Tag Archives: Garden


Rewards of the Fall Harvest

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Rewards of the Fall Harvest

Sip, slurp and savour

A European folk story called Stone Soup goes something like this: travellers come to a village with nothing but an empty pot. They fill it with water, place it on a fire and a stone is dropped into it. The villagers become curious about this stone soup, and offer up other ingredients to add to it, including potatoes, carrots and herbs. By sharing a small amount of their own food, the villagers, and travellers, were able to share a meal.

Each small offering contributed to the greater good of the village, and it’s this philosophy that inspired Susan Antler to start Soupalicious. In celebration of the harvest, Soupalicious is a manifestation of what people can do when they come together for a common cause.

More than soup

Seven Canadian towns and cities host Soupalicious events. Monetary donations are directed to other important programs in the communities in which they were raised.

In Toronto, this year’s event takes place on November 3rd at the community hall of St. Archangel Michael Orthodox Church at 212 Delaware Avenue. While sipping your soup, gather information at a selection of culinary and gardening presentations, in addition to visiting the farmers’ market.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit soupalicious.ca

Fall garden checklist

It’s that time of year when you reap the fruits of your labour. However, it’s also the time of year to prepare for the next growing season.

  • Harvest fruits and vegetables that are ready. For obvious reasons, leaving them to rot on the plant is not a good idea.
  • Remove the finished compost from your existing bin or pile. Spread it over your garden and allow the earth worms to pull it down into the soil.
  • Fill, and layer, your compost bin with three parts fallen leaves and/or shredded newspaper, to one part green material, which could include grass clippings, as well as spent annual and vegetable plants.
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils and crocus. Garden retailers still offer up a good selection of bulbs, but don’t wait too long to acquire yours.
  • The autumn application of fertilizer is the most important one of the year. Use a CIL Iron Plus fall formula.
  • Clean your lawn mower and change the oil.
  • Trim cedar hedges and other evergreens in need of a haircut.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, evergreens and perennials. Take advantage of the great deals at this time of year.
  • Rake leaves off of your grass and onto your garden, where earth worms will make a meal of them.
  • Consider contacting a garden designer to have a look at your yard and, perhaps, design a plan. You’ll receive unhurried attention at this time of year, versus the busy spring season.
  • Feed the birds and do not ignore the hummingbirds. They are beefing up their internal fat stores in preparation for the long flight south.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.


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Communities in bloom, celebrating home town pride

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Communities in bloom, celebrating home town pride

Communities In Bloom promotes well-landscaped streets, businesses and homes. It also helps to facilitate environmental action, heritage conservation, overall tidiness and community involvement on all levels.

Respectful rivalry

There’s no doubt that Communities In Bloom (C.I.B.) fosters civic pride right across the country, but make no mistake – this is a competition. As it’s known by the people closest to the organization, C.I.B. functions at the provincial level first, then as a coalition from across Canada. To compete on the national level, a municipality must first win in a provincial category.

Through various programs and projects, towns, villages and cities of all sizes, encourage members of their community to showcase, and celebrate, their achievements.

Active participants

In Ontario, at CFB Petawawa, the Department of National Defence has come up with a sustainable community program that involves young people planting trees throughout the town.

In Summerside, Prince Edward Island, a group of at-risk youths have access to a program that assists them with practical, personal and community-based skills. The Youth in Bloom project was involved in developing a tranquil space in the downtown area, through the Horticulture Revitalization Plan.

In Drayton Valley, Alberta, the local football team helps to maintain the high school garden during the summer, and also assisted with the harvest and distribution of food for families in need.

As Raymond Carrier, founding president of C.I.B. likes to say, “Everybody wins. Within the context of climate change and environmental concerns, all communities involved in the program can be proud of their efforts.”

Overall benefits

It’s in our best interest to pay attention to the appearance, and to the function, of our communities. As a result, we experience lower crime rates, slower vehicular traffic, and cooler and greener streets. Gardeners are active volunteers in many arenas of civic life, including historic preservation, service groups, conservation and environmental activities.

If travelling this season, research the locations of provincial and national winners on their website. Previous C.I.B. communities include Chatham-Kent, Stratford, Gravenhurst and Port Carling.



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How to prepare and plan the perfect backyard for your clients – even if you’re not a landscaper

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How to prepare and plan the perfect backyard for your clients – even if you’re not a landscaper

Most contractors find backyard makeovers a “a pain in the butt,” says Toronto-based landscape designer Fausto Presta, so when clients ask for planning help, you’re best to at least develop a friendly relationship with a landscaper. Working with one is cost-effective, since some things are easier and cheaper to put in early, like gas and electric lines for BBQs, kitchens, outdoor lighting, or water features.

