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.

Veggie Garden Primer

~ February 23, 2011

Canadians have fewer diversions in late winter: swimming, boating, fishing and, yes gardening, are distant memories. It is difficult to even remember what warm sunshine feels like, never mind get outdoors and absorb some vitamin D.
Oh for those spring time diversions!!

If mid-winter blahs are a concern to you, I am here to give you hope. Useful diversions are as close as your local garden centre, hardware store and even on line. Read on!

This brings me to food; the kind of food that you grow in your garden. We are in ‘prime’ seed buying season. Now is the time to get into your local garden centre or hardware store and look over the fresh seeds on the racks. Check out what is new and plan on starting some of your seeds early, indoors.

I order many of my vegetable seeds by ‘mail’, even though you can do this very easily over the internet.

Some of my favourite on-line seed suppliers are:
Veseys Seeds in P.E.I. (
Dominion Seeds in Ontario (
Ontario Seed (
Stokes Seeds in Niagara(
Early’s Seeds in Saskatoon (
and of course the granddaddy of them all, McFayden Seeds in Brandon Manitoba (

Some seed buying tips:
Assuming that you are a ‘home gardener’ and not a commercial producer, avoid the varieties that are recommended for production purposes.
You are looking for freshness and flavour, above all.
Of course, if you want to grow some squash to save for months into the winter, by all means look for that quality in the variety that you choose.

Some of my favourite vegetable varieties include:
- Snap beans – ‘Provider’ - Veseys
- Pea – Sugar Sprint (new) - McFayden
- Runner Bean – Scarlet Runner – everywhere – great for a fast fence, screen, garden tee-pee and the beans are o.k. too, when picked young.
- Radish - Sparkler – high in vitamin C: easy to grow – get the kids involved in this one! - McFayden
- Tomato - Brandywine – a favourite ‘heirloom’ variety. Produces 2 lb fruit in 75 days. Everywhere that heirlooms are sold.
- Tomato - Early Canadian Beef. A small beefsteak (7 to 10 ounces) that produces early, 75 days. - McFayden
- Carrots – I always buy ‘coated seed’: it is easier to sow and requires less ‘thinning’ than non-coated varieties. For me, the coating has been the difference between success and failure some years!

I will provide you with an extended list of vegetable favourites as we get closer to spring.

Keep in mind that now is the time for planning your veggie garden AND acquiring seeds – but it is too early to start vegetable seeds indoors. Stay tuned to this blog for timely information in that regard.

Early as it may be for vegetable seed starting, it is not too early to start some herbs indoors from seed. Go to for the best selection of on-line herb seeds on the continent.


I like to have some basil on the go all of the time: it is useful indoors for cooking even before you plant it out in the garden come May. Keep some growing on your kitchen window sill where it is handy when making soups, pasta sauce, etc.

Some basil facts, courtesy the Horticultural Therapy association of Canada ( with special thanks to Yvonne Snyder:

Basil is a symbol for ‘Love and good wishes’.
Sacred to the Hindu tradition, considered an aphrodisiac in Italy (what isn’t?).
Look for a wide selection of varieties: lemon, dark opal, bush type, ornamental and of course many culinary types.

Best started from seed and transplanted outdoors in late May or early June, when the soil has warmed.

Serve fresh.
Can be dried or stored in olive oil, but the flavour is not as intense when preserved.

Culinary: makes great pesto, use in culinary vinegars, ‘cooked in’ with tomatoes. A good companion with garlic.

Household: place potted plants on window sills to deter flies.

Folk Medicine: An infused tea can aid digestion, many uses in aromatherapy.

My 18th book!

Pick up a copy of my book, The Canadian Garden Primer, for more information on the above subjects. There is a chapter dedicated to growing your own veggies and a separate chapter on growing herbs. Available at Home Hardware and retail book stores.

And keep your knees dirty,


A reminder that Canada Blooms comes to the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto Wednesday, March 16 to Sunday, March 20th. Get discounted tickets on line at I will be there each day (though not Sunday) to open the festival with Denis Flanagan at 11:30am. Bring a camera, walking shoes and a relaxed attitude… you are going to have a good time!

Get the Jump on Spring

~February 16, 2011

You know the feeling of planning for a big day so far in advance that you kick back and just kind of dream about it and then all of a sudden you realize that the big day is not that far off and you had better get your butt in gear and get serious about it? Well, that day is today.

I know that there is likely a lot of snow on the ground where you live right now and some of you are still in the deep Canadian freeze. We often forget that the piles of snow at the margins of our driveway will melt away in just a few short days. This may not happen tomorrow or the next day, but it WILL happen and when it does it behooves all of us gardeners to be prepared for it.

The usual cycle is: snow to water, water to ice, ice with snow on it, snow to ice and ice to water and then a big wind and then the sun and then you just want to be outside because hosing down the driveway feels like a trip to Florida.

On that first day of plus 15 °C with the sun shining down, you open the door and shove the kids out of it and get yourself a cup of something hot and sit on the steps and watch them play. Maybe my kids are a little too old for this scenario as they have all moved out, but I will still do this only the kids are now the wild birds that I will sit on the step and watch play. And if it is late in the day it will not be something hot that I will be drinking….

All of this is to say that February is a wonderful month to be a gardener as we have SO much to look forward to and ‘the big day’ – which is really a ‘season’ - is really not that far away. For all Canadian gardeners, the truth is that we are over the hump and more than half way through our ‘time out’.

