Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

Perennial Plants for Golfers

My guide to a great low maintenance garden.

Before I get to the ‘meat’ of this blog – perennial plants that you should look for when shopping this weekend, I have to say something about our British gardening friends… who else, after all, would describe home vegetable growing as ‘thrilling’ and the flowering of perennial favourites as ‘great entertainment’. And yet, the current issue of The Garden magazine, which is the official publication of the Royal Horticultural Society, does precisely that.

To look at a beet, freshly pulled from the raw earth and ready for the pot, and describe it as ‘thrilling’ is a bit of a stretch for us Canadian gardeners (except on the Prairies where enthusiasm for vegetable growing is reaching an all time high: and it WAS pretty high to begin with).

To witness the slow development of a peony as it erupts out of the soil in early May only to develop ‘eye balls’ for buds that eventually swell into perfectly round candy floss flowers later in the month as ‘great entertainment’? One might think the British have lost their marbles. If that is the case I would say that they lost them a long time ago.

Truth is, Canadian gardeners have a long way to go before we can say that we enjoy our gardens with the same enthusiasm as our British brethren. Maybe that is true for all of ‘garden’ humanity – as no nation has such a finely developed passion for gardening that the British do.

On that note, I have some advice for you: whatever your gardening circumstances, be sure to look for the ‘winners’ that can make your garden the most satisfying ever, this spring.

Where people are concerned I look at the world as being made up of two primary groups: golfers and gardeners.
Golfers enjoy gardens. Well, at least they like looking at them. But they generally have little time for the tedious nature of gardening ‘work’. I like to think that they live with the seed of gardening-potential inside of them: they just need to mature a little before they can see the light.
Gardeners have learned that there are countless benefits to getting their knees dirty.
Golfers think that dirt is dirty.
Gardeners have the patience to wait for a plant to mature from seed or transplant into a flowering beauty, fulfilling it’s potential over time.
Golfers enjoy the thrill of the moment – a great shot on perfect grass – that someone else grew. (Note: you may insert your own interpretation of ‘golfer’: sailor, sports nut or whatever….)

You get the idea.

Here I list some of my favourite ‘plants for golfers’. These are easy to grow, require very little maintenance and are there for you when you are finished your game – like old friends. They will not let you down.

Shop for plants with the ‘exposure’ of your yard in mind:

Sun. If you have blazing hot sun to deal with for most of the season than I recommend that you look over many of the Echinacea perennial flowers. The original ‘Echinacea purpurea’ is not a bad place to start. A prairie native, here you have a very winter hardy purple flowering butterfly magnet that blooms for up to 5 weeks and when it is done blooming attracts a host of hungry song birds in search of the prodigious production of tasty seeds.

For something completely different – but still in the Echinacea family – look for some of the recently introduced varieties that ‘improve’ on the flowering performance of the original. E. Magnus was the perennial plant of the year just a few years ago. It provides a dense shade of purple that fades to almost pink later in the season. A July/August show of colour is guaranteed in almost any region of the country providing you position it in the sun.

Rudebeckia may best be known as ‘Black Eyed Susan’. Not sure that Susan approves, as who wants to be known best for a black eye: but there you have it. I think that Rudbeckia is a great plant no matter what you call it. Hardy to zone 5 (north Toronto/Halifax).

It thrives in well drained, compost rich soil, loves the sun and blooms longer than just about any flowering perennial than I can think of. Plant Rudebeckia now and you will surely enjoy a fabulous show of yellow colour in late summer and autumn. In fact, this could be the best investment that the cottager makes: an easy spring planting for an abundance of colour when you get home from the cottage. It is great as a cut flower too.

Look for another ‘perennial plant of the year’, r. Goldstrum.
It will grow and multiply for three years then needs to be dug up and replanted. Not unusual for a ‘perennial’ in our climate.

R. ‘Prairie Sun’ is another winner: with its’ intense gold centre and butter soft outer petals.

My short list of ‘sun loving perennials’ includes all of the sedum family – think ‘spectabilus’ and ‘hens and chicks’ - (sempervivum, another member of the extensive sedum family, if you are looking for groundcovers in the sun).


O.k., you expected me to say that Hosta is a great shade performer. With over 7,000 varieties in the family to choose from including the meter wide giants like h. ‘Frances Williams’ and h. ‘Drinking Gourd’ I would not want to disappoint you. Truth is, however, that hostas are best grown in partial shade. A few hours of dappled shade (i.e. sun!) improves their performance substantially.

In truly dense shade I recommend the much more aggressive ‘lamium’ family. This is a colourful groundcover that will grow in between evergreens and shrubs, providing a carpet of variegated foliage and (right now!) flower. Though, the flowers do not last very long, I have to admit. Hardy to zone 2 (Edmonton).

Another shade loving plant on my golfers list is pachysandra or Japanese Spurge. This is an evergreen ground cover –unusual eh? It flowers in late May/early June but I would not write home about that. Instead the redeeming feature of this plant is it’s ability to thrive in dry shade, multiply over 2 to 3 years and provide a carpet of green where most anything else would give up. Hardy to zone 5 (Southern Ontario/Nova Scotia/PEI).

Also on my list of dry-shade lovers are: lily of the valley (aggressive! But worth it in the right place). Hardy to zone 2 (long winters – Edmonton).

And finally – think of the ‘natives’ that do so well under similar circumstances: trilliums (zone 3), Canadian Ginger (zone 4) and Jack in the Pulpit (zone 4).

Enjoy your passion – whether you are British or not - and keep your knees dirty.