A lot depends on the client, though, says TV show host and landscape designer Carson Arthurs. He breaks down by generation: Baby boomers who like to garden and want someone to create the structure, but not the planting; hard-working Gen Xers happy to pay for someone to do the work; and “Millennials who have greater debt than the other two generations combined, and are very careful how they spend.”

However this plays out, you’ll want to have some working knowledge of basic backyard principles as well as a few of the latest trends.

Start at the beginning

Arthurs directs clients to sites like Houzz, so they can build a dream file to share with the contractor. “Often homeowners don’t know what they want until they see it,” he says. He finds they also need help with furniture and feature sizes, especially in small urban yards where space is a premium. He usually recommends they find the furniture and appliances first before designing the yard, and plan the yard around those elements.

He also recommends figuring out the privacy angles in the yard. Take a chair and sit in spots you have in mind for seating and look around. “You’d be surprised what you see – and more importantly who can see you – from that perspective.” This helps plan where the privacy hedge or fence should go.

For vegetable gardens, raised beds are the way to go. It’s easier to control the nutrients and moisture levels, plus they’re accessible for older clients.

Raised beds

If your clients are big into vegetable gardening, raised beds are the way to go. It’s easier to control the soil, nutrients, and moisture levels, plus they’re accessible for older clients. Soil in most back yards isn’t all that good and usually needs amending – raised beds offer the containment to make a good healthy soil mix.

You’ll want to site the bed where it gets at least six hours sunlight a day. Arthurs has a neat trick for determining the light levels – place a solar-powered dancing toy from the dollar store where the bed will go. Keep track of how long the toy dances to know hours of sunlight.

When it comes to building the bed, you can use pretty much anything – stone, corrugated metal, wood – as long as it works with the yard’s existing materials, says Arthurs. “But don’t forget that some materials negatively impact the soil, like railway ties, which leave toxic residue in the soil that nourishes the veg that end up on your dinner table.”

There are kits from big box stores but most landscape designers don’t like to use them because they look, well, a little kit-like. Consider instead well-placed large planters – terracotta or corten steel are two popular materials, come in any shape, and add visual interest to the yard.

Dimensions are important, Arthurs adds. “Up to eight feet long but no wider than four, because no matter how much yoga you do, that’s too big an expanse to bend over.”

Arthurs’s best tip? Line the bottom with flattened cardboard boxes. “In Canada, they’re soy-based so there’s no leeching of harmful chemicals, plus it prevents weeds from coming up through the soil below.”

Audio systems

Nothing like a little music wafting out over the deck on a lazy summer day as you’re snoozing in the hammock. Technology has made this very simple to do – just connect an app like Sonos, Spotify, or Amazon to a wireless system like Bose. Otherwise you’re into some serious wiring.

The environmental client

An environmental garden generally functions at a micro level of design – that is, it’s the kind of plants chosen – but some elements can be put in place to make that happen.

The two essentials to a sustainable garden are reducing water and pesticide use, says Presta. “Getting rid of the lawn is a start, and then choose drought-resistant plants that don’t need much water.”

Contractors can install sustainable watering systems, Presta says. “Those that spray mist use less water, and can be timed to come on at 3 am when the water will sink in the soil rather than evaporate like it does midday.”

Even greener practices include water retention systems. “An up and coming thing is taking water from the roof,” he says. “You dig a pit for a cistern then run the downspout into it. Then it needs a pump to circulate the water into the garden.”

Arthurs isn’t a fan of rain barrels, however, because homeowners tend to forget about them, because it’s difficult to circulate the water for the garden or washing the car and the water stagnates. Not a wise choice, with the reality of West Nile.

He is a fan of bee houses, though. These are manufactured for mason bees, which “don’t sting, are non-aggressive, solitary, and only lay their eggs there. But they’re great pollinators and you’re creating valuable habitat.”

The bees lay their eggs in tubes and seal the holes – the longer the tube the farther back they can push the eggs so birds can’t get at them.


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Backyard robotics

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Backyard robotics

Geeks everywhere will love the new garden-oriented robotics. The Tertill is a weed whacker designed by Franklin Robotics (the company behind indoor vacuum robot Roomba). It roams the garden looking for plants shorter than one-inch, and trims them.

Outdoor Roomba: Tech geeks and gardening freaks can finally combine their two passions.

