Tag Archives: Mark Cullen


Garden Expert: Get Planting

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Garden Expert: Get Planting

The importance of planting the right tree in the right place

A new gardening season is ahead of us: a fresh chapter in the book of life with nature. I recommend that we make the best of it and plant some trees. It is important to plant the right tree in the right place. Here are some considerations when planting trees and my top recommendations:


Small lots and densely populated urban areas are no longer suitable places for large-growing shade trees. Here are my favourite trees that will grow no higher than seven metres and will flower and/or fruit:

DWARF APPLE TREES There are dozens of varieties of dwarf apple trees available. My favourite apple for vigour and strength is Cortland. The tree grows relatively quickly and produces lots of great mid-season eating apples.

PEARS The lowest-maintenance fruit tree out there. No need to look for ‘dwarf’ pears as a standard pear generally grows to about six or seven metres, given enough time.

CHERRIES Sour or sweet, cherries grow reliably in Toronto (zone 6). ‘Stella’ is a great choice for a sweet cherry as no partner is required to cross-pollinate, otherwise you will need two. Sour cherries are self-fruitful.

CRAB APPLE An unfortunate name for a versatile and winterhardy tree. ‘Dolgo’ produces red fruit in the fall that is suitable for canning. Otherwise, plant crab apples for their spring colour and small- to medium-stature.


For filtered shade, which will provide the cooling effect of a deciduous tree (one that drops its leaves each fall) without cutting out all of the sunshine, look for these winners:

LOCUST ‘Shademaster’ is hardy to zone 4 (Ottawa). This variety features horizontal branching, while ‘Skyline’ Honey locust produces a more upright, vase-shaped structure. Both are disease- and insectresistant and grow to a medium height of about 12 to 15 metres.

BIRCH A long-time favourite. They produce filtered shade and the lovely white bark stands out in the winter garden. Look for native birch, like Paper Birch [Betula papyrifera], as they are resistant to the dreaded bronze birch borer, which has wreaked havoc with the European birch species in recent years.


Not all deciduous trees leaf out at the same time. Birch, willow and maples are among the earliest (early May), and Catalpa and Rose of Sharon are among the latest (mid-June). For early leaf cover that lasts late into the season, consider:

MAPLE [ACER] Native sugar maples leaf out in early May and drop leaves in mid-to late October. Norway Maple, while deemed an invasive species, does leaf out marginally earlier and drops in early November. Both produce bright yellow colour come fall.

CHESTNUT [AESCULUS] A member of the orchid family. Have a close look at the flowers come early June and note that the upright panicle or ‘candelabra’ features dozens of gorgeous orchid-like flowerets. I love Chestnut trees but they are susceptible to blight, which may not kill them but creates brown-hued leaves that are not very attractive come late summer.


There are some trees that do not fit neatly into a single classification but are amazing for their own reasons. Here are my favourites:

LINDEN [TILIA CORDATA] related to native Basswood. Provide lovely, cool, dense shade. Produce fragrant (green) flowers that attract pollinators (and make great tea). Lindens are winter hardy and disease-resistant. They feature a formal ace-shaped structure that fits neatly into relatively tight spaces. There is a promenade of Lindens on the east side of the Royal Conservatory, and west side of the Art Gallery of Ontario, that will sell you on this species, if nothing else will.

JAPANESE TREE LILAC ‘IVORY SILK’ [SYRINGA RETICULATA ‘IVORY SILK’] Ivory Silk is an oval- shaped, compact tree (great for smaller lots and spaces) that blooms reliably each Father’s Day in mid-June. ‘Ivory Silk’ is winter hardy and resistant to disease and insect problems.

OAK Any oak is a great oak, but I like native Red Oak [Quercus rubra] and Pin Oak [Quercus palustris] best. Red Oak (so named as the wood is red) grows into a large 18-metre giant. There are heritage Red Oaks in High Park that are amazing. Pin Oak is narrower and more suitable for the tight spaces of urban life.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Garden Tourism

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In The Garden: Garden Tourism

It’s been said that there are two types of people in the world – those who love to garden and those who love to look at gardens. If this is the case, then introducing Garden Tourism into our lexicon, is long overdue.

