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.

So You Think You Can't Garden

I was watching ‘So you think you Can Dance’ ( the other night and I thought to myself, “There is no way in the world that I could do any of that stuff on the dance floor.” To which my wife responds: No kidding!

When you are all feet and no rhythm, you know what I mean, middle aged white guy that I am.

The thought occurred to me that there are some people out there who think the same thing about gardening: why plant it when you know that you are going to kill it anyway.

I have heard it all: “I have black thumbs.” “I kill everything.” “My Mom was the gardener.” and my favourite, “My wife is the gardener” As much as to say: why start, I am only going to fail anyway.

To which I respond: there are no failures in the garden, only composting opportunities.

So, off to the golf course they go to churn up someone else’s’ lawn with their divots and donuts (circles in the turf made by turning hard on the wheel of the power cart while tromping on the gas peddle circling the ball).

For readers of this blog who are inclined to think that gardening is for everyone else, a message:

If you breathe, you will get a kick out of gardening.
If you can hear, you will get a lift from the songs of birds in your garden.
If you can feel, you will sleep better having nurtured and grown the clean air machines that we call plants in your own yard.
If you can see you will pause during your ‘work’ in the garden and become temporarily breathless as you observe a hummingbird sucking nectar from a flower.
If you still don’t get it, go back to the top and re read.

My friend Sarah Rurka at the Home Hardware location in Lloydminster, Alberta sent me this wonderful quote from the book ‘Second Nature’. I think that you will like it:
Sarah says that “This book of narratives is a book of tales of failure, overcome.”

And from the book, “All of the accomplished gardeners I know are comfortable with failure... and understand that, in the garden at least, failure speaks louder than success... his failures have more to say to him. The gardener learns nothing when his carrots thrive, unless that success is won against a background of prior disappointment. Outright success is dumb, disaster frequently eloquent, at least to the gardener that knows how to listen.”

The idea that a person cannot or will not pick up a spade or a trowel and plant something in the soil out of fear of failure is a foreign concept to the successful gardener. Failure, as Sarah and the author of Second Nature reminds us, is what we do.

Imagine if you met someone at your next cocktail party who introduced themselves as a failure. You might look for a quick exit from that conversation.

And yet I know the feeling of failure and the exhilaration of learning from it. Oh, the high of getting it right after learning from a good failure!

While in business it has occurred to me that we waste a lot of time talking about our successes. Look at the financial pages these days and you will read lots of stuff about people who have profited from the down turn in the economy. I would ask, “Who has a failure that they wish to talk about – and what did you learn from it?”

A ‘failure’ forum might just draw a big crowd and who knows, maybe we would learn more from a few of these shared experiences than all of the successes put together.

Gardeners who have been at it for a few years get it: we work to fail so that we can succeed the next time. It is a cycle that keeps us going.

Maybe that is why gardeners live longer.
Our bodies are more flexible and our minds more open than non-gardeners because we exercise muscles that seldom get a workout otherwise. Under normal circumstances we go out of our way to get things right (think child-rearing and careers).

As Sarah rightly points out, “Weathering the recession in this market has been an interesting experience for our family. The fear/intimidation that we feel in business is no different than that of new gardeners just setting out to plant their first garden.”

It is early summer everywhere in Canada and a great time to sink a spade into the soil and plant. Anything. Prepare the soil with some compost. Water the new plant. Nurture it. And if you fail, give it another shot (most retailers now guarantee plants against death anyway, regardless of the reason why).

Keep your knees dirty!