May 2014
Mark Cullen e-newsletter
Gardening with Mark
In This Issue
Things To Do
Product of the Month
Perennial of the Year
Impatiens replacements
Stay in Touch



Gardening Connections

Home Hardware 
Toronto Star 
Ottawa Citizen  
CTV Canada AM 
Join Our Mailing List
Two Kinds of People


There are two kinds of people in the world, mothers and others. 


I am one of the others.  And this is 'Mother's Day Month'.  It is May.  If you are lucky enough to have a Mom this is the perfect time to tell her how much she means to you. 


It is no coincidence that the biggest day in the flower industry is Mother's Day.  There is a reason for this that every mother understands and most of us [men especially] do not.  Flowers are more powerful than words.  Write a nice note or a thoughtful poem, for sure, but don't be mistaken: moms love flowers.  Flowers are her 'refresh' button after a long, cold winter.  They smell good, their colour catches your eye, and just having them brings life to any room.  

But flowers are more than the sum of all of their parts.  Their real, intrinsic value is in what they represent more than what they are.  Flowers are a product of Nature, they are fragile and temporary but they have enduring qualities that are unique to them.
Think, for a moment, about the function of flowers in the bigger world of bees, butterflies and song birds: flowers are the attraction.  Flowers are to pollinators what a great looking outfit is to us humans.  On the right person, at the right time, the perfect 'outfit' makes you want to reach out and hug the person in it.  Or maybe ask for their autograph, depending on who is wearing it. 


Mothers understand that flowers don't last forever and they are not impressed by the 'silk' flowers that were popular not long ago [the idea of silk flowers is currently dead, thank heavens!]  And why is this?  Because she had you, that's why.  You were a product of Mother Nature too.  Your mom became a mom because of you but you became you because of a natural phenomenon, details of which I would rather not discuss as I don't have space here to describe the nuances of the thing. Suffice it to say that you are a product of Nature.  When you have time Google it. 

So what does all of this have to do with your gift to your Mom next week?  Everything.  This explains why she does not want more 'stuff' - she wants you.  


Not too many years ago my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  While in the early stages of this dreadful disease my wife gave me a splendid idea to take my Mom to a park with a picnic lunch.  We did just that.  I arrived at her place with a box of food and we traveled to Edwards Gardens, the home of the Toronto Botanical Gardens where we found a park bench under a tree and we ate.  


We watched the birds, listened to their songs and repeated some oft told family stories.  The time with her was so sweet that I found myself wondering why I hadn't done it a long time ago. 


Alas, I had spent a lot of years looking for the 'right' gift for her when the best gift of all was attached to my nose.  Me. 

Instead of You

I understand that distance and time restraints do not always make one-on-one time with your Mom possible.  When that happens, remember that Nature is here to rescue you from the clutches of your mother's disappointment.  


Consider buying her a tree that will flower on [or near] Mother's Day, reminding her of you each mid May for years to come.  A Saucer Magnolia works here in zone 5 and 6 as does a prairie-hardy flowering crabapple [in spite of its unfortunate name: call it a 'happy' apple when you give it to her].  


A fruit tree like a peach or cherry will flower about this time of year and produce fruit, with a little luck, later on in the season. And offer to, or arrange to, have someone else prune and apply dormant spray in the late winter/early spring. 


Of course a hanging basket or pre planted patio planter brimming with colour is perfect for the Mom with or without a garden.  Likely there is somewhere that she can hang or place it.  Be sure to think about the exposure to sun that her new flowering gift will receive and don't burden her with high maintenance flowers like Sunshine impatiens.  As beautiful as they are, she will have to water them daily and, to be frank, they will never look as good as the day that you bought them.  


Check out the new varieties of hanging geraniums instead: they can take the abuse of drying out between watering [indeed, they thrive on it].  Or try the new varieties of Calibrachoa, with their small 'petunia like' flowers. Consider ivies and flowering verbena for sunny positions. 


All of this is meant as a gentle reminder that May is not all about us, the gardeners of the world.  Though, there will be days when you feel like it is, with all of the soil prep, planting, dividing, feeding, sowing, weeding and mulching that needs to be done.  While you are out there I hope that you take some time to reflect on the wonder of it all: birds, bees and pollinators in abundance. We were all children once.  What, exactly, does that mean?


This story will appear in full in the Toronto Star this Saturday May 3rd.  I urge you to read it by connecting through this link.  It will be posted this Friday. 



Things To Do in your garden this May: 

Well, let's not get ridiculous.  I can't list ALL of the stuff that you need to consider doing in the entire month of May, which is why I send you a mid-month edition of this newsletter on the 15th.   Please look for it in your "in" box. 