Apparently, more than 27 million people who visited Canada last year, visited a public garden. We don’t have to travel far to see great gardens, as there are many in our own neighbourhoods – so get out and explore.

Close to home

A couple of years ago, Michael Gauthier came up with the Canadian Garden Route concept, and it was a big hit with train travellers. Along the Via Rail Garden Route, participants can choose to visit from a list of gardens, as they would choose their preferences from a menu in a restaurant.

In recent years, I’ve visited 11 of these gardens, and can vouch for all of them. These public attractions offer a broad appeal for casual gardeners who are only browsing, as well as those who like to get their knees dirty. I’ve listed a few of my favourites.

Butchart Gardens, B.C.

This garden is nothing short of magnificent. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why Walt Disney World used Butchart Garden as its model for the entrance into the Canada pavilion at Epcot Theme Park in Florida. When touring this treasure, keep in mind that it was once an open pit gravel mine, and that it was Mrs. Butchart who had the inspiration to convert it into a garden.

Halifax Public Garden

I haven’t visited every public garden in North America, but this destination is the best example of a Victorian-style public garden on the continent – so I’m told. This public space is located in the busy city centre of Halifax, and is, entirely, livable from all points of view.

Plan to visit in the spring, summer or early fall, as the gates are locked during the winter. The original gazebo has been replaced with a new one, in keeping with the style and period of the gardens. There’s no charge for entrance, but the quiet time that you’ll spend in this garden is, as they say, priceless.

Niagara Parks School of Horticulture

I’ve visited this garden almost every year since I joined my father in the nursery business in 1978. Not only is it a teaching facility, but it’s a public show garden. To experience something of the same calibre, you’d have to travel to Wisley or Kew gardens in England. This garden showcases the latest in garden design, the unveiling of new annuals, as well as the enthusiastic use of perennials and roses.

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens

If you’re a Canadian history buff, add this to your must-see list. The British saw fit to settle in North America for close to a century, and the French settled here and made it their permanent home. The garden demonstrates how life was lived by the original settlers in the 1600s. Seasonal crafts and food are also featured on guided tours.


Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: Birding 101

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Garden Expert: Birding 101

The do’s and don’ts to ensure the longevity of our fair-feathered friends

One in four Canadians buy bird food and/or consume ‘ birding’ products. The average amount spent is $1,000 per year. If that sounds crazy, count me as one of the crazy ones. With 14 feeding stations on my property, I spend a lot of time and money providing sustenance to my local bird population.

Most Canadian bird lovers live with the fantasy that we feed them to help the little darlings along the way. They need us. Not true. If all of us hung up our feeders in the garage, and stopped feeding the local bird population, they would be fine. We feed them to bring them to us: they are our entertainment.


However, the part about them ‘being just fine’ is not accurate. According to Bird Studies Canada (BSC), the country’s foremost authority on the subject, our bird population is anything but ‘fine.’ There are many bird species in decline. The population of eastern meadowlarks, chimney swifts, barn swallows and nighthawks are all in trouble, if the numbers mean anything. Across Canada, four bird species in 10 are in some form of long-term decline, some of them quite seriously.


After years of reviewing the facts, Bird Studies Canada has determined that birds are an excellent ‘indicator’ of environmental health and trends. BSC uses their now famous ‘citizen science’ models to help them determine how many birds are out there, one species at a time.

Here are some of the facts, courtesy of Bird Studies Canada:

  • Birds eat enormous amounts of seeds, fruits, insects and invertebrates. Changes in bird population numbers often reflect changes in less visible forms of life in nature. Put another way, a decline in some bird species may allow for an unnatural outbreak of certain insect infestations. A farm without a hawk or other raptor hovering over the fields will have far more rodents prowling around.
  • Birds are a ‘canary in the environmental coal mine.’ For example, the dramatic decline of the bald eagle population, two generations ago, was an indicator of the effects of the chemical DDT on our natural landscape. Once humans were alerted to it, we mobilized to change our behaviour.


