January 2015
Mark Cullen e-newsletter
Gardening with Mark
In This Issue
International Year of Soils
Make a Difference
Things To Do
Product of the Month
Harrowsmith's Almanac
Amaryllis Photo Contest
Christmas Bird Count
New Hardiness Zone Map
Toronto Tree Portraits Calendar
Stay in Touch



Gardening Connections

Home Hardware 
Toronto Star 
Ottawa Citizen  
CTV Canada AM 
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"Nothing would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our Lands"  

~ George Washington, after winning the War of Independence, 1786  from The Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf


Welcome to the International Year of Soils.  If this comes as a surprise to you no worries, you are not alone.  It seems that most of us are keenly unaware of the value of our dirt (the good stuff) and I am here to help change that.


On December 5, 2014, Jose Graziano de Silva, the director general for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation deemed this year, 2015, to be the International Year of Soils.  When I learned this I said to myself, "This is an opportunity that is too good to resist." 


You see, I learned many years ago that over 90% of my success in the garden hinged on one thing: the quality of the soil that I plant in.  It goes without saying that my golden rule for a productive garden is, by extension, at the root of our success as a civilization.  Perhaps it does not go without saying; after all I have already stated that most of us are wholly unaware of the importance of soil.  

International Year of Soils 

To kick off this topic, here are some statistics that are useful to know.  Use them to show off your soil knowledge while gathered round the water cooler on Monday morning:


-  It takes up to 1,000 years for a centimetre (about half an inch) of new soil to be made naturally.

-  33% of the worlds soils are 'degraded' due to our negligence and misuse.

-  805 million people suffer malnutrition worldwide.

-  Projected population growth requires that agriculture increase productivity by 60%.

-  95% of all food comes from the soil (reminder: most of the animals that we use for human consumption feed on plant life).

-  Over one third of our food is wasted and over one half of all of our household waste could be composted to produce new soil.

-  There are more living organisms in one tablespoon of quality soil than there are humans on the face of the earth (over 7 billion).

-  2 hectares/4.94 acres of soil are sealed under expanding cities every minute worldwide. 

(Source: www.fao.org


The purpose of setting one year aside to celebrate and educate during the International Year of Soils is to get us to stop and think about the meaning of life underground and what it means to us.  

And what does it mean?   Our very sustenance depends on it.  

So what can we do of a meaningful nature that will make a difference? I have some suggestions: 


1.  Compost.  I know, most readers are using their green bins diligently and some (though not the majority) have a compost bin out of doors that actually gets filled from time to time.  I urge you to take the activity of saving raw, green material like food waste and fallen leaves more seriously.   

Details at www.compost.org


2. Plant a Row for the Hungry.  For over 20 years members of the Garden Writers Association (of which I am one) have been preaching the need for fresh garden produce at all food banks.  There is an appetite for all kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs at food banks across the country.  

The idea is a simple one.  When you plant your garden this coming spring be sure to expand the food production capacity of it to include more tomatoes, squash, carrots, apples, pears and the like than you need to feed yourself and your family.  Give the excess to your local food bank.  

If you have a fruiting tree that produces more fruit than you can eat, preserve or have time to pick then be sure to call 'Not Far From the Tree' and volunteer pickers will come to your home to harvest the excess and make sure that it is delivered to people who need it.


3. Learn from farmers.  Good farmers understand that they do not nurture plants so much as they foster good soil.  The foundation of farming is to take good care of the soil and it will grow a great crop.  To this end they add generous quantities of naturally decomposed animal manures and 'green crops' to their land.  They put back more nutrition than they take out. 


During the last week of January the Organic by Design conference is on at the University of Guelph.  There are several dozen excellent speakers and over 150 exhibitors who specialize in organic food and production.  Learn more at www.guelphorganicconf.ca


For details about the International Year of Soils go to www.fao.org and follow the link.     


For more details on this subject look for my Toronto Star column Saturday, January 24th.  

Things To Do in Your Garden:

What, is this some kind of joke?  This is January and we live in Canada.  Well, not so fast.  Seems that Mother Nature enjoys playing her own kind of jokes. 

Take a look at this picture of my sister Sue's hellebore in Whitby,  Ontario. This is a zone 6 garden which should, by all rights, be covered in snow and frost penetrating about 2 feet of soil.  But not this year, not now.


Of course, all of that could change tomorrow and probably will.


So let's stick with indoor gardening activities:


- Order your seed catalogues or (welcome to the new millennium) go online to view all of the new offerings.  My favourites include Veseys in P.E.I., Ontario Seed Company, McKenzie Seeds, and Stokes.


