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.

Investing advice for 2011.

I just received an interesting memo from my financial portfolio manager. It is a ‘top ten list’ of important things to remember when investing in the stock market this year. The most dominant message is that things have changed and by the way in case you forgot, things have changed and they are going to change some more.

Well, I have some advice for all of the stressed out financial advisors out there (and if they are not stressed out, they should be): bet on the gardening experience to produce dividends that you have only dreamed of.

You see, gardening is a blue chip investment from any point of view. Take a packet of seeds, for example. I don’t know who said that the best bet that you can make is with some good soil and a packet of seeds, but he or she had a point. The risks are few and the potential rewards many.

It is in the garden that we connect with the natural world around us and learn, providing that we are listening and asking the right questions in the first place. We learn, for example, that whatever goes up must come down. Try growing a vine in your garden and you will learn that it won’t go up in the first place without some support. And in time, the vine outgrows the support and the vine grows downwards again. You have to keep shoring up the support or cut down the vine.

Everything has a life cycle. By planting in one season and removing the finished plants in another we learn that every living thing has a life cycle. Even the mighty oak will fall, someday. Hopefully not on your house. The productive tomato finishes its work in one season. Garden leeks and garlic need to experience some frost in order to maximize their flavour. Raspberries are best in their 3rd and 4th years, strawberries in their 2nd year and asparagus never seems to quit after it’s 5th year, but man are they slow to come around until then! The same for rhubarb. But even they will peter out in a generation or two. Everything that grows eventually regresses.

Even plants that seem never to quit are actually just fooling you. Take the peony for example. If you visit the location of a long-ago homestead, where a farm house once stood but has long since disappeared, you will often find a lonely peony or two just hanging out on their own with no seeming interest in civilization – occupied house or not. Maybe it was planted there over a hundred years ago.

Truth is, the root structure of the original peony plant has died and been replaced by other, newer roots. The vigour of the peony plant is constantly refurbished in this way. This is why peonies will often appear to change colour over time: it isn’t the original root that is changing. The new one is just taking a different genetic direction. This is Mother Nature’s way of renewing the original plant. And as far as you and I are concerned the peony looks like it has been there forever.

Renewal is our reward. For being patient, we experience the natural division of plants as they multiply before our eyes. Take the Lily of the Valley for example. They seem to go and grow without stopping. The root is a rhizome that moves beneath the soil making new plants as it moves. A lawn thickens much the same way.

We are not alone. In gardening, we engage in a partnership with Mother Nature and grow relationships with neighbours and friends, creating a sense of community that is without price. I believe that people who spend time writing for the financial pages and the financial planners themselves would actually benefit by spending more time in the garden.

The support system is invisible. The burgeoning popularity of organic gardening offers one very basic tenant that is worth keeping in mind: the health of your garden plants is determined by the health of your soil. A colony of thriving bacteria, beneficial insects and protozoa = good quality soil. Add lots of raw organic matter in the form of compost for these critters to feed on and your plants will grow almost despite themselves because a buffet of goodies is at their feet.

Now, how is this helpful to financial planning professionals?

Let me sum up:

Everything has a life cycle. The markets had been growing for a record period of time then took a plunge and then recovered. Funny – just like Nature to behave that way.

Renewal is our reward. As sure as the markets are up they will go down. How fast and how far is anybody’s guess. But they will bounce and new, better stocks will replace some of the tired old ones. Be smart and be patient.

We are not alone. They say that 47% of Canadians were invested in the stock market last year. Remember that when you open your investment update this month. As Red Green said many times, ‘We are all in this together.’

The support system is invisible. The news is full of union disputes, large companies that are standing in line for government bail outs, other companies that are in decline and some that are closing their doors.
The media will not tell you about the people who are making their best effort to create a product or service of value: many are hanging in there. The majority of us are reporting for work on time, getting the job done and making a small but significant contribution that helps to make Canada great.
Those companies that are hanging in there are making something or selling something that people want and can afford. I had to wait in line today behind 4 people at McDonalds for a fillet-o-fish. Somebody other than me seems to want their product.

But I digress: it is a new year and time to reflect on what is important.

From William Alexander, author of The $64 Tomato.

“Things that I remember: witnessing childbirth, finding myself standing absolutely alone before DaVinci’s Last Supper. And planting potatoes on a perfect spring morning.”

If you like this message I hope that you forward it to your financial advisor.

Keep your knees dirty,