Cats. For all of the discussion about how birds meet their demise at the ‘hands of man,’ none is more impactful than cats. I am not suggesting that you should get rid of your cat, but be mindful of the impact that a cat with claws can havein your yard and neighbourhood. Consider not letting your cat out the door, or limiting their time outdoors to the night hours when bird activity is low.

Plant native shrubs and trees, especially those that produce fruit. To maintain a healthy bird population, plant serviceberry, mountain ash, American highbush cranberry, and many native perennials that can stand upright over winter to provide food and shelter for birds.


You can help to build a database of information about birds and the bird population by joining the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 16 to 19, 2018. Take 15 minutes per day (or more) to count the birds and species in your yard or community (you can take a walk through a local park or conservation area if you like, don’t restrict yourself to your backyard). Report the numbers that you record on the Bird Studies Canada website.

This information is aggregated across the country, as it has been for many years. With these numbers, BSC can determine the increase or decline of bird populations across the country.


Another great way to get engaged and help is to count the birds on your feeder and report them to BSC on their website. Project Feeder Watch was instigated by Bird Studies Canada in 1976. Through a partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology as their U.S. partner, they have expanded the program to cover the entire continent. The program occurs from November through April (so there is no better time to get started than now). For details of both programs, visit birdscanada.org.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @ MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Winter Pleasures Birds Can Be Picky About Their Food

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In The Garden: Winter Pleasures Birds Can Be Picky About Their Food

Birds can be picky about their food – even in foul weather

There are few things that delight me more than watching the birds in my yard during the winter months. At this time of the year, I’m so grateful that I resisted the temptation to cut down the ornamental grasses in the fall, as the birds so enjoy the seed heads.

My suet cage is always emptied. While I keep it full year-round, the Downy woodpeckers love to hack away at it in the winter, as they do their best to accumulate fat and carbohydrates to keep warm. If you have problems with unwanted birds raiding your suet cakes, try using an upside-down suet cage. Woodpeckers love to feed on their backs, unlike ‘bully birds’ like the Grackles and Blue Jays.


Especially if there’s a snow fall, keep your bird feeder full throughout the winter. Hungry birds have fewer options for food sources. Many birds will kick out the corn in search of their favourite seeds, like high quality millet, black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts. Birdseed producers love to load up their mixes with cracked corn as it attracts the bird feeding public, and it’s cheap.

Like lawn fertilizer, you get what you pay for with birdseed. There are some good quality mixes around for an attractive price, but take a good look at the mix before you make your purchase.


I like to put out a peanut feeder – the kind that takes shelled peanuts. These tend to attract the Blue Jays and the woodpeckers. When the Downys frequent the yard, they add their own characteristics like their distinct colouring and squeaks – that’s right, they don’t chirp, they squeak.

As for the Blue Jays, they are often in search of the whole peanut – for bird consumption, make sure they’re not salted. No sooner do I place some on the platform outside the kitchen window, then one giant Blue Jay announces to the others that they’ve arrived. The neighbouring jays arrive in droves, swooping and squawking at each other, taking their turn at the feeding platform until they’re all gone. They remove each peanut and take it to the high branches of a tree and peck out the good stu , and then drop the shell to the ground with a perfect little hole in it. Then they take the peanut meat and jam it between the branches of trees all over the neighbourhood for later consumption. I am told, on good authority, that this sustains them through the cold and the now.

Personally, I don’t like Blue Jays well enough to feed them peanuts all of the time. They’re big, and they’re bossy. I often wait until we’re expecting company, and then I’ll put out some peanuts, and without exception, visitors comment on the busy Blue Jay population in our yard.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

Create biodiversity in your yard to ensure a growing population of pollinators

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~LAO TZU

I made several insect hotels in my wood working shop for some of my gardening friends. They were received graciously but, at the same time, with a common query: “What IS it? What does an insect hotel do? What kind of insects will it attract? Are they all good for my garden?”

An insect hotel encourages insects to visit and reside in your yard. It can be as simple or as complex as you choose. There are many designs for insect hotels, and if you are a creative type, you can create your own.

Clearly, this discussion has a long way to go. It started with concern about the decline in the honeybee population, and has extended to the general concern shared by naturalists everywhere about the problems with our native population of pollinators.