-  Check indoor tropical plants for bugs.  Squish them with your thumb or apply Green Earth insecticidal soap.  If you have spider mites spray with room temperature water ever day and make sure that you reach the underside of the leaves.


-  Read all of the gardening magazines that you can get your hands on: fill your head with new ideas.  The new gardening season will be on you before you know it and you won't have time to think about it when it does.


-  Review the pictures of your garden and the gardens that you visited last season.  They are on your computer.  Somewhere.  Turn them right-side up.  Enjoy.  You will smell and taste the season when you see your favourites. 


-  Call a gardening friend and ask what she is doing to change her garden this coming season.  Invite her out for coffee.  Tell her to bring pictures.


Join a local garden club or horticultural society.  Meet.  Engage.  Learn. Eat cookies.


-  Plan your next garden vacation.  I am going to Europe this spring to see the bulbs in bloom. I am a lucky one, for sure. 


The new seed racks are in at your local retailer.  Go to Home Hardware for a good look round and a visit, as they are truly friendly people there.  All of the new seeds are fresh: it is the law. 


-  Don't let a non-gardener tell you that there is nothing to do in the winter.  Check your dahlia tubers, begonia bulbs, water your amaryllis but not too much, take a picture of it for my contest (see details below).


-  Feed the birds (see my featured bird seed products below - they are fabulous!  I am SO proud of them). 


Drink lots of coffee, tea and later in the day... well, whatever... curl up with a good gardening themed book.  (I am reading The Founding Gardeners, by Andrea Wulf.  The history of gardening in America.  It is not for everyone, but I can't put it down.  Andrea also wrote 'Brother Gardeners' about the beginning of horticulture in the UK: equally grand)  


Light a fire, turn off the computer, stop reading e mails and be sure to send this newsletter to people that you know and love.  Spread the joy.


Best of the New Year. 

I am blessed with many friends and I count you as one of them.


Mark Cullen

Merchant of Beauty.


PS. put Canada Blooms on your calendar. The biggest and best ever coming to Toronto March 13th to 22nd at Direct Energy Centre.  More at www.canadablooms.com  I will be there - a lot.  


Product of the Month
Mark's Choice 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 yard 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.   Exclusive to Home Hardware.

(Home Hardware item# 5453-365)


Also available in the Mark's Choice line of birdseed:

Bird Feast Songbird Blend - the best selling product in the entire line up of Mark's Choice quality products. 

(item# 5453-067 4kg, 5453-072 8kg)

Deluxe Blend with Berries and Nuts - I put out a bowl of this every time the guys come over for 'the game'  A perfect Super Bowl treat! (Only kidding - ok)  lots of protein for winter time bird feeding.   (item# 5453-362)

Nyjer Plus with Sunflower Chips - not just for finches and nuthatches, though, they love it too!  (item# 5453-364)

Finch Blend with Sunflower Chips - the perfect variety of seed for the perfect little winter time birds.   (item# 5453-363)

Harrowsmith's Almanac 
Written by Canadians for Canadians

Last month I wrote eloquently about the new edition of the Harrowsmith's Almanac.

Truth is, I poked some fun at it, using my own brand of humour.  Humour that not everyone appreciated.  

I apologize if I misled any of you: I made up the part about the ads.  Truth is, all of the ads in this publication are of the highest quality and I would buy from all of them if I could.


And my reference to it as a 'bathroom reader' was meant as a compliment, just to be clear.  This was code for 'you won't want to throw it out'.  Harrowsmith's Almanac reflects the integrity and depth that we came to expect from the original Harrowsmith magazine.  For $5.95 it IS a bargain.  And you get an article from me to boot.

I picked up my copy from the magazine rack in the adjoining room to my office as a reminder.  Enough said.


Available at many Home Hardware locations.   

Amaryllis Photo Contest


Are you growing an amaryllis? I started one amaryllis bulb every week in December. I really enjoy watching the blooms brighten my office.


I'm inviting you to submit a photo of your amaryllis blooms.  

Email one photo to [email protected].  I will post all of the photos on my Facebook page.


10 winners will receive a copy of Harrowsmith's Almanac.  


Winners will be determined by the number of 'likes' a photo receives on my facebook page.  Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.  


(Deadline for entry is January 10, 2015. Voting closes January 13, 2015.)

You Still Have Time!

I know, I know: Christmas is over.  Luckily for you (and the birds) the Christmas Bird Count extends from December 14th through January 5th.  You still have five days!


Bird Studies Canada makes it very simple to find a count near you with their interactive map. Just zoom into the area where you'll be counting and click on the closest count. Each of the 2000 counts extends 24 km in diameter so there's a good chance you'll find one near you.

