Mark Cullen e-newsletter
January 2011 
 Gardening with Mark
In This Issue:
Where to Find Mark
Mark's Gardening Connections

Join our mailing list!

"Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear."
~Dr. Dean Ornish

No Time to Waste.

There is a bone chilling wind out of the north, causing large whirlpools of dry snow to twist around the yard on the south side of the house. Today I am pleased not to be an apple tree, winter hardy as they are, much preferring to sit at my computer with the wood burning stove not too far from here. Heat is good.

Last week I went to the gym 4 times in a pre emptive strike against a turkey. And sure enough I managed to over indulge just the same. With a birthday dinner just around the corner there is little hope of burning enough calories to keep up to the intake this time of year. Oh well, as someone once said, winter is a gardeners time to accumulate some fat and spring our opportunity to work it off. At this rate spring cannot come fast enough.

 What's Ahead?

January When I was much younger January was a drag. It was a month that I had to wait out, in anticipation of warmer weather and the increased activity level that it brought with it. This is no longer the case.

I savour January as the one month of the year when I can hunker down and get some real work done. I do much of the stuff this month that I certainly consider to be work most any other time of year. I attend meetings, many of which I have put off for months, and actually concentrate without the diversion of good weather and mating birds causing constant distraction. I write more stuff in January than any other month. It is like I put a whole bunch of thoughts over the past year into the 'draft file' of my mind for reference this month. I love January.

It is with this in mind that I want to share some thoughts that just may help you to focus on issues that will lead you to achieve the greatest garden of all time right in your own backyard. 2011 will be our year to make your dreams reality, I believe.

But then, achieving the reality of a dream come true begins with a dream.


 So. Dream.

woodstove Wood burning stove or a cranked up furnace: the result can be the same. Let the warmth of home sink into your bones while you gaze out into your frozen Canadian yard. Let your mind go. Try to imagine what your yard and garden looked like in spring, summer and fall. What was in bloom and where? Did you attract birds? With what plants? Will you move some plants to better suit your overall garden design? Will you add some more? Make a flower bed bigger by carving away some lawn area?

And what about your attempts to grow veggies last year: over 40% of Canadians gave it a try last year and I anticipate many more will hop on the turnip wagon this season. What grew well? How was the production of your tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans etc? What did you do to prepare the soil last spring? Will you try something different?



soil This past year I brought in several truck loads of mushroom compost combined with 30% sharp sand. I used this in every hole that I dug and around the roots of every plant that was planted. 40 yards of the stuff. I built up established beds with it. I hand dug bushels of twitch grass (my enemy!) and burned it. I ordered a full trailer load of bark mulch, 110 cubic yards of it and I spread it over my entire garden path system. I bought enough that I have a pile left over for this spring. I hope.

Was I pleased with the results of this investment? Sure was. The compost/sand combo will continue to pay dividends for a couple more years. Building the soil is a process that never ends. As microbial activity occurs in the soil the good content in soil depletes. It is our job - as gardeners - to continually feed the soil with new, raw, organic matter.

This is the mantra of the sustainable gardener and farmer: feed the soil and let the plants take care of themselves i.e. no need for chemical fertilizers. Words to live by.


 Back to Your Plan.

plan Take the time this winter to review the digital pictures that you took of your garden last season. Just looking at them will help you visualize the garden that was and will help you develop a vision for garden possibilities this year. Take your time with this. Make some notes either on your computer or on paper, jotting down your thoughts as you consider changes that would enhance the visual and practical qualities of your garden.

Want to attract more song birds? Hummingbirds?
Want to create more privacy in your backyard?
Want to settle in to a quiet, peaceful space where you can read a book or listen to your iPod while swinging in a hammock?
You get the idea.

As I said at the beginning: all I want to do today is to get you to think inside the yard and outside the box. If all you did this January was take the time to dream of the great garden that can be in your own yard or balcony, you will have done yourself a great service. In February you can get around to creating a plan.

For a more detailed approach to garden planning and reflections on your 2010 garden go to and check out my article in the Toronto Star. Then post your answers on my website to share with others.

In the meantime relax and take it in. Me? I am off to the gym.

Happy New Year.


p.s. reminder that I am speaking at the Applewood Garden Club, Thursday, January 20th at 7:00 pm. For details, visit I will have some images of my 10 acre garden in this presentation that provide a visual tour through time. It has been 5 years since I started building my dream garden: I hope that you will join me as I make my first attempt to publicly tell this story.