We are no longer concerned exclusively with the decline of honeybees. Truth is, there are over 700 species of native bees (honeybees are not native) that serve as primary pollinators ‘out there’ in the natural environment, many of which you can attract to your yard with an insect hotel. In addition, there are thousands of other invertebrates that either pollinate over 30 per cent of the plants that we rely on for food, or are essential members of the web of insects that make up the whole show.

Take a winter moment to digest the following and you will be on your way to understanding the whole, big picture.

1. UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF BIODIVERSITY. The word comes from ‘biological diversity.’ WWF defines it as, “The term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.” Biodiversity in your yard is represented by the range of naturally occurring plant, animal and insect life that exists in it. There is much that you can do to increase biodiversity, or the range of life in your yard.

2. PLANTS–PACK THEM IN. Do not underestimate the impact that you can have on the beneficial insect life in your neighbourhood by planting flowering plants. The longer each plant produces a flower, and the more of them, the better. If you have a minimum of six hours of sunshine in your garden, you are in luck. The varieties of plants available to you are nearly limitless. If you are dealing with shade, you also have opportunities to plant flowering plants galore, but you will need to be more thoughtful about your plan. In either case, place your plants densely to attract the maximum number of pollinators.

3. GO NATIVE…OR NOT. A recent study in England indicated that it is not important to a bug that a plant is native, if it produces a blossom that attracts them in the first place. According to the results of “The Plants for Bugs Pollinator” research, it is the diversity of plant material that attracts the maximum range of bug species, not whether they are native. To quote the study, “The value of a site can be maximized for pollinators by choosing plants from different regions of the world.”

4. ADD WATER AND DON’T STIR. Adding a still-water element is the single most impactful feature that you can add to your garden or balcony for attracting pollinators. A pond in the yard or a half-barrel on the balcony works just fine. When you add a water feature, I can guarantee that you will discover wildlife in your yard that you have never seen before. As dragonflies, salamanders, frogs, toads, water beetles, amphibians, mammals and bugs discover your new drinking hole, they will grow, thrive and breed.

We are only beginning this discussion about the importance of creating biodiversity in our yards and gardens. As I look in to the crystal ball, I see the interest in attracting pollinators and creating biodiversity in Canadian gardens as growing steadily.

DIY INSECT HOTEL: Use natural materials and arrange them in such a manner that insects find attractive and move in. NB. They don’t like a sanitized environment. Instead insects like messy and thrive on clods of rotting leaves, rough-cut lumber, or better still, a stack of rotting, split firewood.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Last Minute Gardening Must-Dos

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In The Garden: Last Minute Gardening Must-Dos

For those of you who thought you were done with your lawn and garden responsibilities for the year – think again. Here’s a last-minute check list.

Fertilize the lawn

This is the best time of year to apply the most important application of lawn food. Before it goes to sleep for the winter, your lawn will absorb the nutritional benefits of a fall feed. Nutrients and sugars are stored in its roots in anticipation of the long, cold winter ahead. Choose a fertilizer with a slow release nitrogen (which is the first number), and high potassium (the third number), like 12-0-18.

Wrap the cedars

Cedar trees that are close to the road, especially those that are located on the east side where they are susceptible to the salt spray carried in the westerly winds, are the most vulnerable. To prevent permanent damage from the salt, wrap them in a layer of burlap, and then wrap them a second time. The two layers protect them from drying out – especially those that feel the brunt of the winds from the west, and from the north.

Organic composting

Ideally, all the leaves have now fallen from your trees, and you’ve raked them off your lawn and on to your gardens. If you have a compost pile or bin, now is an excellent time to empty the contents of it on to your garden. Spread it with a rake and let it sit there over the winter. Come early spring, earthworms will pull the raw compost under the surface of the soil and convert it into nitrogen rich castings.

Protect fruit trees

Mice and bunnies can do quite a bit of damage by nibbling away at the bark of fruit trees that are less than six years old, especially if we get an average dump of snow this winter. Wrap each tree with a plastic spiral that extends about one metre up the trunk, from the ground. After the tree has aged for more than six years, the trunks of most trees become too tough for rodents to enjoy.

