February 2014
Mark Cullen e-newsletter
Gardening with Mark
In This Issue
How Cold?
How to encourage spring
Product of the Month
Plant of the Month
Community Forum



Gardening Connections

Home Hardware 
Toronto Star 
Ottawa Citizen  
CTV Canada AM 
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I Love Winter



I am in a minority. 


When I had a haircut this past week my barber told me that 95% of the people in his chair over the past month are either going south or have recently been there. 


Is it just me, or am I wrong to not feel bad about our weather?


I know that January broke a few records: for one, the ice storm that hit southern Ontario in late December produced a layer of ice that remains out there, buried under a lot of snow. 


I am not sure that we have received more snow than an average January BUT I know that the snow that fell has not gone anywhere.  There it sits, so high that I can't stack it any higher with the bucket of my Kubota tractor.  I just keep piling it up....


And it has been sooo cooooold.  I have noticed this.  My morning obsession is to look at the mercury thermometer outside of our bedroom window first thing.  One day a couple of weeks ago it read minus 32 Celsius.  That is cold [did I just hear my prairie readers laughing?].  Well, it IS cold. 


How Cold? Bug Killing Cold. 


I was recently talking with a friend in the nursery farming business, Fred Somerville of Somerville Nurseries in Alliston, Ontario.  He believes that this cold weather may have knocked out the active larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer.
It may have slowed down the advance of the devastating Asian Long Horned Beetle [the one that they found in Mississauga last year and threatens to kill of a host of common trees species if it gets traction].  For certain the Japanese Beetles will be all but non existent this coming season in areas of Canada where minus 25 Celsius has been achieved. 


Yes, the low temperatures are an achievement.  The results of which we can look forward to in about 2 to 3 months.  A substantially bug-less summer! 


That is not the only good news. 


Think of how you are going to feel when the first day of plus 10 temperatures arrive, with the strength in the sun that only early spring can bring.  You are going to feel like a million bucks.  Like you are let out of jail.  Like life has indeed begun again.


'Cause it will have started again.  Ahh.  The smell of the spring thaw. 


I have to admit that I do not suffer from mobility issues and [touching head/wood] have escaped the dreaded flu and cold season so far unscathed.  I feel pretty good.


In fact, I feel pretty good about winter.  Care to join me?




Last month I mentioned that a Canadian winter is 'time off' for gardeners.  An opportunity to read.  Herewith, a short list of some of my recent reading material.  


I share this in hope that you might find it useful as you search for a good book between now and when the earth worms spring up from the frozen earth. 


The STOP How the fight for good food transformed a community and inspired a movement.    

By Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis. 


I thoroughly enjoyed listening [as reading is a form of listening] to Nick tell his story about the evolution of The STOP from a food bank to a hub where food is experienced.  Clients at The STOP no longer just pick up a bag of groceries when needs be.  


They 'experience' food in a sophisticated food prep area that is shared, community space.  They also grow a lot of the food that they prepare for the table and preserve for off-season consumption.  I love Nick's passion and his vision for a country that can feed itself, if only we would change a few things.  He dedicates his professional life to fostering that change.  Fascinating.  


I have interviewed Mr. Saul since reading his book and plan on writing an article for the Toronto Star and my syndicated newspapers later this winter. 


The Roots of My Obsession.  Thirty great gardeners reveal why they garden.  

Edited by Thomas C. Cooper.  


A mind expanding, readers digest version of 30 gardening-life stories.  Read one each evening before you go to bed and you will have sweet dreams.  I was disappointed in the 2 Canadian contributions, but oh well, on balance this book is packed with humor, depth of thought on a subject that is near and dear to me [why DO we garden?] and wonderful reflections on more than 1,500 collective years of gardening experience. 


The Orenda.  

By Joseph Boyden.  


A current best seller that has nothing to do with gardening.  But it is a great escape.  This fictionalized version of the story of Ste. Marie Among the Hurons [which took place in 1639, near Midland, Ontario] is a great 'curl up in your chair by the fire' book.  


It takes us back to another time that none of us are familiar with and reveals many truths about how the native people lived in this land at the time when the Europeans first arrived.  The more that you read this book the more you will want to read. 


Let's Hear from You

What have you been reading lately?  Gardening topics or otherwise - you know how readers like to hear from other readers.  Send your reviews to me at groundskeeper@markcullen.com.  We will publish some of the best in my next newsletter and feature them on my Facebook page.



And Finally, how to encourage an early spring. 

[Hint: forget about the ground hog]: 


Start begonia tubers.  You can buy these in February at garden retailers and start them in the kitchen on top of your fridge [which is nice and warm, the perfect place for them].  


Screw the tubers with the concave side up, into peat moss that is spread 4 cm thick in a seed starting tray.  Keep moist but not 'wet' and wait for roots to sprout from the tubers.  When they have, pot them up into 4 inch pots and grow on in a sunny window or under lights. 


