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.

A Stake that Dad can Really Dig for Father's Day

With Father's Day just ahead of us I am offering some useful gift suggestions for (what I am told) the ‘toughest guy to buy for’ in your family.

Also, as promised, I am recommending some excellent annuals and perennials for use in containers this summer.

On the first note, it is helpful to think ‘Tool Time’ when it comes to Dad. All dads love tools – gardening dads as much as the next guy. So what kind of tools will delight even the most casual of Gardening Dads?

Dad’s Make the Cut.

Let’s start with cutting tools – like loppers. When it comes to trimming trees and shrubs, there are a lot of options. The new ‘tree loppers’ on the market have been improved over recent years, dramatically! Here is how:

A good quality pair of lopping shears will have:
- High carbon steel cutting blade that will hold an edge even under heavy use.
- A Teflon coated blade, for smooth cutting
- A ‘geared’ hinge provides for less effort to ‘make the cut’
- Some loppers will have aluminum shafts for handles, which are extendable.
Good quality short handled loppers are $35 to $70 depending on the size and cutting capacity.
Long handled ‘pole pruners’ for trimming tall trees etc. are $100 and up.

Dad’s Dig It.

Digging in the garden can be viewed as drudgery or fun – depends on your point of view and whether you are using a quality, sharp tool.

First of all – buy Dad a metal ‘bastard’ file. He can use it to keep an edge on the shovels, spades and hoes that he has hanging in the garage or tool shed. Advise him that he should put a new digging tool on the grinder to give it an edge and then keep that edge using the file.

Secondly, buy Dad a good quality spade or shovel. The new ones are made of superior quality steel, hold an edge (once he makes one….), provide maximum leverage for effort expended and last for a very long time.

Dad Loves a Good Stake.
Here is one of the greatest inventions in modern gardening history, costs only $7 or so and he will never (likely) buy himself one.
It is an aluminum ‘spiral tomato stake’ for his tomatoes. Here are the benefits:
- Staking his tomatoes will double his crop vs. growing them on the ground.
- No tying is required. With one hand he can twist the main stem of the tomato onto the spiral stake while with the other he can hold a coffee (if he is doing this in the morning) or a beer (afternoon or evening activity).
- They are 6 ½ ft. tall – tall enough to support even the most successful tomato.
- They will last his life time – and then some. At the appropriate time you could suggest that he leave them to you when he is done with them.
- They look good lined up in the garden! (who said that a veggie garden was not attractive?)

There are many retailers that carry upscale, quality gardening tools. My own line of Mark’s Choice is available from Home Hardware and can be viewed at

There is more – so stay tuned next week to this blog.

This is a good time to be thinking of planting in containers. And with it, the opportunity to put in mountains of colour in the form of annuals and perennials.

Yes, you can plant perennials and annuals together. Not only will you create a unique look, but it will be one that will sustain itself very nicely over the entire summer.

Great combos:

For sun: I love to put perennial Gaura/Indian Feather together with annual Sweet potato vine. The Gaura will spike up nicely, giving you the height that you are looking for, while the sweet potato will grow down to the bottom of most any pot. Chose from Sweet potato ‘Blacky’ or the many lime green and yellow varieties that are out there.

Another great perennial/annual combination for a sunny position is perennial Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, perennail Creeping Jenny with annual geraniums and/or Cape Daisy. The Scabiosa will grow to 30 cm. tall and bloom the entire season, as will the geraniums and Cape Daisies

Other great perennials for the sun that lend themselves well to container gardening are:
Columbine, Coral Bells, Cranesbill (geranium), lungwort, salvia, thyme, viola and yarrow. For dry, intense sun look for Hens and Chickens, Sempervivums, yarrow, euphorbia, ice plant and stonecrop.

For shady positions in the garden look for these perennials for containers:
Hosta, fern, Deadnettle (lamium), Bugle Flower (Ajuga), Sweet Woodruff, and Irish or Scottish Moss.

Next week, more Fathers Day Gift suggestions, including some tools that will help him to maintain a great looking lawn.

Meantime, keep your knees dirty!