Farmbot, an open source garden robot, runs on game-like software that allows you to plan your garden, but also set up necessary maintenance – and you can keep an eye on it all from your laptop. This is a comprehensive robot, and the price tag proves it – about $4,000 USD. You can pre-order from the website Farm.bot and orders will start shipping this September.

The Kobi (TheKobi.com) mows and picks up leaves from the yard, with an attachment for mulching said leaves. Apparently, it can also clear snow from the driveway – and thanks to its wireless connection to the weather channel, it knows when snow is coming and will start shoveling immediately.

Photovoltaic transformers seem low-tech by comparison, but are highly effective and energy efficient for operating landscape lighting.


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A burst of colour, April shows bring May flowers

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A burst of colour, April shows bring May flowers

During the month of May, local garden centres are receiving their stock of trees, flowering shrubs, evergreens, roses and perennials – often the best selection you’ll find throughout the entire year. In spring, we want magnolias, Japanese maples, flowering cherries and other ornamental trees and shrubs that offer exquisite blooms. The best quality plants are sold first, so if you’re a late spring shopper, you’ll never know the difference between the ‘best’ and the ‘next best’. In this case, the early bird catches the worm of the highest value.

Plants differ in size, colour and texture. However marginal those differences are to the untrained eye, there can be a marked difference, especially where ‘woody’ plants are concerned. Trees, shrubs, fruit trees and evergreens can vary greatly in their appearance at the time of sale. Any retail garden sales consultant will tell you that they spend a lot of time pulling out products, usually from the back of a row, in order to find the perfect specimen.

Early perennials

Barronwort (Epimedium) | They tolerate dry conditions and almost full shade, they flower for several weeks beginning in May, and they make a great ground cover under a dense tree canopy.

Pansies | We’ve planted pansies as early as the 15th of April. They will take some frost and flower best in cool temperatures (under 25°C). They love the sun (east exposure) and are available in an array of vibrant colours.

Violas | These are more frost- and heattolerant than their larger cousins – the pansy. Neither are reliable perennials, so you may want to treat them as annuals. However, they have been known to overwinter after their first year in the garden. Violas often selfseed with aggression.

Peonies | They’re not early bloomers, but they are among our favourite flowers. It’s well worth the wait (late May or early June) for them to produce an abundance of mop head, roselike flowers. They are reliable, winterhardy perennials that come back year after year. In fact, there are peonies that were planted around pioneer cabins more than a century ago that still live on. The peony is more than a perennial – it’s an heirloom.

Don’t plant peonies too deep. Prepare a hole with generous quantities of compost and 30 per cent sharp sand for drainage. Do not place soil more than 10 centimetres over the top of the highest crown bud on a bare-root plant. Divide in September.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) | Plant this old fashioned favourite in a sunny or semi-shaded garden. The hanging pink, or white, flowers of the original varieties are beautiful, but only bloom for a few short days. The newer ‘Luxuriant’ variety blooms for weeks on end, beginning in mid- June, throughout the summer and into early autumn.

Other early blooming perennials include trilliums (nursery grown, never taken from the wild), primula, tiarella, geranium and brunnera. Plan, peruse and then plant in well prepared soil.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than 2,000,000 Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening; Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.


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The living carpet Ontario is home to great turf

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The living carpet Ontario is home to great turf

In mid-April, there is little that satisfies the homeowner more than spending time outdoors improving his or her surroundings. After a long Canadian winter, even hosing down the driveway feels like a trip to Florida but we don’t recommend it as it wastes water. There are more worthwhile ventures in the yard like spending some time on your lawn.

Canadian gardeners are learning to value the lawn for what it is: the most sophisticated living ground cover known to humankind. What ‘plant’ – other than a grass plant – will take the abuses of foot traffic, dog traffic, the occasional driving over by a car, 18 or so mowings a year, will tolerate drought and stormy weather, minus 40°C weather, snow and its slow spring melt, a heat wave, and you can throw your own abuse on this list.

You can be sure that if there were a plant that could ‘take it,’ the golf course industry would be all over it. Ontario is a natural place for growing great turf. There is more sod grown per capita in

Ontario than any place on earth. Why? Because it loves to grow here. You can enjoy all of the benefits of having a great-looking lawn – including the environmental benefits – without causing harm to the environment. Most of what we have to suggest to achieve great, chemical-free results is just common sense – like watering less often, cutting your lawn at least 6 cm (2 ½ inches) high and using a low emissions, mulching mower.


A weed is a competitor first and foremost. Not the nice kind either, unless you like to walk barefoot on thistles. And being able to walk comfortably barefoot is one litmus test for a great lawn.

