Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

It has been almost four years since Ben joined Mark in the family business and we continue to obsess over the same question today as we did on that cold day in January: how can we help you enjoy more success in your garden?

Our response to this question has moved us to create a new podcast every 2 weeks (today we introduce you to Doug Tallamy to discuss his book 'Bringing Nature Home'), develop more online videos (including Mark's "early morning from the porch" recorded last Sunday), introduce you to more contests (to win Home Hardware gift cards, Harrowsmith Almanac and copies of our newest book Escape to Reality) and our list goes on.

One thing that has not changed is our commitment to keep you up to date on what to do in your garden bi-monthly through our newsletter.

September represents a "right-turn" in the gardening experience as days shorten, evening temperatures cool down and most of Canada experiences more rain fall, which is a good thing after a record breaking heat wave and drought in July throughout most of the country.

This is the month that kids return to school, usually. Though we won't even speculate what that means for you and your family, should you have one, during COVID 19.
If the plan does not include full time school attendance, we would like to point out the opportunity to introduce kids of all ages to the garden.

Interested in the environment? The garden is the perfect place to start that journey.
Interested in birding? The garden.
Interested in growing food? You've guessed it.

Here is where we believe an outdoor education should start:

Making more of what you have. Dig and divide perennials with fleshy roots now. Hosta, daylilies, peonies, monarda [Bee Balm], rudbeckia, and Echinacea, lend themselves to propagation by dividing them up and moving them round the garden. Better still, give them away to people who can use them. including people who do not garden at all. Imagine the impact that you might have on a person who has not experienced the miracle of growth that occurs with such a simple act.

Gather seeds. As many plants flower, they produce seeds that are easy to retrieve. Hollyhocks, sweet peas, poppies, bee balm, purple cone flower and many more perennial plants produce a seed pod that contains the seeds of next year's garden. Literally. 

Remind your kids that nature did not create flowers for us exclusively, though they are a nice bonus. All plants produce flowers to reproduce, by creating seeds that will fall to the ground and grow. In the case of Canadian burdock, they attach themselves to our clothing and the fur of animals to travel to new destinations, like Velcro. With some observation we can learn a lot.

Gather nuts and fruit. Plan on an apple picking adventure and enjoy the fresh taste of a locally grown apple. While you are at it, tell the kids that apples were never created by nature for us, any more than flowers were. Once again, an apple was created to protect the seed within and "feed" it while it rots on the ground, to prepare the seed for germination next spring. Same for other fruit like pears, cherries, plums etc. 

Acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, and many other nut producing trees are ready to pick this month. All of them are interesting and fun to collect. You can propagate these without a lot of fuss (check out our Toronto Star column on this topic).


Cut flowers and enjoy. Why is it that we hold our breath when we bend over to pick a weed? Why do we overlook some of the most stunning flowers in the garden as perfect candidates for cutting to enjoy indoors? We have no idea.   But we think it is a good idea to spread the joy of flowers by enjoying them indoors. And to breath when you bend over as this helps to avoid dizziness and when you are Mark's age there is enough of that already.



Put up. We are not passing judgment on the time that you spend keeping your kids in line or keeping tabs on them. Rather, the old fashioned notion of "putting up" is to preserve the bounty of the garden in your kitchen. Pickle the onions, cucumbers and green tomatoes. Make chili or pesto sauce out of an abundance of tomatoes. Whatever, there are many sources of recipes out there for you to access if you wish to pursue the idea. We merely present it here, lay it at your feet and hope that someone we know really well will share theirs with us.


Birds. Migratory birds are flying south, right through your garden. Keep an eye out for many beautiful birds that raced north in spring but are taking their sweet time flying south this time of year. Chief among them, in Mark's opinion, is the hummingbird. First, the males meander through, then the fledged youngsters who were born up north and finally female hummers. They generally stop to smell the trumpet vine and other brightly coloured, trumpet shaped flowers in your garden (they are actually gathering pollen and nectar). Put out your feeders now.


Stop and smell your own flowers. There are about two preciously short months left in most Canadian gardens to sit, be still and observe before you will have to brush the snow off your garden bench.

Be sure to share your "favourite garden" stories in pictures with us. See contest below to win a Home Hardware gift card.
Yours, as ever,

Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty.

with Doug Tallamy and "Bringing Nature Home"
- Now on Apple Podcasts AND Spotify!

Doug Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 103 research publications and has taught insect related courses for 40 years. 

Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities.

His book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers' Association. The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, was published in 2014. 