Here is a list of garden chores that could require your attention in the next 2 weeks [keep in mind that the weather this month changes very quickly: in some parts of the country we will see spring arrive in earnest by the end of next week, tree flowers in full bloom.  


Other regions will not see cherry blossoms until the 10th of June - welcome to St. Johns Newfoundland.  B. C. readers HAVE spring: they bask in it for a month before the rest of us.]  


You can plant them, provided the soil is now dry and frost free.   Avoid the greenhouse forced 'soft' plants with lots of green growth.  I prefer the hardened off, frost resistant varieties. 


- Dig and divide.  As you see the spears of hosta poking through the soil, reminding you of their location now is the time to dig up the whole clump and divide it like a pie and replant the divisions around your yard.  Or give them away.  Ditto day lilies, monarda, bergenia and a host of other fleshy-rooted perennials.


- Apply 2 cm of finished compost around the roots of all established perennials unless you raked your leaves on top of them.  In which case, gently pull the leaves back to let the perennial grow and leave the leaves in place.  Earth worms will perform magic as they convert them into nitrogen-rich castings.


- You have them stored somewhere: haul them out, clean them with soap, water and a stiff brush.


- Dump out the soil from last year and put it in your garden.  Or give it to someone who has a garden, if you live off the ground.


- Replace the old soil with Mark's Choice container mix or Pro-Mix.


- Plant frost hardy perennials, pansies, primulas or violas.  Wait until after the long weekend to plant frost sensitive annuals.


- After planting, add SmartCote fertilizer.  It feeds annuals for 6 months, leaving you to enjoy your life.



- Trees, shrubs, evergreens, roses and aforementioned perennials should be planted in May, before you get too busy with the flower and veggies after the long weekend.  


What a great time of year to plant a cedar hedge!  Buy Canadian grown stock for the best results. 


- Add generous quantities of compost and triple mix to the planting hole: you would not build a house without a foundation would you?



- Fertilize with Golfgreen if you have not already this season.


- Bare patches should be covered with 2 or 3 cm of triple mix and Golfgreen [Canadian!] grass seed broadcast by hand over the area.  Rake smooth, step on it and water well....  Watch the video.


- Pull dandelions with the Mark's Choice Speedy Weeder.  We produced a new version this year that is all metal -indestructible and it works like a charm!  [Home Hardware item# 5078-252]



- Get out your patio furniture and sling the hammock.  There will be days when you will have earned a rest.


- Reflect on your good work and the partnership that you have forged with Mother Nature.


Take your time, be patient with the new cashier at your local garden retailer [they are trying, really trying!] and say hello to all of your neighbours when you are shopping.  Retailing has the effect of socializing people, garden retailing more so.  Don't fight it, embrace it.  My local Home Hardware seems to be a great neighbourhood meeting place. 


Enjoy the widest selection of plants the whole season long.... May is planting month!!


Keep your knees dirty,




Merchant of Beauty  

Enter my latest Contest!

It's planting season.  Do you have plans to plant a tree in your yard?


Did you lose a tree to winter storm damage? 

What are you going to plant as a replacement?


Share your 'tree planting' plans and I will enter your name in my contest.


I will select 10 winners to receive a Tree Canada Hat courtesy of Home Hardware


Email your contest entry to


Share 'Before' and 'After' photos, if you have them.  I look forward to hearing all of your plans.


Deadline to enter is May 15, 2014.

Welcome The Neepawa Press 

I am thrilled to announce that my weekly column will now appear in The Neepawa Press.  


My syndicated column is now published in 22 newspapers across Canada.


Let me take this opportunity to welcome my new readers from Neepawa, Manitoba.  I look forward to sharing the gardening experience with you.

Mark's Choice Product of the Month

Pivoting Wheelbarrow Handle Grips 


Brand New for Spring!


I torture tested this product in my own 10 acre garden last season, as I do all Mark's Choice products.  


It only takes moments to securely install handles on the grips of your wheelbarrow.  Tubular design of the nylon grip makes the handle comfortable for hands of all sizes.


Nylon construction.  Pivoting action of the Simply Dump It handles allows user to optimize the momentum of the lift.

Increases delivery control of the load by never having to stop to re-position the hands.  Helps reduce arm, wrist and back injury.

Home Hardware item# 5161-507

2014 Perennial Plant of the Year

Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'


A native American grass for all seasons - also known a switch grass. 


Unique qualities: 'Northwind' is very easy to grow.  It will enhance any sunny border, not just a native, meado- or prairie-style garden.  'Northwind' has a refined, garden-worthy appearance and habit.