If a weed is a fierce competitor, then your job is to out-compete it.

Do that by thickening your lawn with fresh, top-quality grass seed right now.

Rake the area to be seeded gently with a fan rake, removing debris and loose, dead grass.

Spread good-quality triple mix (1/3 top soil, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost) or a ‘lawn-seeding soil’ over the area about 3 to 5 cm thick, being sure to fill in depressions in your lawn and even out the peaks.

Broadcast fresh, quality grass seed over the new soil at the rate of 1/2 kg per 40 m² (one pound per 400 ft²). Use a hand-held spreader or, for smaller areas, just let the seed drop from between your thumb and index finger while moving your arm back and forth in a swaying motion. Now rake it smooth with a fan rake.

Step on the seed/soil mix to bring them into firm contact, otherwise the seed risks floating down into small streams and rivulets. For a large area you will 1/3 fill a lawn roller and roll the works in two opposing directions.

Water gently. Keep watering daily until germination takes place, then every two days until you can see the seed is germinated, and then only as the surface of the soil dries. After six to eight weeks, you will only water your new lawn when you water your established lawn.


Buy the best quality grass seed that you can afford. There are times when it pays to buy cheap stuff; this is not one of them. I use CIL as it is 99.9 per cent weed-free and produced in Canada: above all, it is important to remember that the pedigree of your lawn is in the bag.

Water diligently for the first few weeks. If Mother Nature rains on your parade, give thanks — this is your day off. Otherwise, be sure not to let the seed/soil mix dry out completely until the new lawn is established.

Do it now. As the spring season progresses towards summer and day temperatures rise, so does the difficulty of starting a new lawn from seed or the thickening of an established one. After Father’s Day we suggest that it is best to leave lawn seed sowing until mid-August, if you can.

If you follow our advice here, we can guarantee you a great-looking lawn. And one that the kids can run and roll on without you having to worry.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook and Instagram


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Which type of beetles are good for your garden

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Which type of beetles are good for your garden

Know which variety of these beetles are good for your garden, and the ones that aren’t

Have you ever noticed that we tend not to think of the nuisances in life until they crop up? When we are feeling good, we forget what it feels like to be sick. When we are cold, we cannot imagine how it feels in a summer heat wave.

Same with insects. During the summer months we are plagued with mosquitoes, ants, deer flies and the like. Come winter and we have all but forgotten what it was like to have to protect ourselves from insects in summer. As we approach the end of winter, we remind you that bug season is just around the corner.


It is likely that your first reminder that insect season is about to pounce will be the arrival of Lady Bugs indoors. Come March, we will be overwhelmed with questions about these colourful little creatures. It was not always so.

As a kid, we were told not to harm Lady Bugs as they did a lot of good in the garden. All of that changed about 10 years ago with the arrival of the Asian Lady Beetle. Imported by well-intentioned people, the Asian Lady Beetle was ‘brought in’ in an attempt to use integrated pest management on a rather persistent aphid problem in soybean crops. These bugs have a voracious appetite for aphids, consuming up to 270 of them in one day.

We are sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time. However, no one thought to check these beetles out to see if they hibernate indoors over winter, multiply in biblical proportions or if they bite. All of which, they do.


As the temperatures in your home rise and as days grow longer, the lady beetles that have hibernated in your home since last fall will awaken and begin to make ‘whoopee’ in the dark corners of your house. During the day, they will move towards the sunshine, that is why you find many of them on windowsills this time of year.

Controlling the Asian Lady Beetle is not difficult for the most part. When you see large congregations of them, vacuum them up and be sure to clean out your vacuum the same day or they will just crawl out and go back to being a nuisance. Sometimes they smell odd when you vacuum them. This is their natural reaction to being disturbed and the smell will go away.

We do not recommend that you step on them or otherwise squish them as they ooze yellow stuff that smells even worse. Besides, you could end up with a yellow smear on the wall or floor that is not easy to clean up.

Control for lady beetles may be achieved with the use of white-powdered silicon dioxide. Green Earth makes a product called Slug and Bug Killer Dust that can be used around pets and children to control many household pests. Apply it on the sills of windows, along the exit through sliding doors and anywhere that they tend to congregate.

One last thing on Lady Bugs. The Asian variety (Harmonia axyridis) should not be confused with the three ‘good guys’ that are native to our land. The 7 Spotted Lady Beetle, Oval Lady Beetle and the Pink Spotted Lady Bug are great friends to the gardener and farmer. They too will consume nasty bugs like aphids, scale and other sucking insects that otherwise can do a lot of damage.