Doug's new book 'Nature's Best Hope' released by Timber Press in February 2020, is a New York Times Best Seller. Among his awards are the Garden Club of America Margaret Douglas Medal for Conservation and the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence, the 2018 AHS B.Y. Morrison Communication Award and the 2019 Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award.  

Dad and I both read Doug's book, Bringing Nature Home, which was transformative for the both of us, as far as the way we think about plants and their interaction with wildlife.


-   Dig and divide. Perennials that flowered in early to mid-summer can be dug up and divided. Replant the divisions around your yard in the appropriate places or give them away if you have run out of space. Be sure that the soil is moist when you dig up the mature perennial.
-  Plant spring flowering bulbs. The boat has arrived from The Netherlands and we recommend that you check out the selection at your favourite retailer for the best selection of the season. Fact is, they don't replenish the 'hard to find' varieties of tulips, daffodils, narcissus, hyacinths and the like later in the fall season. Even if you just store your new purchases in your garage for a few weeks, at least you have the varieties and colours that you really want.
Speaking of spring flowering bulbs, check out the Mark's Choice bulb collections at Home Hardware. Great value for the money.  
-  Compost: a. empty b. fill. Not to oversimplify this, but your garden needs the natural goodness that is contained in your backyard composting unit and your now-empty composting unit will provide a valuable service this autumn when the leaves fall and you yank your spent annuals and veggie plants out of the ground.


Now is the time to lay sod or sow grass seed.
To remove all the fuss of hauling bags of lawn soil and buying special grass seed and lawn food, why not buy it all in one bag?
We recommend CIL Iron Plus 4-in-1 Lawn Recovery

You won't believe the results.
Don't take our word for it. Stop in at your friendly, local Home Hardware store and try it out.
It will save you time and money.
And you will be tickled green with the results.

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 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.
Home Hardware 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 exciting gardening/environment columns we wrote in August.

How to cut back on watering your garden

These tree species were here in 1534. Here's why they still are.

It's time to plant veggies. Yes, again.

Your garden needs some late-summer TLC.

Don't hold back - fall for birds!
By Jody Allair
As a young birder growing up in the 90s in Peterborough, Ontario, I was always enamoured with fall. There was just something about those cool crisp nights, the amazing colours on display in the forests, and the lakes filled with waterfowl. And as I began to know more about birds, I started to see that fall is one of the birdiest times of year. I seemed to find raptors; the first northern finches; and loads of warblers, thrushes, and sparrows everywhere there was natural habitat. This was especially true at bird migration focal points, such as Presqu'ile Provincial Park on Lake Ontario and Long Point on Lake Erie. In fact, volunteering at Long Point Bird Observatory during fall migration as a teenager helped lay the ground work for my career with, and passion for, birds. Seeing dozens of migrating Black-and-white, Blackburnian, Yellow, and Chestnut-sided warblers was a feast for the eyes. And realizing that each morning would bring some new avian surprises is a feeling that continues to excite me to this very day.
Jody Allair fall birding in Alberta
Photo by Phoebe Allair

What was also apparent on those fall days was the lack of people out birding - even at migration hotspots. Sure, you would still see many of the local birding stalwarts, but it was nowhere near the numbers that you would see in similar locations in early May. So why aren't more people birding in the fall?
Could it be that they just don't realize how amazing the birding is? I would argue that some of the most amazing migration spectacles in Canada occur in the fall. My shortlist includes the shorebird migration on the Bay of Fundy; the amazing sea birding off Newfoundland and Vancouver Island; the tremendous concentrations of geese and cranes in Saskatchewan; the raptor migration at Hawk Cliff, Ontario; and the massive influxes of migrant songbirds at places like Point Pelee, Ontario, and Tadoussac, Qu├ębec...just to name a few.
To read the rest of my essay on fall birding please visit:

Good Birding!

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.

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 our Facebook page.

The top winner, with the most 'likes' will receive a $50 Home Hardware gift card, Harrowsmith Almanac and a copy of our book Escape to Reality.
The next 3 winners will receive a copy of the 2020 Harrowsmith Almanac.

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

Deadline for entry, September 7, 2020
Deadline for voting, September 14, 2020

Enter today!


Photo by Mark C.
In the August issue of Gardening with Mark and Ben, we invited you to share a photo of "What's Blooming in Your Garden".
The Grand Prize Winner received a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' + a $50 gift card for Home Hardware + a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac.
Congratulations to Mark C.
2nd and 3rd place received a signed copy of our book 'Escape to Reality' + a copy of the Harrowsmith Almanac.
Congratulations to Sabrina E. and Denise G.

Mark and Ben's Gardening Connections 

Home Hardware

Toronto Star