Refresh and renew

Protect rhododendrons and other wind sensitive evergreens, like taxus (yews) and boxwood, with one application of Wilt-Pruf – it helps to prevent the drying effects of the wind, as well as the low humidity that we experience during our Canadian winters. Hang on to the leftovers and apply Wilt- Pruf to your freshly cut Christmas Tree. It works better than any other preservative that I’m aware of.

Clean the bird feeders

While I don’t anticipate seeing any hummingbirds until mid spring, there still may be wasps around at this time of year. Therefore, make sure to bring in the hummingbird feeders, and clean them in warm, soapy water. All bird feeders should be cleaned to help reduce the risk of disease.

Now that you’ve battened down the gardening hatches for another year, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: In The Food Garden

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Garden Expert: In The Food Garden

Cooler temperatures still yield garden goodness.

I have been thinking about food a lot lately. Every time I go out into my 10-acre garden, I am reminded that the food I grew with such pride through the summer is melting away into pockets of rot. But I am here to tell you there is an encore happening in your garden, and the celebration is not quite finished. It won’t be, in fact, for another few weeks.


Leeks are running my life these days. I grew more than I expected on account of when I sowed four packets of their seeds, I had 110 per cent germination (an impossibility, I know, but this is how it feels to be successful in the garden). Every gardener has had this experience. Leeks enjoy the cold, especially temperatures below freezing. They get bigger and better by the day.


Carrots are much the same. “Bring on the cold weather,” they say to one another as they huddle shoulder to shoulder in the cold, sandy soil. I suggest that you dig them soon and put them in bushel baskets of dry sand to hold them over the next couple of months in your garage or cold cellar. They can carry on their discussion there while waiting for you to bring them to the table.


You will no doubt be picking up a pumpkin at your local food retailer or farmers’ market soon. I suggest that you keep it on your porch or in your garage until Halloween just to prevent it from being hit by frost and going gooey and rotten before the big day.

I remind you that pumpkins are 90 per cent water. Therefore, throwing them out or disposing of them at the end of your driveway makes no sense. Think about all the garbage trucks in early November that are driving around with large, orange vegetables: neat packages full of water. It makes more sense to place it on the surface of the soil in your garden and let Mother Nature rot it down into something useful. In time it will assist in building microbes and organic matter there.


The whole routine of planting and harvesting garlic is counterintuitive. You plant the cloves now in open, welldrained soil. Come July, they will sprout a long stem with a pigtail and flower on the end of it: this is called a scape. Three or four of these sell for big bucks at the farmers’ market in July, so cut and use them. Every part of the garlic plant is edible, so be creative and use the flowers in salads or whatever you are cooking on the barbecue that time of year. Harvest the garlic in August and leave the bulbs in the sun for a few days. Then tie the stems together and hang them in a cool, well-ventilated place until you are ready to use them in the kitchen.


If you had a great crop of raspberries this season, now is the time to cut them down by removing the canes that fruited this summer. Cut the woody stems to the ground. Leave the young growth that occurred in August to mature and produce fruit next season. If you have fall-bearing raspberries, then finish picking and cut down the fruiting canes next spring.


If you have a large rhubarb plant in the garden, now is an appropriate time to dig it up, divide it into smaller root portions and replant it or give away some of the divisions. This is also true for hostas, daylilies, monarda, and many other perennial flowering plants.


Strawberries that have been in the same soil for three years or more are ready to be dug up, separated, and moved to new ground. Make sure that their new home is completely weed-free at the time of planting or you will regret it. Weeding strawberries is not my favourite job.


Spring is when the new plants are available for sale and therefore planting. However, if you have an established clump, now is an appropriate time to make sure that it is weed-free. Let the leaves and stems stand over winter. They will help to accumulate snow as a natural insulator and they add some interest to the winter garden.

It may be late in the gardening season, but don’t forget that the garden still needs some of your attention.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden, published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Raided in a Bed

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In The Garden: Raided in a Bed

Tuck plants in for an extended season.

