating a living memorial that will inspire Canadians for generations to come.
Indeed, Vimy Park (our unofficial name for this property) may just be our signature piece. While we are creating more images using trees elsewhere along the Highway, always with a Canadian theme, this one just may take the cake.

From left to right: Mike Hurley, Executive Director HoHTC, 
Brian Randall, HoHTC Enthusiast, Mark Cullen, HoHTC Chairman & Co-Founder, David Turnbull, HoHTC Operations Manager, Scott Wentworth, Landscape Architect & HoHTC Enthusiast, Wentworth Landscapes 

When you celebrate Canada Day this week, I hope you enjoy a slice of red and white icing'd cake. And take a moment to reflect on a small tract of land that may, with the help of the MTO, the town of Whitby and Region of Durham, become a National Destination park. One that tells such a powerful story that Canadians will travel across the land to visit.  And to literally hug some trees. Perhaps to shed some tears.

Canada: our supporters have given you 3,598 trees. Will you help us create a park of inspiration and reflection? 3,598 trees... one for each Canadian who lost their life at Vimy during that dreadful battle.

What value trees, you ask?
The answer: invaluable.

Mark Cullen
Chair, Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign

This short video was taken just a few days ago. The small garden and bronze memorial of this Canadian Hero, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, is very special. 

Have a look and remember that here, in this cottage, the author of In Flanders Fields grew up, "... lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow."   

Thanks to him and the volunteers who maintain this very special place, we will never forget.



The heat of summer has arrived:
- "dead head" (or cut off) spent flowers, such as peonies that are all partied-out from their wild show late-June. Cleaning up fallen petals not only looks better, it prevents moisture and disease from propagating at the base of your plants.
If you are a fan of peonies, you'll enjoy these photos from the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden peony festival. This year, the festival was held virtually on their website. I was lucky to see the peonies in full bloom before the festival launched. View my photo blog here (
- Removing spent lilac blooms will help them bloom more prolifically next year.
- Prune evergreens, especially cedars and cedar hedges. Now is the time. Boxwood, yews and other evergreens also.
- Watering: if it is hot and dry in your region, be mindful of watering your garden. Here are our rules of thumb:
     1. If it is beginning to weep/droop water it deeply.
     2. If the soil is dry down to the second knuckle of your index finger, water it deeply.
     3. If your lawn is turning brown and dry, leave it. Most often it will merely go dormant, though after an extended period of drought, ie. Several weeks, it may die.  All is not lost. Come mid-August the BEST time of the year to overseed a new lawn or thicken an established one comes along. Be patient.

Don't judge your garden during a drought by the postcards of Butchart Gardens. Mother Nature will nurture but sometimes the immediate results do not look great.

- Keep bird baths and water ponds clean and topped up.

- Cut your lawn high, at least 8 cm, to build up drought resistance. The taller you cut the lawn, the tougher it is to survive and thrive.

- Clean your hummingbird feeders and hang them out. A clean feeder is essential for the health of these remarkable birds.

We publish Green File twice per month in 30-minute episodes, corresponding with our newsletters on the 1st and 15th of the month throughout the growing season.

Today, we are talking to  Darryl Cheng.  Darryl's background as an engineer and photographer come together to make him the most interesting houseplant expert on the internet.
With a huge following on Instagram ( @houseplantjournal) and YouTube, Darryl recently wrote a book for his followers to learn how to care for plant the Houseplant Journal way. The New Plant Parent: Develop Your Green Thumb and Care for Your House-Plant Family (Harry N. Abrams)

Join Darryl, Mark and Ben as they share tips and experiences from the world of houseplants.

The Canadian Garden Council invites you to Celebrate Canada Day in the Garden!

With social distancing restrictions in place, we know that the traditional way of commemorating our country's birthday must be different.
This year, we propose celebrating Canada Day in the garden!
The Canadian Garden Council, in collaboration with the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association and Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, invites you to celebrate Canada Day in your backyard garden, at a public garden, or in a park, while respecting the COVID-19 guidelines.
Post your Canada Day photo on Facebook or Instagram and you could win one of the following prizes by using the hashtag #GardensCanada.
  • 5 prize packages from Ben and Mark Cullen valued at $90 each:
$50 gift card to buy garden products at Home Hardware, Ben and Mark Cullen's latest book Escape to Reality and 4 packets of Mark's Choice wildflower seeds.
  • A gift card from My Garden Colours for $153: 2020 marks Canada's 153rd birthday. To celebrate, My Garden Colours is offering a chance to win a $153 gift card to use on their website to purchase products for your garden.
Visit and get all the information on this special and unique celebration of Canada Day as well as access to a special Canada Day virtual Celebrations Kit made available by Canadian Heritage.

