Mark Cullen e-newsletter
December 2010 
 Gardening with Mark
In This Issue:
Where to Find Mark
Mark's Gardening Connections

Join our mailing list!

The Grinding Need In Our Neighbourhood.

There was a look of desperation on Ted's face as I walked into his deli last week. He greeted me with two very large bags of fresh French stick bread and pleaded with me to take them to the local food bank. They had been left over from a banquet that he hosted the night before. "No problem Ted" I said. My friend Sig would be by my office that morning and could take them to the food bank on her way home.

At 2 pm I received a phone call. It was Sig. "You would not believe this Mark, but when I got to the food bank there was a line up out the door! The volunteers behind the desk were very grateful for the bread as none had been delivered that morning by their regular donor." The sound of her voice told me that she was more than taken back by the sight of many people from our community in obvious need.

The United Way of Greater Toronto has identified several areas around the city that are designated 'high risk'. These are the neighbourhoods where there is grinding need for social services and support for a great number of people. Our neighbourhood is not one of them.

And so it is with thought that I begin my December newsletter - not with a thought about gardening specifically, but of the needs that exist around us. I will speculate that there is a food bank near you that would enjoy hearing from you with an offer to help. Or for that matter, with a little thought, you can come up with the names of other organizations in your community that strive to meet the needs of people who are unable to help themselves.

Perhaps there is a reason that we get 5 or 6 months off garden work, do you suppose? I will not take away from the fact that you are very likely busy in December, especially if you have friends and family that you wish to see and celebrate the Christmas and 'holiday' season with. Timetables get pretty crowded this time of year, I know.

I think that my experience with Ted, Sig and the bread was meant to jog me out of my rut. The rut of routine and fulfilling obligations that I have put on myself and thus have a habit of filling my days. Is now a good time to rejig some of those obligations in favour of some people who could use my time/support and money?

I promise you this: I plan on giving it some serious thought and will be talking with wife Mary and the kids about how we as a family can make room for some new friends this Christmas. Perhaps some friends that we will not know by name and may not meet face to face. In the end we are all people: some in greater need than others.

 Cut Trees

Fraser fir On a lighter note, the debate between the live Christmas tree and the artificial ones rages on. My producer at CTV Canada AM called me last week and asked me to defend the live tree on air, in a match up between consumer advocate Pat Foran (in favour of artificial) and me.
In my opinion there is no contest.
Over 5 million fresh cut Christmas trees will be sold in Canada, the vast majority of them grown here on plantations and not cut in the wild. (Another 1.8 million trees, grown in Canada, will be sold to Americans.) That many 'traditionalists' cannot be wrong!

To view the segment, go to and scroll down to the Mark Cullen segments. It goes to air Thursday, December 9 and will be posted to the website after that.

In the meantime a reminder that you will get the greatest benefit from your fresh cut tree if you keep the following in mind:
- Cut the butt end of the tree off (about 4 or 5 cm) to open up the capillaries for water absorption just before you plunge it into water.
- Use a tree stand with a generous water reservoir to minimize the chance of the tree drying out (and thus becoming a fire hazard).
- Locate out of direct sun and away from a heat register.
- Use a tree preservative.
- After Christmas take your tree outside and stand it in your garden or yard where birds will find shelter in it. Hang suet balls or popcorn in it for feathered friends.


 The most popular holiday plant is easy to care for.

Poinsettias In fact, I would be in favour of a poinsettia that is genetically modified to self destruct February 13th. I would put the remains on my compost and move on.
However, you will get the most from your poinsettia by:
- Placing in a sunny window or bright room.
- Let the soil get dry to the touch between watering.
- Fertilize with Plant Prod 20-20-20 once every 3 weeks.
- Remove yellowing leaves, should they occur and cut back on watering even more as 9 times out of 10 overwatering is the problem when yellowing leaves occur.

And by the way, this plant is NOT poisonous. So no need to worry about the cat or your kids or your drunk uncle should they decide for some reason to munch down on a few leaves.


 Is there really a better gift?

Amaryllis kit As a house warming, as a 'stocking stuffer' or as a stand-alone gift for anyone, young and old and in between - you really cannot go wrong. Not with a good quality amaryllis anyway.
Which brings me to the Mark's Choice amaryllis kit that we sell at Home Hardware. We made a mistake when we designed the packaging for this item, in my opinion. We did not draw enough attention to the oversize bulb that the gift box contains. It is 32 centimeters in circumference. That is the largest bulb that you can possibly buy: most of our competition sell 24, 26 or (sometimes) a 28 cm bulb.
Our bulbs support so many blossoms and flowering stems that many people have reported 3 or 4 stems with 4 flowers on each stem! I get more photos e mailed to me of these bulbs in bloom than of any other Mark's Choice product (and there are 130 of them!)
I tell you this because I do not want you to miss the opportunity to really wow the people on your gift list. This is your chance to really impress them without doing any work. The 'soil', pot, bulb and instructions are all in the gift box.
And no, this amaryllis kit is not cheap. You want cheap? You know where to get it. This is the best possible quality that you can buy: ask a Dutchman that knows. They grow all of our bulbs for us.
So, what are your friends and family worth? Let your gift answer that question, is what I would say.
(Home Hardware item# 5029-303, red and # 5029-304, striped)


 Happy Holidays

Tree Below are more gift suggestions for the gardeners on your Christmas list. Give them the once over. And check out my segment on Canada AM Wednesday, December 15 when I appear with more ideas for you.

