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.

January Wrap-Up

~ January 25, 2012

This winter I have decided to acquire more tropical plants for indoors than usual. Study after study has proven that the addition of green, living plants produce oxygen, clean the indoor atmosphere of airborne toxins and add significantly to the humidity of our incredibly dry Canadian homes during the winter months. Our average home has about 12 to 15% humidity mid winter. The Sahara desert averages about 25%.

The kitchen table will always have a flowering plant on it. The lowly indoor chrysanthemum is a favourite with NASA as a clean air plant.
Flowering plants also lift the spirits and brighten an otherwise dull room when our days are short.

I start my impatiens seeds the first week of February: this launches me nicely into the new ‘seed sowing season’.

Outdoors, wet snow needs to be brushed off of mature evergreens, especially the upright varieties like cedar and junipers, to avoid permanent damage.

Birds need feeding especially during times of heavy snow fall.

Ambitious gardeners will prune their apple trees in winter – just like the professionals do.

‘Garden with your head’. Take the time to read all that you can get your hands on about gardening as you develop your strategy for the best garden season ever this coming spring.

And finally, pray for a deep frost. This minimizes the insect problems that you will have to deal with this coming season. This is cold comfort when it is -25oC I know, but hey, I’ll trade it for the dreaded Japanese beetle.

Feeding Feathered Friends

~ January 18, 2012

As I peer out the window of our kitchen this time of year I am grateful for the birds that visit the seed heads of the ornamental grasses that I let stand over the winter. I am so glad that I resisted the temptation to cut them down in the autumn.

The ‘winter garden’ is more interesting than ever; I took more time to consider the appearance of my garden in the ‘off season’ when planting this past year. The evergreens and Blue Holly look so much more interesting than a flat yard of snow. And the bright red crabapples that remain on my Malus ‘Red Jade’ look fantastic. Soon the birds will find these appealing too.

This is the perfect time to attract song sparrows, chickadees and overwintering Blue Jays and Cardinals with a ‘song bird seed mix’. Or just use straight black oil sunflower seeds. To prevent the mess associated with sunflowers use the hulled variety – more expensive but all ‘meat’ and no waste or mess to clean up.

Winter feeding birds need the carbohydrates contained in suet. I always hang several out for the winter. That way, if I don’t replace one of them after it is finished the birds always have another to feed on.

As for the myth that feeding the birds creates a dependency on your feeding station that is not healthy for them – hogwash. If they are disappointed by the selection of seed in your yard they go hunting for available seed in the wild. In most cases, they have the option to go next door or down the street to the home of another generous gardener come bird feeder.

Orchids Made Easy

~ January 12, 2012

In spite of their new level of popularity, home grown orchids are still misunderstood. Chief among these ‘misunderstandings’ is that orchids are hard to grow. This is not necessarily true.

The orchid family is the largest in the plant world. Most people who are just starting out with orchids are looking for a long-flowering, easy to care for plant with exotic flowers and a general habit of reblooming without much fuss.

There are orchids that are so easy to care for that I put them in the same category as African violets: only orchids are easier.
If you enjoy ignoring your indoor plants, allowing them to go dry for long periods of time, I have the answer for you. And many of your friends are going to think that your brown thumb morphed over the New Year into the greenest of green!

I will classify the popular orchids according to the amount of care that they require and their desired location in your home:


This is the most popular of orchids for the home gardener. They are epiphytic, which means that they grow in trees and rocks in the tropics. When the bloom fades, cut the stems below the last flower, just above a node (where the leaf meets the stem). In most cases a new stem will develop and it will re-flower.
Location: warm home, low light conditions. If space is limited, look for a miniature Phalaenopsis.

Light: no direct sun. Enjoys a north facing (low light) window but prefers an east facing one.

Temperature: low of 18°C and high of 29°C.

Humidity: stand in a tray of pebbles among a group of like-minded plants. Mist leaves with tepid water often including the roots that are exposed.

ReBlooming: 3 weeks of cooler (18 °C) temperatures will ‘kick start’ this orchid into reblooming.


These are ‘ground dwellers’ (terrestrial) orchids that grow naturally in tropical and subtropical Asia. They are easily identifiable by their pouch-like lip, much like our native ‘Lady Slipper’ orchids. This is a spectacular species with gorgeous single blooms born on a stem ranging in colour from white, green, brown, claret, red, yellow and pink.

Location: defused light to direct sunshine. Versatile.

Temperature: low of 13°C this time of year to 24°C in summer. Generally they like it cool. Green-leaved hybrids are the toughest of them all vs. varieties with mottled leaves.

Special needs: humidity using a pebble tray increases humidity. Misting can cause mould.


Cambria orchids provide a spray of bloom on a single stem that is quite impressive.

Location: diffused light, north or west facing window is ideal most of the year. North is favoured during the intense summer time.

Temperature: low of 13°C and high in the summer of 24°C.

Humidity: group with other plants and use a pebble tray with water in the bottom of it to raise humidity, especially in late spring and summer. In winter reduce temperatures and watering frequency. Fertilize with half strength Schultz orchid fertilizer.

2012 Perennial Plant of the Year

~ January 4, 2012

Brunnera Macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ has been named the Perennial Plant Association's 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year. It carries the common name Siberian bugloss. And I love it.

I have grown Jack Frost in my own garden for several years and it is one of the greatest garden performers out there. This outstanding perennial plant is known best for its clear, distinctly variegated foliage. The silver/white inside margin of the heart-shaped leaves look their very best on an overcast or rainy day. How many plants can you say that about?

Insect and disease resistant in the extreme! I love what ‘Jack Frost’ does in my woodland garden and I think that you will enjoy it in a shady spot in your garden too. Note the ‘forget-me-not’ type sky-blue flowers in early spring.

Light – Perfect for a woodland garden. ‘Jack Frost’ prefers shade but can handle a sunny location. Requires afternoon shade to prevent leaf scorch.

Soil - This plant performs well in all but the driest conditions.

Hardiness - USDA Zones 2 to 9

Brunnera “Jack Frost” is not difficult to find at retailers and performs well in half sun to full shade locations.