December 2015
Gardening with Mark
In This Issue



Gardening Connections

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Gift Ideas for the Gardeners on Your List
'Tis the month of ring/ring/ringaling and falalalala (I think I have that right) and while we contemplate the real meaning of Christmas there is, niggling in the back of your mind, this list of people that you will give to.  Some of them may be gardeners.  And others may not be, but they could share interests with gardeners. 
There is a lot of 'cross over' in this regard. Gardeners don't JUST muck about in the dirt and play with plants: they bike, hike, watch for birds, believe in preserving public green spaces, they read in an effort to expand their minds and generally are quite engaged with the natural world around them.  This is true of most of the gardeners that I know, and I know quite a few. 
So, without even starting my list of gifts for the gardeners on your list, perhaps I have succeeded in expanding your mind beyond the obvious: a pair of binoculars for the birder/gardener? A walking stick?   A tree, purchased through a local conservation authority/association for planting in a public park?  You get the idea.  
Here is my list:
1.  Hands.  Gardening is a hand-craft.  Few of us think of it this way, but here it is.  
A pair of gloves (good gloves, with re-enforced finger tips and a flexible, breathable knuckle), hand pruners (a pair that will last until the gardener can't garden any more), hand tools like a stainless steel trowel, cultivator or (my favourite) a large volume hand scoop, or a hand-book that identifies local bugs (good and bad) and weeds. 


2.  Save My Back!  When it hurts to bend down to pull a weed or prune a rose, there are alternatives! 


Here are some 'back saving' devices that I have found useful (speaking as one with a chronically weak lower back). 

Speedy weeder.
A long handled device for pulling weeds that is easy and immensely effective at the job.  Each time you 'pop' a weed you aerate the soil around the roots of grass plants.  Double wammy!  Look for Mark's Choice Speedy Weeder at Home Hardware (end of commercial).  $30 

Long handled digging tools.  I wear out my long handled garden forks, mulching forks, shovels and spades before I get my 'D' short handled tools dirty.  Why?  They save me from stooping and bending.  

Look for the stainless steel versions of long handled tools when giving to someone really special (no mention of Mark's Choice and Home Hardware here, only cause I don't want to wear out my welcome.  But between you and me, they exist and are awesome quality).

Long handled loppers.  Look for quality tools for cutting thick wood from trees and shrubs.  Some provide extended handles that help you reach up to 4 feet further.  Some are 'ratcheting' which means that, with a couple or three pulls on the handle you can cut through thick, green wood one increment at a time.  Easy.
A Rake, A Hoe Like everything else mentioned here, there are cheap tools that provide temporary service and there are tools that last.  Look for the 'World's best rake', with a tensile strength and flexibility that provides an amazing 'throw' when raking leaves or grass clippings.  Pit this tool against the dreaded power-leaf blower and it will do the job just as quickly without polluting the neighbourhood.  I love this tool.
A sharp hoe pays for itself: fewer weeds without the back pain.  I have about a dozen strewn around my 10 acre garden: one in the garage, another in the shed, in the other shed, several in the barn: you get the idea.  You can't have enough of them.  I sharpen my hoe every time I use it: put a good bastard file on the gift list.  
3.  Learn.  Gardeners love to learn. 
Recently I read a great book called The Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf: how gardening helped to 'found' the United States.
It is a lesson in history, botany, horticulture and perhaps most useful of all, it helps us understand the critically important role of gardening in our recent past and therefore who we are (or, more accurately, who Americans are).  

There are lots of great Canadian books out there too: 
Look for Steven Biggs' book on figs and another for kids that is co-written with his daughter Emma, called Grow Gardeners "Kid tested Gardening with Children: a 4 step approach".

4.  Experience.  Gardeners love to experience plants and nature outside of their own environment.  It is one of the most effective ways to learn and to meet like-minded people.  Consider a membership in a local (or not so local) botanical garden or Conservation society.  

Historic Gardens My favourite botanical garden in Canada is the historic gardens of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia.  There is no other 'gardening' experience in the country that can teach us the post-European history of Canada like this one.  It is as authentic and beautiful as it is historic.