This Saturday take a break from winter and start planning for this year's growing season at Get the Jump on Spring.
If you are counting the weeks until Spring arrives you can look forward to one of the earliest harbingers of the season at the Toronto Botanical Garden's Annual event, Get the Jump on Spring, on Saturday, February 19, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is FREE, but a $2 donation to the TBG will give visitors chances at great, garden-themed hourly prizes!Put on in partnership with the Ontario Horticultural Association, District 5 and the Toronto Master Gardeners, the event offers a chance to find out more about horticultural societies, garden clubs and environmental organizations from across Ontario. Master gardeners will be on hand to answer questions and there are fascinating hourly lectures and demonstrations, a popular floral design competition and a marketplace with spring flowers and many garden-themed products for sale. Indulge in a delectable treat at the Jump Cafe.


Every hour, starting at 10:30 a.m. well-known gardening experts and members of the Toronto Master Gardeners will give free 45-minute presentations and demonstrations on subjects ranging from Bee Keeping in the City and Balcony Gardening to tips on cooking with and preserving herbs.
Location: Toronto Botanical Garden, 777 Lawrence Avenue East (at Leslie) Toronto.

Free parking.For more information call 416-397-1341 or visit
A reminder that Canada Blooms comes to the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto Wednesday, March 16 to Sunday the 20th. It is the biggest and the best flower and garden festival in the country. Come say Hi – I will open the event each day with Denis Flanagan at 11:30. (though, not on Sunday.)
Get a discounted ticket on line at

Countdown to Canada Blooms

~February 9, 2011

As I write this I am sitting in the mid morning sunshine of one cold day. Forecast high of -9 Celsius. Sure feels like winter.
Sometime between now and the growing season of April and May I have a lot of work to do elsewhere - like at Canada’s largest annual ‘garden festival’, Canada Blooms.

I am speaking there, with my friend Denis Flanagan, each morning at 11:30am (Wednesday to Saturday). Denis and I will welcome visitors to the show and help you plan your day at the festival. I am also speaking at 1:00pm on Saturday, March 19, with my daughter Heather. We have some terrific stories and pictures to share with you.

Canada Blooms runs Wednesday, March 16 through Sunday, March 20, 2011 with a preview party scheduled for Tuesday night. Tickets for the preview are only $75 at
Pick your day – but do it very soon. More details below!

Canada Blooms
Canada Blooms produces a monthly e-newsletter – with more frequent communications as we get closer to festival dates. Sign up at
This year Canada Blooms is partnering with the 40th Anniversary JUNO Awards. As part of the JUNO awards excitement, Canada Blooms will create a new “JUNO Rocks” garden feature. Five selected JUNO Award nominees and winners will collaborate with garden builders from Canada Blooms to create beautiful personalized gardens reflecting each artist’s particular style and genre in honour of the JUNO Awards Ruby Anniversary. Gardens will be judged by attendees with one lucky 'voter' winning a JUNO VIP Package which includes tickets to all of the events of the 2011 Juno Awards.
Tickets are available online (, at the Canada Blooms Head Office or at the Toronto Botanical Garden.
Wherever you live, be sure to try and get to this years’ edition of the event. Canada Blooms is the largest flower and garden festival in the country and the 2nd largest in North America (Philadelphia is 1st).

I am really charged up about Canada Blooms this year and I hope that if you do get to the festival be sure to say Hi and introduce yourself to me.

Check out my facebook fan page for regular updates.

Fight the Winter Blues

~ February 1, 2011

Reduced light levels and long cold days can take their toll on us. Resist the temptation to close the curtains and hibernate until spring. There are many 'gardening' activities to keep you busy.
The air in your home can be very dry during the winter. Dry air often leads to the occurrence of spider mites on your tropical plants. Spider mites can be green, brown or red and they are difficult to see without a magnifying glass. The first symptom of spider mite damage is deformed leaves. They will turn yellow and become dehydrated. Once the leaves turn brown they will fall off the plant. If you spray the plant with water you will see the small webs created by the mites. The most effective treatment for spider mites is misting the plant with water and spraying with Green Earth Insecticidal Soap daily for a couple of weeks. Spraying with water will help increase humidity in the air around your plant.

The #1 question I hear this time of year: “How do I look after an amaryllis when it is finished blooming?

Once your Amaryllis has finished blooming it requires some attention. Cut the flower stalk back to about 2" in height. Allow the leaves to continue to grow and water when the soil feels dry. This will allow the leaves to produce energy which the bulb will store for future blooms. In the spring you can plant your Amaryllis (and the pot) in your garden. Find a location with partial shade and water during periods of drought. Fertilize regularly with a high phosphate liquid plant fertilizer. In late September bring the pot indoors and cut back the foliage. Dry the bulb for 2 weeks at 65 degrees F and then store for about 10 weeks in a cool, dry, dark place. At the end of this storage period you will need to repot your Amaryllis bulb in fresh potting mix and start the cycle again.

Feed The Birds!

Look after your feathered friends. Watching birds in your backyard is a great form of entertainment year round. As the snow piles up outside don't forget to fill your bird feeder on a regular basis. Remember that birds also need a supply of fresh water throughout the winter. A bird bath heater can be installed to prevent the water from freezing. I recommend that you use quality bird seed. When we developed the Mark’s Choice line of bird seed we took our time and made sure that we were including only the most attractive bird seed varieties in each bag. We also purchase our seed from reliable, Canadian sources. Check out the full line of Mark’s Choice birdseed mixes ( You will attract lots of birds and enjoy hours of entertainment outside your window. Be sure to use fresh food and keep your feeder clean. Watch for ice build-up and clear snow away from ports.

Believe it or not Canada Blooms is only a few weeks away….Wed. March 16th to Sun. March 20th at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place Toronto. I will be there with my buddy Denis Flanagan at 11:30 a.m. to help get you started (we are not there Sunday). Come on by and say Hi! For discounted tickets go to