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.

No one could have predicted 5 years ago where the ‘local food’ movement would go. Or that there would even be a ‘local food movement’! For Canadian gardeners the idea of eating food that is grown within 100 miles/kilometers or meters from home is very exciting. Perhaps the very message of eating locally grown fruits and veggies is preaching to the choir – but in any case – gardeners are fully on board, you can be sure.

The benefits of eating locally produced food cannot be overstated: generally fewer chemicals (or none at all!) are needed to produce great food that does not have to endure long distances to get to market, it tastes better, is better for you and it supports the local economy.

I might add that growing your own food is a great way to bring people together too. It is a poorly kept secret that gardeners are generous with information. Ask an experienced gardener how to grow most anything and you will gain the benefit of his or her knowledge without prodding. Conversation flows between gardeners with a shared interest in food gardening. In short you could say that the activity of gardening cures shyness!

As you gather round the Thanksgiving table next week, give the abundance of Canadian gardens some thought.

And be thankful that we live in a country where our soil and climate generally lends itself to feeding the nation. Right from our own backyards.

As we focus on the harvest and the success of our crop

s, let us not forget the beauty of these edible plants. Growing food plants in the garden provides us with sustenance – to be sure. But have you thought about feeding the soul with food plants? Put another way, the ‘look’ of food plants can provide an appearance that draws people into your garden just as a flowering shrub or flowering perennial can. Truth is, there is a lot of colour in the new Swiss Chard varieties that anyone will find attractive. Not to mention the textured blue leaves of a Savoy Cabbage (how are they any different from a large leafed Hosta, from this point of view?), the fine leaves of a carrot could be mistaken for a fern (in the sun, no less!), the flowers of your runner beans are as ornamental as a clematis, when you get down to it.

You get the point.

Of course, this is coming from a guy who prefers to travel the back roads of the country vs. highways so that I can get a look at many of the fine vegetable gardens on Canadian farms and rural properties. To me, the straight rows of edibles equal the vision of a flowering perennial garden. The look is different, to be sure. But given that much of the food that we eat comes from the garden, our appreciation for the sight of it should be deeper.

Mark Cullen