The purpose of the count is to collect as much bird data as possible.  All of these data are added to a huge database that gives researchers a better understanding of trends from year to year.  This information is also used to put together reports like the 2012 State of Canada's Birds.

While the kids are off from school, consider getting out and participating in a count with neighbours, friends, and fellow birders.  You'll have fun and you'll learn something, too.

New Hardiness Zone Map 

The Ministry of Natural Resources Canadian Forest Services has introduced the new 2014 hardiness zone map to reflect significant changes resulting from climate change and improvements in climate interpolation techniques.


The new map indicates that the most significant changes can be seen in western Canada, since the last update done in 2001.  This guideline was first developed in the 1960s by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to display where plants could be expected to survive relative to their climatic requirements.


Chances are pretty good that this map will change again before too long.  Just saying. 


More information can be found at www.planthardiness.gc.ca


Source: Landscape Trades, Nov-Dec 2014

2015 Toronto Tree Portraits Calendar 

This year's calendar is a retrospective edition, with a foreword by Dr. Roberta Bondar, introduction by Vince Pietropaolo - the curator again this year, guest column by Lorraine Johnson and epilogue by Arthur Beauregard.


I think it's a beauty, and hope you do too!   As well as highlighting an image and literary page from each of the past ten years, there are two new photographs that commemorate the (Toronto)ice storm of 2013.


All proceeds from calendar sale go toward supporting the great charitable work of the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation.


Click here to order calendars. 

Stay in Touch 

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 

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 [email protected] with the subject line 'Newsletter Event Listing'.  Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.


The Butchart Gardens
British Columbia

Spring Prelude - Daily in the Blue Poppy

Experience an incredible, fragrance-filled indoor garden with flagstone paths, flowering cherries and witch hazels, and beds of daffodils and tulips.

More info. www.butchartgardens.com

Eganville and Area Horticultural Society



Date: January 19

Time: 7:30pm

Location: Eganville Legion

Topic: The ABC's of GMO's - Genetically Modified Food

Speaker: Devorah Belinsky has a Masters in Human Nutrition and extensive experience in community health 

Applewood Garden Club
Applewood Annual Special Evening - JOIN ME!


Join me at Applewood Garden Club's annual fund-raising evening.

Date: January 20, 2015

Time: 7pm

Location: Lakeview Golf Course. 1190 Dixie Road, Mississauga

In The Future of Gardening, I will discuss what today's new garden looks and feels like based on my travels to and fro [your garden might even be in my power point!], and I will offer lots of tips on how to design, grow and maintain yours.  book sales: all proceeds to the two charities. 

Tickets: $15

Proceeds of this event are in support of Our Place Peel www.ourplacepeel.org, a Mississauga residence for homeless and disadvantaged youth.

For ticket information go to www.applewoodgardenclub.org

Flamborough Horticultural Society




Date: January 21

Time: 7:30pm

Location: Strabane United Church, 1565 Brock Road, Flamborough, ON

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

Topic: Low-maintenance gardening

For more info. www.gardeningfromahammock.com

The North York Garden Club


Date: January 26

Time: 8:00pm

Location: St. Lukes Lutheran Church, 3200 Bayview Avenue

Guest Speaker: Laura Mills

Presentation on Photography in the Garden

Guelph Organic Conference 2015

Date: January 29 to February 1

Location: Guelph University Centre


34th Annual Organic By Design Conference, Expo, Sampling Fair.  Founded by students in 1982.

More info. www.guelphorganicconf.ca     

Organic Master Gardeners Program   

 Stony Plain, Alberta

The Organic Master Gardener program is Alberta's first and most extensive organic master gardener program.  Students study about twice a month from February to October each year.  The first class for 2015 will be on February 4, from 6-9pm.

Half the courses are the Gaia College curriculum and the other half are locally developed  courses, created for north central Alberta soils and growing region.

For a detailed syllabus, go to www.multicentre.org, or go to the Organic Master Gardener tab and click on 2015 registration.

Stratford Garden Festival



Dates: March 5-8, 2015

The Stratford Garden Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary and it is still "Blooming Beautiful".


Explore imaginative gardens teeming with spring colour and shop the Marketplace for the latest "must haves" for the gardener.   Learn from garden gurus as part of the ongoing Speaker Series.

A fundraiser to support The Lung Association.

Speaker schedule, special event information and directions to the Stratford Rotary Complex at www.stratfordgardenfestival.com.

Theme Announced for Canada Blooms  


Organizers have announced "Let's Play" will be the theme for the festival.  

"Given the many interpretations of play, we are eager to see how the talented garden designers and builders and floral professionals will utilize this year's theme when creating their stunning displays."

Canada Blooms will co-locate with the National Home Show, March 13 to 22, 2015 at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto.