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.

The Best Time to Start Gift Buying

"Seedsmen recon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all – it’s optimism.”
~ Geoff Hamilton

This week I would like to suggest a gift for the non-gardeners on your list – the kids.

There are little people all across the country who have not yet been introduced to the miracle of growing plants. Or the miracle of compost, but that is for another time.

Where kids are concerned, there can be no argument that an introduction to soil, water, sun and their collective effects on the plant world is in order. The younger the kid the better. If you have any doubt about the importance and – indeed – the relevance to the future of civilization and the earth generally, read the book ‘The Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louve.

In his landmark book he explains how a whole generation of youngsters now suffer from a malady that he calls ‘nature deficit disorder’. This disconnection of the human species from the natural world around us is creating an attitude that we are somehow not a part of it – nature, that is. And with that attitude comes a whole wheelbarrow load of problems that I won’t get into right here – remember, this blog is about engaging kids in the gardening experience.

So, to the list:

1. Make it easy – start an amaryllis or a handful of paperwhites. These easy to grow bulbs are so easy that you don’t even need soil to get results. Amaryllis will produce two or three stems about 40 cm high and 4 or 5 flowers per stem. ‘Spectacular’ might describe them when in bloom.
2. Paper whites are almost as much fun. Members of the narcissus/daffodil family, these miniatures grow almost as aggressively as the amaryllis – the main difference is that the flowers are smaller and they smell funny. Some would say that they smell sweet – which is an understatement and the reason why I think that they smell funny.
3. Flower seeds. Soil. Starting tray/cell packs. When you buy flower seeds for the first time gardener, make them ‘easy to grow’ and as fool proof as you can. Sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, marigolds and calendula are about as foolproof as they come. Be sure to offer a chart of ‘seed sowing times’ so that they are started early enough that they are ready for the garden come planting time.
4. A small shovel, rake, or trowel. Nothing like a shiny new tool to claim the gardening experience for yourself. Home Hardware has the line up of small, wooden handled stainless steel digging tools that are suitable for medium sized kids, say, 6 years or older.
5. A tree. The best way to give a tree at Christmas is to give a gift card to your local gardening retailer with a picture of the tree that you have in mind. Or give them a gardening catalogue with a post-it note in the tree page.
6. If the kids on your list do not have access to the real estate to plant a tree, I suggest that you plant one in Africa ( or in public space in an urban area ( A message to this effect in a Christmas card works nicely.
7. Membership in a local botanical garden (Montreal, Toronto, Burlington – ‘Royal Botanical Gardens’) – or a local ‘kids gardening program’ – go to the website of your local horticultural society for details.
8. A few hours of your time, in the garden, with seeds and soil. Come spring there is ample opportunity to get down on your hands and knees with your kid – or someone else’s kid – and sow seeds or plant transplants. What could be more rewarding for you?

As I think about it, this would be a great gift FROM a kid to his/her parents/grandparents/aunt or uncle… a couple of hours in the garden ‘helping’.

You can take it from there…….

More to come.

Keep your knees dirty.