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!