One last word on the new bug season that is ahead of us: the vast majority of bugs in your garden are beneficial. They play a vitally important role in the decomposition of raw, organic material and the general renewal of your garden each spring. For the most part, we welcome them into the garden each spring. The aforementioned bugs excepted.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches more than two million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook (facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (instagram.com/markcullengardening/).


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Engage in the art of growing

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Engage in the art of growing

More than ever, Canadians are making an attempt to shop at local farms and food markets. You only have to turn on the television and check out some of the celebrity chef programs to get a sense of the growing interest in food preparation. Growing fruits and veggies is at an all-time high.

Community gardens

These are gardens that are supported by a whole community of people. The harvest is shared with everyone who made a contribution of effort. Often a central kitchen is provided for the use by the same community. The growing interest in community gardens tells us that there is a large contingency of people who are looking for better quality produce from their own backyard.

Allotment gardens

These small areas of real estate are planted and nurtured by individuals, and are often supported by municipal government. They are great places to visit with like minded people, even if you do not have an allotment. Without a great deal of effort, you’ll witness a wide variety of garden designs and plant selections, as well as differing methods of growing and maintaining gardens.

Public gardeners have the added benefit of being able to ask questions, and observe practices and techniques that have proven to be helpful to other gardeners. Recipes are shared – not just for dinner, but also for soil preparation, and disease and insect treatment. Check out our website for growing the best tomatoes on the block.

Farmers’ markets

Real food guru, Michael Pollan, weighs in from his book, In Defense of Food. “It is hard to eat badly from the farmers’ market or from your garden. The number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the last 10 years, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the food marketplace. Buying as much as you can from the farmers’ market, or directly from the farm when that’s an option, is a simple act with a host of profound consequences for your health, as well as for the health of the food chain you’ve now joined.”

Time well spent

The expenditure of time is often viewed in negative terms when it comes to food. In other cultures, it represents a good part of the day – growing, shopping and preparing for the main meal.

As we settle into hibernation during the winter season, it’s a perfect time to think about our food culture. Swap recipes, exchange growing tips, and break bread with a host of family and friends on these long, dark evenings.

Now is also the time to start planning your vegetable garden, and to order seeds. This is the beginning of a year-long process of sowing, growing, nurturing and harvesting. More than 30 per cent of Canadians will engage in this satisfying past time. There’s nothing like seeing, and tasting, the fruits of your labour.

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


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Video: Ornamental grasses in the fall garden

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Video: Ornamental grasses in the fall garden

What not to do in the fall garden. Don’t cut down your ornamental grasses.


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In The Garden: National Tree Day

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In The Garden: National Tree Day

Plant a tree on September 26th

After much debate, a bill was passed in the House of Commons in 2011 to create a National Tree Day each year, which falls on the last Wednesday in the month of September. This year, that day is September 26th. Tree advocates everywhere can now breathe a breath of fresh air.

The Right Time

September is the best time of year to plant. You may choose to do so on National Tree Day, or any other day in the near future. However, I urge you to plant – more than one tree – and soon. The cool evening temperatures slow the growth on the top of the trees, while the warmth of summer still radiates in the soil and encourages young feeding roots to develop. The development of autumn-planted trees usually outgrow those that are planted in the spring. Come spring, your results will be nothing short of spectacular.

In addition, most retailers are clearing out their inventory at this time of year, so there’s an extra incentive to select the trees that you really want at a fraction of the cost – fruit trees, shade trees, ornamental flowering trees, native trees and shrubs.

Plant Native

Whenever, and wherever, you can plant native trees – it just makes sense. For the most part, native trees adapt well to our urban environment, they self propagate, and are disease and insect resistant. In addition, they attract nesting song birds. LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, and enhancement, of the urban forest. Visit yourleaf.org for programs and advice on making the right choice for your environment.

I recommend starting with a nursery-grown native plant. They are properly cared for while developing – after all, they are called nurseries. A field-grown tree will be root pruned before being lifted out of the ground. A container-grown tree will have all of its roots intact at the time of planting. As a result, you’ll be pleased with your investment, because it should be a seamless transition between the nursery and its new home.

Deciduous Dedications

A country-wide tree day could not exist without official tree plantings. Visit treecanada.ca for listings and events going on in your area. Or, better yet, create your own event and register it on the site.

On September 26th do something for yourself, for your grandchildren, for your community and for the environment. Plant a tree on National Tree Day, and celebrate the great work that they do – without complaints or many demands. And, celebrate the fact that we live in a country where we can.

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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