Maintenance: There are no serious insect and disease problems with switchgrass.  Plants are best divided in spring.

Hardiness:  Zones 4 to 10

Light: Switch grass performs best in full sun and will tolerate light shade.

Soil: Panicum is famously adaptable to almost any soil.


Panicum virgatum 'Northwind' spreads slowly to form erect clumps of slender, steel-blue leaves about five feet tall.  In late summer, the foliage is topped by a haze of showy, finely-textured flower panicles that rise to six or seven feet, and the open golden yellow and mature to beige. 


Deep roots make 'Northwind' remarkably drought-tolerant, once established.

Replacements for Impatiens


I was overwhelmed by the response to my 'No Patients for Impatiens' contest last month.  I received almost 1,000 responses to my question "What will you plant to replace impatiens in your garden".


With thanks to all of you for your answers and congratulations to the winners of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds and Miriam Goldberger's new book 'Taming Wildflowers'.


My Top 10 List of replacements:




New Guinea impatiens


Dusty Miller

Wave petunias





View the full list of contest responses here.

Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centres


Congratulations to our 3 new members.  


I was honoured to present each Home Hardware owner with their plaques and banners.  


Please note that ALL of these Mark Cullen Approved Home Hardware stores carry Canadian grown, quality garden plants.  While the selection varies by store and region [as it should!] I endorse them all as quality plants, many of which I grow in my own 10 acre garden.  


Our Mark's Choice Growers are Sheridan Nurseries [Ontario, east to Newfoundland] and By Lands Nurseries [Manitoba west to B.C.]


New members:


Proudfoots Home Hardware Building Centre

Stellarton, Nova Scotia


(Derril Linseman, Jim Proudfoot, Mark, Kendall Proudfoot, Jim Proudfoot Jr.) 


Drayton Valley Home Hardware Building Centre

Drayton Valley, Alberta


(Derril Linseman, Mark, Chelsea Winship, Bonnie Nienaber, MaryAnn Solomon) 


Annapolis Home Hardware Building Center

Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia


(Derril Linseman, Mark, Joanne Lawrie, Rob Lawrie)



Visit a Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre near you. 

Stay in Touch


The season changes daily, especially in May - be sure to stay in touch with my gardening tips by visiting my:


Weekly blog post - From the Garden Shed - every Wednesday


Weekly audio tip - The Green File - every Wednesday


Daily Facebook page updates


Daily Tweets


And Weekly Canada AM segments, on Wednesdays


Submit Your Event Listings 



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 info to with the subject line 'Newsletter Event Listing'.  Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.

Baillie Birdathon

Bird Studies Canada


Do you enjoy watching birds?

Do you want to help conservation?

Here's your chance to do both!


Challenge yourself to identify as many bird species as possible in a 24-hour period, any time in May.  Collect sponsors and help raise money for bird research and conservation.


Participating in as easy as 1, 2, 3...

  1. Register online at and receive a FREE birdathon t-shirt!
  2. Personalize your online donation page and ask friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbours to support your cause through your online giving page.
  3. Go birding.  See or hear as many bird species as you can within any 24-hour period in May.

The Butchart Gardens

Victoria, BC


Spring, The Season of Vibrant Colour


Come witness thousands of flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees bursting forth and much more. Open every day of the year!  Spring is in full swing with huge vistas of colour.


More info.

Brighton Horticultural Society

Brighton, ON


Date: May 2

Time: 7:30pm

Location: King Edward Community Center, Brighton

Guest Speaker: Marjorie Mason

Topic: Gardening for all the Days of your Life

More info.

Plant Paradise Country Gardens Workshops

Caledon, ON    


Date: May 3 at 10am

Topic: Spectacular plant combinations with Lorraine Roberts.  Design principles for choosing the best plant combinations.


Date: May 10 at 10am

Topic: Unique shade selections with Lorraine Roberts.  Learn the best plants to turn your shade garden into a blaze of colour and bloom.


Location: Plant Paradise Country Gardens, 16258 Humber Station, Caledon, ON


More info.

Tree Tenders Volunteer Training

Richmond Hill, ON



Dates: May 3, 10am to 4pm. May 6, 6pm to 9pm. May 10, 10am to 4pm.

Location: Oak Ridges Community Centre, 12895 Bayview Ave., Richmond Hill, ON


This multi-day course is designed for individuals who want to gain tree-related knowledge and skills.  If you've ever wanted to learn more about trees and how to properly care for them, then this course is for you.  Registration required.


More info.