If you think about it (or google it) you will no doubt come up with some public gardens and green spaces that need your support and are worthy of it within driving distance of where you live.  In Olds Alberta the gardens of Olds College would be one, in Guelph Ontario the University arboretum .... See what I mean about thinking outside of the box? 

5.  What are Friends For?  Gardeners need help (no, not THAT kind of help).  

Cultivating, planting, nurturing, growing and harvesting is hard work and it takes time.

How bout lending a helping hand?  Make a gift of yourself by offering a few hours of weeding, bringing empty pots up from the basement or garage this Spring and filling them with container mix, pruning an old apple tree or whatever....


You get the idea.  A gift of yourself.  Gee, I hope my kids read this.  When you come over to lend a hand, bring a thermos of coffee (or a six pack - I assume that you know the preferences of your friends). 

And that is hardly it.... photographs, bird seed and feeders, hand lotion and soap, a hat, gardening knee pads (which are different from the popular heavy-duty knee pads that people use for laying carpet) and gardening magazines can all fit the bill.
Above all, enjoy the experience of giving.  As my very good friend, the late Hugh Beaty said, "We forget to look outsides of ourselves."  He told me that the greatest pleasure he received in life was the satisfaction of giving.  
Amen and God bless Hugh (you can get his book at
Thank You!
From the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute
Speaking of giving I want to thank you for giving me your attention last month when I shared the story about the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute - the campaign to plant 117,000 trees on the Highway of Heroes, a living tribute to each of Canada's war dead since Confederation. 
The launch of our campaign on November 6th was an overwhelming success.  Thank you for visiting and signing up for our newsletter (you should have received the first one by now) and for donating.  PLEASE pass the word on to family and friends.  The real work is just beginning! 

Learn more in this 5 minutes video of my interview on Canada AM. 
I think that Marci Ien did an amazing job!  

Sign up for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute newsletter.  You can view the first newsletter here.
Star Touch
I mentioned in last month's newsletter that I am thrilled with my subscription to Star Touch, the daily news/information app available for free through the Toronto Star to iPad and iPhone users.
Since then I have met many people who have signed up and are very happy with their experience with it.  Check it out

And look for my Saturday column, complete with 4 or 5 great photos each Saturday in the 'Property' section.
Toronto Tree Portraits Calendar

Whether you live in Toronto or not, you will love this calendar!  It celebrates the gifts that urban trees keep giving.  
And it looks great sitting on the edge of a desk.

How to Buy a Christmas Tree

This 4 minute segment featuring me with by buddy Jeff Hutcheson on Canada AM answers all of your questions about what tree to purchase and how to keep it hydrated while indoors.  

And it is fun, like all of my segments with Jeff.  (look for the segment at 8:06 in the video)

Thanks.   Remember, if you can't keep your knees dirty at least buy a Mark's Choice amaryllis and get some dirt under your finger nails.  All for the good! 
Merry Christmas and happy holiday season.
Mark Cullen
Merchant of beauty.

This month, I'm inviting you to share a photo of your Christmas tree (live or artificial).  
If you have an artificial tree, I encourage you use natural decorations from the garden.  

Email one photo to [email protected].

I will post all photos on my facebook page. 
The 5 winners, who get the most 'likes' will receive a copy of Harrowsmith's Almanac.

Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.

(deadline for entry is December 20 2015.  Voting closes December 26, 2015)
Contest Winners
November's contest was a big success.  It was great fun to see your photos of your favourite plant/flower in your garden.  

Thank you all for sharing your stories and photos.  5 winners received a pair of Mark's Choice hand pruners.

Congratulations to these winners:
Carin Ann
Mary Anne Peloza
Janet Taylor
Deb Sanderson
Gundi Sheppard
Product of the Month 
Mark's Choice Terrarium Kits

When you can't grow outdoors, create an indoor garden that fits on a tabletop.
Terrariums are easy to care for and don't require any special skills for success. 