Also, be sure to click on to read upcoming columns that you will enjoy:

December 4 features: More Gift Ideas for Gardeners
December 11 features: Choosing the Right Christmas Tree
December 18 features: Last Minute Gift Ideas (many under $10)

Thanks so much for reading. I look forward to talking to you early in the New Year.
Have a safe and happy holiday season and a Merry Christmas!

Keep your knees dirty,

p.s. thanks to Joann and her hub - the folks from Uxbridge who introduced themselves at the Students Helping Students event in Markham in support of Participation House. Evidently they went to the event because they had read about it here! You made my day.


 Gifts for Gardeners
 Gifts under $10

Almanac Truly Canadian Almanac. I read Harrowsmith's Truly Canadian Almanac from cover to cover every year. Filled with weather forecasts, small town Canadian stories, Living Green, Gardening, a seed guide, Canadian Heritage and a column by 'moi'.
Price: $5.95. Available at Home Hardware (item# 5736-805) and other retailers.

Gardener's hand soap. These usually contain a fine 'grit' that helps to dislodge dirt from the pores of skin and the cuticle of finger nails.

Seeds. The average price for 'garden variety' seeds from MacKenzie or Ontario Seeds is about $1.50. However, 'organic' and 'heritage' seeds can climb up to $5 a pack.

Plant Markers. Aluminum plant markers are rigid, indestructible and they hold the ink of a permanent marker for a full season. I have about 300 on the go in my garden at any one time. Price: 5 for $10 at Home Hardware (item# 5093-198)


 Gifts that cost nothing
 am talking about YOU - giving some of yourself as a gift.

Pruning saw Pruning. Offer to come over with your loppers/shears and a green wood saw and do some trimming. As an added bonus you can take away the trimmings.

Weeding. Offer to donate several hours of weeding at a mutually convenient time. In this age of reduced chemical weed control and busy schedules, can you imagine what a hit this would be?

The best gifts do not have to cost alot. A gift of your time is extremely valuable.


 Gifts for the Bird Lover

Nyjer Plus Bird Seed. Not just any bag of bird seed: buy the best that you can afford. Look for something special like a bird seed wreath (Sheridan Nurseries), suet filled � coconut or 'finch candy'- nyjer seed (which is expensive and not every gardener treats themselves to it on a regular basis).
Available at Home Hardware (item# 5453-364)

Binoculars. A compact and lightweight pair of binoculars help birders, and gardeners, get a close-up view of feathered friends.


 Mark's Choice Product of the Month
 Finch Feeder

Finch feeder The Mark's Choice Finch feeder holds over � kilogram of Thistle (Nyjer) or finch mix.
A seed diverter helps keep seed fresh and moves seed into the feeding area.
This style of feeder attracts all varieties of finches.
The screen provides a natural feeding area for finches.
"Twist-lock" top and bottom are easy to use.
Drainage holes help keep seed fresh.
(Home Hardware item# 5453-552)


 Watching My Garden Grow
 A Gardener's Organizer

Journal I met Irene Kreutner and Lynda Guckenberger at Canada Blooms last year.
They introduced me to the Garden Organizer they have created entitled:
Watching My Garden Grow.

They wanted to find a compact organizer that would enable them to improve and monitor their gardens.
After looking in stores and researching on-line they were unable to find any product like this on the market.

So... they created one.

This organizer gives gardeners a place to collect plant tags and receipts as well as photos and garden maps.

Irene and Lynda recommend this organizer for personal use, as gifts for family, friends, hostess gifts, for landscapers and realtors.

Price: $15. To purchase a copy of this organizer, visit

More info. 

 Gardening TV Channel Survey
 Do you think Canada is ready for a designated channel on gardening?

Survey One of the most asked questions that I get as I travel across the country is "where did all of the gardening shows on TV go?" and the answer is 'away' - TV programmers, in their wisdom, dumped Canadian gardening shows featuring personalities like Charlie Dobbin, Denis Flanagan, Kathy Renwald, David Tarrant and yes, Mark Cullen about 4 of 5 years ago.

Here is your chance to register your opinion if you are interested in bringing back the colour and practical advice provided by similar programming. Go to for more info and answer the questionnaire. No obligation: this is a poll to determine the level of interest in the idea.

I will let you know the results when I hear back from my friends at Landscape Ontario.

Take the survey... 

 Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society
 Presents Elements of Great Gardens with Paul Zammit

Logo Date: December 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm.

Location: Toronto Botanical Garden

Tickets: free admission

Non-members welcome.

Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society
Presents: Elements of Great Gardens
with Paul Zammit, Director of Horticulture, Toronto Botanical Garden.

More Info.