Kingsway Tree Haven: Our Majestic Oak

Toronto, ON



A Jane's Walk

Date: May 4

Time: 1pm to 3pm

Location: Brentwood Public Library, 36 Brentwood Road N., Toronto, ON


Can trees and development co-exist?  How can we accommodate new living space alongside a mature tree canopy?  What voice can residents have in decisions regarding development and tree preservation?  This tour offers an opportunity to discuss these complex questions while exploring the magnificent trees of the Kingsway neighbourhood.  Registration recommended.


More info.

Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society

Toronto, ON   


Plant Sale

Special Plant Sale


Date: May 4

Time: noon to 4pm

Location: Floral Hall, Toronto Botanical Garden, Toronto, ON


The Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society is holding a plant sale featuring choice plant materials not available in garden centres.

Many of our members grow rare & unusual varieties & species from seed.  Members donate plants for sale by the Society.  Don't miss out on this wide array of choice plants.


More info.

International Compost Awareness Week  


Dates: May 4 to 10

Theme: Feed the Soil... Compost


Adding compost to your soil provides the structure & nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.

Make compost happen!  Recycle your organics to feed the soil. 


More info.

LEAF & The Urban Forest



Date: May 6

Time: 7pm to 8pm

Location: Barbara Frum Library, 20 Covington Rd., Toronto, ON


What is the urban forest and why does it matter?  Join us for an introduction to Toronto's urban forest and the benefits it provides for our city.  Find out how you can help it thrive by caring for your own trees and by getting involved in LEAF's planting, education and stewardship programs.


More info.

Grateful Tree Victory Party

Toronto, ON 


Date: May 7

Time: 9pm


Please join Hilary and Stephen Scharper to celebrate a 2014 landmark legal victory protecting trees in Ontario!!! This amazing landmark ruling applies for the first time to city trees. 


In cities across Ontario, it is now a criminal offense for one owner of a shared tree to arbitrarily cut it down without the co-owner's consent. Thousands of trees have been highhandedly cut down in this way. This ruling helps put a stop to this devastating practice. Now the Ontario Forestry Act applies to municipal trees, carrying with it a potential fine of $20,000 or jail time for those who violate the law. 


Tens of thousands of trees are breathing easier as a result of this ruling, not only in Ontario but throughout Canada!


For more information please visit the "Whose Woods These Are" website:

The Auxiliary of Royal Botanical Gardens

38th Annual Spring Plant Sale, Dundas, Ontario  


Dates: May 8; 9am to noon. May 9; 9am to noon. May 10; 9am to noon. May 11; 11am to 3pm.

Location: Arboretum, Old Guelph Road, Dundas, ON


You will find: specialty annuals, herbs, veggies, hostas, ferns, perennials, shrubs, iris, peonies and hemerocallis from RBG's Collection.


More info.

Low Maintenance Gardening by Dan Cooper

Vineland, ON


Gardening from a Hammock

Date: May 8

Time: 7pm to 9pm

Location: Rittenhouse Hall, Vineland Research Station


Speaker: Dan Cooper, co-author of 'Gardening from a Hammock'

Historic Gardens

Annapolis Royal, NS


Historic Gardens

Date: May 10

Time: 1pm to 4pm

Location: Annapolis Royal Farmers & Traders Market.


An annual highlight is the Rare & Unusual Plant Sale.  A great gathering of growers from across the Province will have all sorts of incredible plant material for sale.


More info.

Cowichan Valley Garden Club

Duncan, BC  


Annual Flower and Plant Sale

Date: May 10

Time: 10am to 2pm

Location: Duncan United Church, 246 Ingram St., Duncan, BC

Stop in to see a presentation by horticulturalist Jeff de Jong and learn about adding edible plants to your garden.


More info.

Sarnia Horticultural Society

Sarnie, ON   


34th Annual Plant Sale


Date: May 10

Time: 8am to 1pm

Location: 1435 Windemere Cres., Sarnia, ON


Perennials, bulbs, groundcovers, shrubs, hostas, irises, dahlias, pots, garden décor, etc.  Bargain prices, free advice.  Memberships available.


More info.

St. Jude's Anglican Church Garden Guild

Oakville, ON



Annual Plant Sale

Date: May 10

Time: 8:30am to 11:30am

Location: 160 William Street


All proceeds go toward the upkeep and maintenance of the church gardens throughout the year.  


More info.

North American Native Plant Society's

Native Plant Sale, Markham, ON    



Date: May 10

Time: 10am to 3pm

Location: Markham Civic Centre, Markham, ON


This is always special.  Visitors will be able to purchase and choose a cornucopia of native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, sedges and vines.  Plants will be organized by habitat type and/or lighting preference to aid rookie gardeners less familiar with the plants themselves but more familiar with the conditions in which they need to grow.