Clean and inspect your winterized dahlia tubers.  Compost the rotten ones, place the viable ones back in their winter home until mid March when you will pot them up to grow on for spring planting.


Start some seeds - petunia and geraniums in February.  March and April are the big seed starting months - see next note...


Order seeds.  Go to your favourite seed catalogue [mine is Vesey's in P.E.I.] and order on line or the old fashioned way, by snail mail. www.veseys.com


Shop for seeds at your favourite retailer.  The fresh 2014 seeds are in and now is the time to purchase the varieties of flowers, vegetables and herbs that you want to start indoors and plant in spring.  


It is never too early to acquire seeds that are sown direct into the ground come April/May either.  Check out the Mark's Choice seed collection at Home Hardware stores.  There are 1,100 of them.  Stores, that is.  www.homehardware.ca


Read.  Consume all of the information that you can this time of year.  Check out your favourite gardening websites [have you looked at www.icangarden.com or my newly redesigned www.markcullen.com?]  


Attend horticultural Club meetings, get to know the gardeners in your neighbourhood and finish the stack of gardening magazines that you have not had time to look at.  If not in February, when?


Have a happy Valentines and remember to celebrate with some flowers.  If you don't have a valentine, buy some for yourself and remember that flowers are more powerful than words.  Give them to everyone that you care for.    Can you really go wrong?





Merchant of Beauty





We're giving away tickets to Blooms!

This month I have 5 pairs of tickets for Canada Blooms to give away.


From March 14-23, 2014, Canada Blooms returns to the Direct Energy Centre celebrating its 18th Anniversary as Canada's largest flower and garden festival.  


In 2014, Canada Blooms will be entering its third year of co-location with The National Home Show, which has created the largest Home and Garden Event in North America.  


Check out my photo album from Canada Blooms 2013.


To enter my contest, email your Mark's Choice product reviews to contest@markcullen.com.  Tell me 'what you like', 'what improvements you would like to see', 'what is missing from the Mark's Choice line'.  


Our product development team is focused on finding unique and high-quality gardening tools and accessories.  Your feedback is extremely valuable in this process.


I will randomly select 5 winners from all entries.  Winners will be notified on February 14.  


Enter today!


Mark's Choice Product of the Month
Clear Flow Hose (a great 'winter' hose)   

Take the heavy lifting out of watering! Mark's Choice Clear-Flow Garden Hose is ultra-light, flexible, and kink resistant. 


It may be the first winter hose because its freeze proof to temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius.  


The Clear Flow Hose is extraordinary - indoors and outdoors, in cold and in heat, in the barn and the workshop! I stake my reputation on your satisfaction with this hose...


Watch the video


Home Hardware Item#

25 ft. hose #5038-329

50 ft. hose #5038-330

75 ft. hose #5038-331

100 ft. hose #5038-332


Tell me about your experience with the Clear Flow Hose.  Email your comments to groundskeeper@markcullen.com.  I will randomly select 5 winners from all comments.  Winners will receive a Mark's Choice amaryllis stake.


Plant of the Month

'Lilafee' barrenwort 


Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee'


Also sold as 'Lilac Fairy', this is one of the larger Epimediums available, valued for its amethyst-purple flowers which are held well above the foliage.  


Since many Epimediums tend to hide their flowers within or below their foliage, this is a significant improvement. 

The new leaves emerge with a strong bronzy red tinge, turn green for the summer months, and then back to bronzy red in fall.  


Epimedium can be used as a ground cover in shady locations.  It tolerates dry, rocky, shallow soils, dense shade, and is deer and rabbit resistant.


Grows 20cm (8") tall and 30cm (12") wide.  Hardy to at least zone 4.


Source: Garden Inspiration, 2013 www.landscapeontario.com


Devastation of our Urban Canopy

Toronto's Trees Threatened


The year 2013 should be a wakeup call for Toronto, both citizens and politicians. Two extreme weather events caused greater losses than in any other year.


First there was the extraordinary flooding that hit the GTA in July, described as the most costly disaster in Ontario's history - $850 million property damage, of which $171 million was Toronto's share. Then the December ice storm that caused devastation, particularly to our trees - and cost Toronto $108 million.


Communities in Toronto need to understand that our changing climate will lead to an increase in these extreme weather events, both in frequency and severity. Yet there is no reason to resign ourselves to the inevitable. There are steps we can take, both at the level of civic governance and individual householders. 


Two things hold us back: a lack of appreciation of how to adapt, and what can be done to reduce the risks of these weather events.


I will be participating in a community Forum on February 13th.  For Our Grandchildren is sponsoring this community panel that will have recommendations for preserving Toronto's tree canopy.