 Mark's Choice Product of the Month
 Sunflower Plus Bird Seed Mix

Sunflower Plus I have spent a lot of money on large bags of black oil sunflower seed over the years. The birds in my neighbourhood just seem to love it. However, not all birds love the black oil as much as the striped - or for that matter the safflower seeds (that squirrels hate, by the way). So we have mixed them into a tasty combination of quality bird seed that appeals to the broadest possible pallet of bird taste buds.
(Home Hardware item# 5453-365)

Also available in the Mark's Choice line of birdseed:
Bird Feast Songbird Blend (item# 5453-067 4kg, 5453-072 8kg)
Deluxe Blend with Berries and Nuts (item# 5453-362)
Nyjer Plus with Sunflower Chips (item# 5453-364)
Finch Blend with Sunflower Chips (item# 5453-363)

Available exclusively at Home Hardware 

 Southern Ontario Orchid Society
 32nd Annual Valentine's Orchid Show

Orchid Show The Southern Ontario Orchid Society (SOOS) will hold its 32nd annual Valentine's Orchid Show at the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) on February 12 and 13, 2011.

6,000 sq. ft. of orchids on display.
Orchid plants & supplies for sale.
Art & photography displays.
Guided tours and help desk.
Proceeds support orchid education & conservation projects.

General public: Saturday & Sunday. 11 am - 5 pm
Admission: Adults $12. Children 12 & under FREE

Visit for a $2.00 off coupon.

More info. 

 Canada Blooms the Flower and Garden Festival

Canada Blooms Canada Blooms the Flower and Garden Festival will be celebrating its 15th Anniversary March 15 - 20, 2011 at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto.

Especially for 2011:
� The 'JUNO Rocks' Gardens, honouring the 40th Anniversary of the JUNO Awards.
� Sit back, relax in the Twinings Tea Garden or the Niagara Wine Garden.
� Master Gardeners' Advice Clinic - On Sunday March 20th from 12-3pm, Master Gardeners will have one-on-one sessions. Bring your pictures, your plant problems both inside and out, let them help you plan your garden for spring, summer or fall.
� Make & Take Workshops - Learn how to MAKE a magnificent hand tied bouquet and TAKE your finished project with you (extra fee applicable).
� Special After 5 pm programs - reduced admission fees after 5 pm - education sessions, entertainment and more.
� Find the latest and greatest in gardening exhibitors and artisans have to offer in The New Products Showcase.
� Theme Days. And so much more.

More show info. 

 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year
 Amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia Amsonia hubrichtii is the Perennial Plant Association's 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Amsonia hubrichtii grows 36 inches tall and 36 inches wide in a mounded form. This hardy perennial grows in hardiness zones 4 through 9 and is a versatile North American native.

Amsonia offers a variety of features throughout the seasons. From late spring to early summer, two- to three-inch wide clusters of small, light blue, star-shaped flowers are borne above the ferny foliage. The alternate-arranged leaves are bright green in spring and summer, but turn a bright yellow-golden colour in fall.

Light - Plants thrive in full sun to partial shade
Soil - This plant performs best in average, moist well-drained soil but tolerates less moisture.
Once established, it can tolerate drier conditions.
Unique Qualities - Light blue flowers in spring are followed by marvelous foliage in summer.
Golden-yellow fall colour is second to none among herbaceous perennials.
Hardiness - USDA Zones 4 to 9

More info. 

 Alaskan Ice Melter

Alaskan Ice Melter Is Alaskan� Ice Melter Environmentally Friendly?

Alaskan Ice Melter is one of the most environmentally friendly ice melters on the market. As with many products the key to improving safety is to reduce the amount of product that is used.

The product most commonly used to melt snow and ice is rock salt. The main benefit of rock salt is its price; at pennies per kilogram it is by far the least expensive product available. However rock salt is a very inefficient ice melter; its poor melting characteristics and inconsistent particle size mean that a very large volume of material is required to melt snow and ice, and much of that material goes to waste without doing its job.

Alaskan Ice Melter was created to be a high performance ice melter that would out-perform not only rock salt, but also other products on the market, while reducing the amount of material needed. The key to this environmental benefit is its unique formulation:

Unique Formula:

The synergistic blend used in Alaskan Ice Melter provides the optimum combination of speed, staying power and low melt temperature; this means that Alaskan will melt more ice than competitive products.

Alaskan is effective down to -32� C (-24�F). No other ice melter works to a colder temperature. Many ice melters will only work down to -12�C.

Alaskan is long lasting - some ice melter would have to be applied twice as often to melt as long as Alaskan.

Particle size:

Every particle in the bag is effective at melting ice.

Alaskan contains uniform, medium sized granules which bore through the ice and maximize brine formation without waste.

Rock salt and many potassium chloride products contain particles (as much as half the bag is some cases) that are too big or too small to melt ice effectively. This increases the volume of rock salt required and thus increases the amount of material being washed into sewers, rivers and lakes.

Alaskan's TrueBlue � environmentally safe inert marker is water soluble and will disappear quickly.

TrueBlue makes applications easier and more accurate by clearly shows where the ice melter has been applied and in what quantity.

It also makes Alaskan safer for the environment by helping to avoid over-application

For more info.