If you’re thinking of building a raised bed in your yard, urban gardener Tara Nolan has the answers to all of your questions. Nolan is an authority on this subject, and with all the changes in the business of gardening over the recent years, it’s great to have a comprehensive, go-to book on this very popular topic.

Early autumn is the perfect time of year to get handy and build a raised bed to plant in for this season, or in preparation for spring.

There are caveats to the raised bed phenomena. The roots of winterhardy plants are exposed to excess cold in the depth of winter. With this in mind, choose plants that are hardy in a planting zone one above your own. For example, plant winterhardy plants that are rated for Zone Five in a Zone Six Toronto garden.

Raised beds also tend to dry out more quickly than ground level beds. On the positive side, this can decrease the likelihood of over watering, which is at the root of 90 per cent of all plant problems. However, you do have to be vigilant about watering especially during hot, dry weather.

Tara Nolan is a Canadian writer. Her book is a comprehensive treatise on the subject, with a third of the book dedicated to DIY raised bed projects.

Raised Bed Revolution – Build It, Fill It, Plant ItGarden Anywhere is published by Cool Spring Press.

Why build a raised bed?

In her book, Raised Bed Revolution – Build It, Fill It, Plant It…Garden Anywhere, Nolan dedicates 12 pages of reasons as to why you might want might to build a raised bed for your veggies and ornamentals. Here are some of my favourites.

  • Season extension
  • Start earlier, harvest later. The soil in a raised bed warms up quicker come spring. If you have a glassedin structure around a raised bed, or use white Reemay cloth, you can extend the season for several weeks.
  • Control soil quality
  • People frequently ask me what they should do with clay soil. They’re never happy when I advise them to dig out 30 to 40 centimetres of the clay soil and replace it with 50 to 60 centimetres of new triple mix. When you build a raised bed in your yard, you don’t have to dig down and remove the soil. Fill the raised bed with the best quality, weed-free soil that you can get your hands on.
  • Accessibility
  • At Wind Reach Farm (a centre designed to meet the needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities in Ashburn, Ontario), I saw some of the most practical, and handsome, raised bed gardens for wheelchair gardeners. If this is a consideration, be sure to design a wheelchair garden with a wraparound feature for the plants on the left, and a shelf for shallow rooted plants on the right, so that the gardener can belly up to the garden with their legs safely nested underneath.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: A Few of My Favorite Things

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Garden Expert: A Few of My Favorite Things

Mark singles out some of his preferred garden performers

It’s late summer and the autumn planting season is on our threshold. Soon, we’ll be tempted by the new plants that growers deliver to retailers. We will be drawn to their colour and fragrance; the pollinators in our neighbourhoods will be drawn in as well. Bees, songbirds, hummingbirds (back from a vacation in the Boreal forest), and of course, butterflies will enjoy our new additions, no doubt.

In my ongoing efforts to help you prioritize your plant-buying decisions, here are some of my favourite garden performers:


HYDRANGEA [Arborescens]

When we built our home in my dream garden eight years ago, I had an image of a giant mass of Annabelle hydrangeas nesting their metre-high blossoms at the foot of our front porch.

To accomplish this, however, I had to plant big. Twenty-seven new plants were placed about 80 cm apart and nurtured into a mass planting that when they grew in, came very close to the mental image that I had of them before I put them in the ground which, frankly, seldom happens.

Annabelle hydrangea was introduced around 1888 and stands as a stalwart perennial shrub bloomer. Virtually no insects or disease are a problem and they stay put for the most part, not travelling across my yard seeking to take over like many other perennials do.


BLACK-EYED SUSAN ‘GOLDSTURM’ [Rudbeckia fulgida]

‘Goldsturm’ was named the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year. It blooms for up to three months. Three months! What perennial does that? And has virtually no enemies in the bug and disease departments. I do get some aphids on mine from time to time but I just blast them with a stream of water from the end of the hose to fix them. They love the sun, grow to 60 cm tall and they do spread from year to year. I find that I can control their spreading habit by cutting out the new root with a sharp spade in spring.