More info.

Pond-less Waterfall Workshop

Edmonton, AB   



Date: May 10

A Pond-Less Waterfall Course provides the sight and sounds of a waterfall, but without a standing body of water. Instead of having a pond at the bottom, there is a reservoir filled with stone giving the appearance that the water is disappearing into the gravel. An ideal option as the grand front yard water feature and child friendly too.


More info.

Kingsville Horticultural Society

Kingsville, ON   


Plant Sale

Date: May 10

Time: 9am

Location: Lakeside Park Pavilion, 315 Queen Street South, Kingsville, ON


Many perennials, some annuals, ground covers, shrubs, some trees, veggie plants, also some native plants. Come early for best selections!


More info.

Amherstburg Fort Malden Horticultural Society

Amherstburg, ON   


Plant Sale & More

Date: May 10

Time: 10am to 1pm

Location: Libro Centre, 3295 Meloche Road. SE, Amherstburg, ON

Plants, shrubs, wood & ceramic signs, wall quotes, bird houses, stained glass garden pieces.


More info.

Markham Garden and Horticultural Society

Markham, ON   



Garden Club Plant Sale

Date: May 10

Time: 8:30am until sellout

Location: 27 Parkway Avenue, Markham, ON

Choose from a wide selection of favourite unusual plants - perennials, shrubs, and annuals - locally grown and donated by club members.  Prices are excellent.  Admission is free.  Garden club members will be on hand for information.


More info. 

Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

Richmond Hill, ON   



Rain Barrel Fundraising Event

Date: May 10

Time: 10am to 1pm

Location: McConaghy Seniors' Centre, 10,100 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill, ON


To support our community beautification and other activities, the society is holding a truckload rain barrel fundraising event in conjunction with our large and very popular yearly plant sale. Pick up your rain barrel and visit our plant sale.  Rain barrels are $50 each and orders must be place online in advance of the sale at

Friends of the Central Experimental Farm (FCEF)

Ottawa, ON   


Rare and Unusual Plant Sale

Date: May 11

Time: 9am to 1pm


Get everything you need for your garden from premier specialty growers and nurseries.  Ottawa Food Bank & Friends of the Farm will be on site to accept donations.

Location: Neatby Building parking lot at Carling & Maple Drive.


More info.  

Gardens Manitoba Mother's Day Plant Sale

Winnipeg, MB  


Date: Sunday, May 11

Time: 9am to 4pm

Location: Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., North Campus.


We fill a large indoor facility with new cultivars of bedding plants, hardy perennials, flowering shrubs, English roses, grasses, herbs and more.  Choose from hundreds of heritage tomatoes and vegetable plants.  New this year, fruit trees for urban gardens.

Bring along your gardening questions and be sure to visit our delightful children's area.


More info.

Orillia Home Hardware Ladies' Night

Orillia, ON  


Date: May 13

Time: 7pm to 10pm

Location: Orillia Home Hardware, 5 King Street, Orillia, ON


I hope to see you there!  Get your tickets early!

More info.


Orangeville & District Horticultural Society

Orangeville, ON  


Date: May 13

Time: 7pm to 9pm

Guest Speaker: Lynn Short

Topic: Good bugs. Bad bugs

Location: Orangeville Seniors Centre, 26 Bythia Street, Orangeville, ON


More info.

Napanee Home Hardware

Napanee, ON  


Join Me!!


An Evening With Gardening Expert Mark Cullen

Date: May 15

Time: 7pm to 9pm

Location: Home Hardware Napanee, 199 Jim Kimmett Blvd, Napanee, ON


Join popular gardening personality Mark Cullen at Home Hardware's "Mark Cullen Approved" Garden Centre for a presentation on growing great food and ornamental gardens.  Mark's presentation will be followed by a Q & A and book signing. Ticket price includes a FREE gift and refreshments.


Advance tickets: $10/person or $15/person on Event Day.

More info 613-354-5982 or view poster

Bobcaygeon & District Horticultural Society

Bobcaygeon, ON  



May Flower Show

Date: May 15

Time: 4pm to 7pm

Location: Knox Presbyterian Church Hall


More info.

Nepean Horticultural Society

Nepean, ON  



Plant Auction/Sale

Date: May 15

Time: 6:30pm

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

Annual plant auction/plant sale (cash only).  Enjoy a fun evening.  Everyone welcome.  Free admission.  Light refreshments.

More info: 613-226-7102