Plant suggestions
-  Spring bulbs
-  Succulents (hen & chicks)
-  Herbs
-  African Violets
-  Jade plants
-  Venus Flytraps
-  Bromeliads        
-  Poinsettias
Add mini fairy lights or baubles for a wonderfully festive Christmas terrarium.

Clay pot and saucer with recycled glass cover
Home Hardware # 5055-269
Stay in Touch 

Check out Mark Cullen Gardening on YouTube for 'How To' videos to help with your lawn & garden.

My weekly newspaper column can be found online at The Toronto Star or read in more than 20 other papers across the country.  
Follow my daily Tweets on Twitter (@MarkCullen4)
Listen to my weekly gardening tip 'The Green File'.  I post a new audio clip every Wednesday.
Follow my daily postings on my Facebook page.
I encourage you to visit My Library to search for great gardening information.

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.

Events from West Coast to East Coast :

The Butchart Gardens
Brentwood Bay, BC

The Magic of Christmas: Light-Up

Dates: December 1st until January 6th

Hundreds of thousands of lights twinkle and glow throughout The Gardens.

Started in 1987, the display is so large that our lighting crew is busy for a full two months installing it, and the accompanying festive decorations.

Throughout the festive season the ice skating rink in Waterwheel Square adds an extra experience to the lighting extravaganza. Each evening the Festive Brass and Traditional Carollers perform in the crisp night air. Hot chocolate and other Christmas treats are near at hand in the cosy, fire place warmed Coffee Shop and even nearer to the music in the Blue Poppy Restaurant.
 More formal dining is offered in The Dining Room Restaurant with a special Magic of Christmas Menu, complete with thoroughly Christmas atmosphere.

Purchase your admission tickets today.
Muttart Conservatory
Edmonton, AB

Muttart Conservatory
Concerts at the Conservatory: Holiday Traditions
Date: December 17
Time: 6-8pm
Deck the halls!  Come down to the Muttart and be merry for our annual holiday music night.  Listen to beautiful music and sing along to some as well.  Be sure to check out our Snowflakes are Falling feature pyramid show and get into the holiday spirit.
More info. 
Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society
Toronto, ON
December meeting featuring Jeff Mason of Mason House Gardens

Date: December 13
Time: 1-4pm
Location: Toronto Botanical Garden, 777 Lawrence Avenue, Toronto

Presentation: High and Dry - 25 years on a sand dune

After moving to a new property in the middle of winter, Jeff's first shovel in the ground revealed a shocking surprise - SAND, and lots of it.  Faced with this daunting challenge, Jeff had to come up with a strategy to create the garden he wanted.  Jeff will share his trials, tribulations, live plants, dead plants and methods for creating a great garden in these harsh conditions.
More info. 
Royal Botanical Gardens
Burlington, ON
Holiday Traditions

Dates: until January 3
RBG's annual holiday season celebration featuring the RBG Train Show.  Stroll through beautiful Hendrie Park strewn with magical Christmas lights, enjoy festive holiday music and make your way through the Candy Cane Garden to see Santa at this cabin.
More info.
Montreal Botanical Garden


The Botanical Garden is a prime location for birdwatching because the diversity and quality of trees and shrubs provide the food and protection birds need as well as a suitable habitat for building their nests.

Northern species such as chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals and goldfinches like to visit our feeding stations to stock up on corn, sunflower seeds, millet, nyjer seed, and suet, while the crabapple trees provide food and shelter for waxwings and grosbeaks.
More info.
Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens
Nova Scotia

Historic Gardens
Winter Farmer's Market
The Historic Gardens are honoured to be home of the Annapolis Royal Winter Farmer's Market, running from mid-October through mid-May.

While you visit the Winter Market, you can enjoy the Gardens as well, wandering with a coffee and croissant in hand. In the snowy season, we even have snowshoes for loan, and often a bonfire in the Main Courtyard to gather around and warm your hands! It's a great social time as well as the perfect venue to buy your weekly supply of local food products.

For the 2015-16 season, the Annapolis Royal Winter Farmer's Market will operate EVERY Saturday, 9am-12noon, from October 17 to May 14 (with the possible exception of Boxing Day December 26).
More info.