SPEEDWELL [Veronica]

Another perennial that comes back year after year in my garden, only this one gives me two seasons in one. It produces a 50 cm spire of blue flowers in early to late July, which I cut off with hedge shears the first week of August. Then they re-flower in September and the flowers last even longer, due to the cooler temperatures that time of year. You can cut Speedwell flowers and bring them indoors. Hummingbirds and honeybees like them.


STONECROP [Sedum and sempervivum]

I performed an experiment with these indestructible plants three years ago. I used the roof of a garden shed on my property as a garden in which I planted the lowest maintenance flowering perennials known to humankind: sedums and sempervivums. The results were a little slow in coming but now, in the third season on my shed roof, they are a showstopper. I planted about 12 different varieties, each blooming at slightly various times for a succession of bloom. The first year, I watered and weeded quite diligently, last year much less so, and this year I have done nothing. They have rooted in and provided a great show with virtually no work. Plant them in containers, rock gardens, wall planters, and of course on your roof. They like a soil medium that is at least 40 per cent sharp sand and 60 per cent compost/soil.



I have lost count of the number of hosta plants that I have in my 10-acre garden. Lots. And I love them all. This family of broadleafed perennials includes some mammoth varieties. Sometimes their name says it all: ‘Wide Brimmed Hat,’ ‘Big Daddy,’ ‘Skywalker,’ and ‘Blue Mammoth.’ Others are very small and considered appropriate for the hosta collector but otherwise these may get lost in your garden. Look for ‘Flash Forward’ and ‘Blue Mouse Ears,’ which only grow to 15 cm high and wide.

My real favourites are the tough ones that tolerate shade, thrive in the sun, and can take the competition of mature tree roots. One of my favourites is ‘Halcyon,’ featuring bluish leaves and August flowers. Another is ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ [the 1998 American Hosta Growers Hosta of the Year] featuring a long-flowering plant in July/August that smells wonderful with lime/ivory leaves. Grows to 50 cm high and wide.

With over 7,000 varieties in the hosta family, there must be a few that would appeal to you. The flowers of hostas all attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. Another bonus.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Stay-Cool Gardening

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In The Garden: Stay-Cool Gardening

Whether you follow the farmers’ almanac, the pundits of global warming, or listen to the long range forecast, this summer is bound to be a hot one. So, the burning question is, “How do you enjoy a great-looking garden in the heat?”

You can train plants to expect water only when the soil around their roots dries to three to five centimetres below the surface of the soil. Of course the amount will vary from plant to plant, but the point is that if you water your garden a little bit at a time, the roots stay up near the surface of the soil and wait for you to stand at the end of your hose each evening. It may be water therapy for you, but its bad training for your plants. This rule is equally true for perennials, annuals, veggies, and even the shrubs and trees on your property – not to mention your lawn.

Plants that are watered infrequently, and deeply, will send down roots in search of moisture.

Plants that are watered infrequently, and deeply, will send down roots in search of moisture as the temperature rises, and the timing between summer rainfalls stretches from days into weeks.


Don’t water your lawn at all in a drought situation. Save yourself the time, expense and the resources that are required to cut your lawn when its actively growing. Yes, it will become brown and dormant, but it will not die. Dormant is the equivalent of sleeping.

Come mid-August your lawn will wake up as days get shorter, evening temperatures fall and the morning dew increases. This is the reason why every sod grower in the province (and there are many) sow their seeds for the next crop between the middle of August and the end of September.


Trees need water too – more so when you think back to the weeks of below normal rain fall that we experienced last summer. Apply water to the root zone of both young and mature trees by placing a hose at the base of the tree with just a trickle of water coming out. Leave it there for three to four hours.

If you have trees on your property that were planted within the last three years, watering them is critical at this time of year. A mature, 20-metre-high maple tree transpires more than 500 litres of water on a hot day, so its important to get water down to its roots. The tree that grows on the boulevard also needs water. Even though it may be owned by the municipality, consider it your responsibility and give it healthy drink.


A six- to eight-centimetre layer of finely ground cedar or pine bark insulates the soil from the drying effects of the sun and the wind. This layer of mulch can reduce the need for water by up to 70 per cent, and is one of the best monetary, and timesaving, investments that you can make for your garden.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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