More info below, or click here


Submit Your Local Events



Do you have a 'gardening' event you would like to promote, I would be happy to include your event listing in my monthly e-newsletter.


Send your event info to groundskeeper@markcullen.com.


Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.


Butchart Gardens

The days continue to lengthen.  Sweet smells from winter flowering shrubs begin to fill the air.


More info.

Annapolis Royal 
Winter Farmers Market
Historic Gardens

This is the 5th season of the Winter Farmers Market at the Historic Gardens.


More than a dozen vendors will be on hand all winter long to ensure we all have access to local food products: meat, fish, veggies & fruit, eggs, locally roasted coffee, baked goods, jams & jellies, and lots more.


Every Saturday through May 10.

Time: 9am - noon

More info.


Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday


Date: February 1, 2014


Location: QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St., Qualicum Beach, BC


Time: 10am-3:30pm


Speakers: Kathleen Millar "The Elephant on your Dinner Table; why organic doesn't always mean nutritious", Arzeena Hamir "GMOs 101" & Kathy Claxton "The Life & Times of the Tomato; from seed to seed saving". 


70+ Vendors, Farmer's Market, Seed Swap, Milner Garden's "Shoots with Roots" children's program, Master Gardeners, Town of QB Garden Chemicals collection truck, Seedy Cafe, ATM on-site, Door Prizes, Raffle lic #59462. 


More info.


North American Native Plant Society


Dr. Barbara Fallis Memorial Lecture Series


'Using Native Plants for LEED Buildings' panel discussion


Date: February 11, 2014

Time: 7:00pm

Location: Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. 230 College St., Room 103


Scarborough Horticultural Society 

Dan Cooper

Guest Speaker: Dan Cooper, from 'Gardening from a Hammock'


Topic:  Low-maintenance gardening

Date: February 11, 2014

Time: 7:30-9pm

Location:  Scarborough Recreation Centre.  3600 Kingston Road, Toronto


Contact: Lee MacLeod macleodfam@sympatico.ca


For Our Grandchildren

Community Forum


Date: February 13, 2014

Time: 7:30-9pm

Location: Lawrence Park Community Church.  2180 Bayview at Lawrence.


For Our Grandchildren is sponsoring a community panel that will have recommendations for preserving Toronto's tree canopy.


Jaye Robinson, Ward 25 Councillor, will moderate the panel. Panel members are Mark Cullen, Toronto Star Columnist, Janet McKay, executive director of LEAF, an organization committed to keeping Toronto Green, and Hilary Cunningham, a Professor of Cultural Anthropology at University of Toronto.


More info.


Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society



Guest speaker: Louis Jordaan


Topic: 'The Klein Karoo South Africa - a Treasure Trove'


Date: February 16, 2014

Time:  1:30 -4pm

Location: The Toronto Botanical Garden.  777 Lawrence Ave. e., Toronto


Bobcaygeon and District Horticultural Society



What are Lawns Good for?  Stop the madness


Guest speakers: Dianne and Gary Westlake


Date: February 20, 2014

Time:  7pm

Location:  Knox Presbyterian Church Hall

More info.


Nepean Horticultural Society


healthy lawn

Interested in Gardening?  Come and Join Us!


Guest Speaker: Mary Reid, from Green Thumb Garden Centre


Topic: Lawn Care & Maintenance

Date:  February 20, 2014

Time: 7:30pm

Location:  City View United Church. 6 Epworth Ave., Nepean

Everyone welcome.  Non-members: $4. Light refreshments.  Info 613-721-2048.


Canadian Organic Growers Event

The Organic Vision - In Search of Change


Date: February 22, 2014


Time:  9am -5pm


Location:  U of T Conference Centre.  89 Chestnut St, Toronto.


More info.


2014 Stratford Garden Festival

"Beyond the Garden Gate"


Explore nine imaginative and beautiful display gardens offering a kaleidoscope of floral colour and the heady fragrance of blooming flowers and mulch.  


Shop the Festival Marketplace and learn from top garden gurus as part of the Horizon Pro Resp Speaker Series.


The Stratford Garden Festival, now in its 14th year, is a wonderful taste of Spring as well as an important fundraiser in the fight against lung disease.


Dates: February 27 - March 2, 2014

Location: Stratford Rotary Complex, 353 McCarthy Rd., Stratford ON

Royal Botanical Gardens Orchid Society


33rd Annual Spring Orchid Show & Sale


Date: March 1 and March 2


Times: Saturday, noon-5pm.  Sunday 10am-5pm


More info.


Canada Blooms


Canada's largest flower & garden festival celebrates its 18th Anniversary.


Dates: March 14-24, 2014

Location:  Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto


Experience a paradise bursting with six acres of glorious gardens in full bloom.  Meet Canada's gardening and horticultural experts and shop 'til you drop in the Blooms Marketplace.

More info.