Cooling Mist Stand

The cooling mist stand may be the perfect way to relax on a hot, humid day. After all, it reduces the temperature in the immediate area by up to 10 degrees c.
The idea for this mist stand came from a roofing contractor Mark met in a Home Hardware store in Airdrie, Alberta. He was looking for something that would improve the productivity of his workers on a hot day.
We put our thinking caps on, and voila!
The result is a great way to stay cool and enjoy a long, hot summer day, at work or at play! The nozzles are multi-directional and can be adjusted. It is low cost to run and not harmful to the environment.

Cool, indeed!

Home Hardware item# 5072-995 (link)
Watch the video 


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 June.

Meadows - a lawn you don't have to mow

Canada Day fireworks - light up your garden with flowers

BIRDS IN FOCUS: The Decline of Aerial Insectivores
By Jody Allair
*For this month's feature I wanted to use this space to highlight an important new publication on the decline of Aerial Insectivores. The following article was originally written for the Birds Canada Blog by Dr. Silke Nebel, Vice-President, Conservation and Science at Birds Canada. I highly encourage you to follow the links and learn more about the most imperiled group of birds in Canada. - Jody
Aerial insectivores - birds that catch insects on the wing - have declined by an estimated 59% since the 1970s in Canada and by about 32% across North America. This is the most severe decline of any group of birds, and translates into the loss of more than 160 million individual birds across Canada and the United States. In a guest editorial to Avian Ecology and Conservation, my coauthors and I outline a five-step roadmap to the recovery of this group of birds, which is "falling between the cracks" of the policy framework that should protect their survival in Canada. 

Common Nighthawk
Photo credit: Jody Allair

In fact, nine of the 31 species of flycatchers, nightjars (which include Common Nighthawk - pictured above), swallows, and swifts are now listed in Canada under the federal Species at Risk Act .
Suggested steps in the roadmap to their recovery include a range of "no-regrets" actions that, regardless of their effects on aerial insectivore populations, are likely to have positive benefits for biodiversity. For example: increasing public awareness of the role of insects in ecosystems, and of aerial insectivores, who rely on them, as indicators of environmental health; or supporting incentives that encourage more ecologically-friendly agricultural practices while reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Many of the recommended actions would improve environmental quality for all biodiversity. They would also reduce socioeconomic risks to industry and Canadians, create more resilient and sustainable ecosystems within working landscapes, and contribute to meeting Canada's national biodiversity goals.
A key challenge in implementing this roadmap is the development and use of practical solutions that will benefit people and the environment. The response by Canadians to the COVID-19 pandemic amply demonstrates that rapid changes are possible when we work together to surmount challenges.
To read the full editorial in Avian Conservation Ecology (available in English and French) please visit:
Jody Allair
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair

A Special Offer Exclusively for our newsletter subscribers

Harrowsmith magazine is offering a special promo exclusively for our subscribers.
Subscribe to Harrowsmith at the special rate of just $26.
Click on this link to take advantage of this special promo.

July is prime time for gardens. We would love to see how your garden is growing this summer.

This month, we're giving away a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' and the current issue of the Harrowsmith Almanac to the 5 photos with the most 'likes'. The Grand Prize winner, with the most 'likes', will also receive a $50 gift card to Home Hardware.

Email one photo of your garden to We will post all photos on our Facebook page.

Encourage your friends and family to vote for your photo.

Deadline for submitting a photo is July 5, 2020
Deadline for voting is July 9, 2020

Enter today!

Photo by Kelly J.

In the June issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of your favourite plant.
The winner received a $50 gift card for Home Hardware.
Congratulations to Kelly J.

Mark and Ben's Gardening Connections  

Home Hardware

Toronto Star