Insect hotels, buzzing gardens and bat boxes – Canada’s garden guru, Mark Cullen, says gardening has changed since he started writing his best-selling gardening books some 20 years ago.
“You can probably throw away my first book,” he joked while addressing 125 avid gardeners at the Colombo Hall on Friday night. “Today’s gardeners are more interested in growing food than growing florals.”
Cullen was in town to celebrate Trail’s Community Involvement Award, which the city won at the Communities in Bloom symposium held in Regina last fall.
“You didn’t ‘win’ the award,” he stressed. “You ‘earned’ it.”
His presentation followed the chapters in his latest book, The New Canadian Garden, which is loaded with tips for creating a vegetable garden in any space and building the best natural habitat.
He says people are becoming more concerned about the environment and high cost of groceries rather than having pristine lawns and flower gardens. And the secret to a healthy garden is making it a good home for birds, frogs, bugs, salamanders, bats and snakes.
He told folks to stop worrying about dandelions.
“They are the first food for bees in spring. If you must get rid of them, dig them up just before they go to seed.”
As for tent caterpillars, he said, “just leave them. Birds love to eat the larvae.”
Cullen also stressed that every garden should have a pond of still water so bees and birds can get a drink. To curb the growth of mosquitoes, add some goldfish, he suggested. And if they die during the winter, buy some more. “They’re cheap.”
Also, everyone should have an “insect hotel.”
In his book, he describes how to build one out of a few pieces of untreated board or plywood. Fill it with twigs, rocks, pine cones, straw, bark and anything else to attract insects.
“The base could be cored bricks to give the snakes and toads a place to sleep,” he added. “I predict that in about 20 years, insect hotels will be as common in every garden as composting is now.”
While visiting Trail, Cullen also spent a couple of hours with the Outdoor Education Class at J.L. Crowe Secondary School. The class of 40 Grade 11 students was quite interested in how Cullen got to be a Canadian household name.
He explained how he started working in his family’s greenhouse business, Weale &Cullen, while he was a teenager. His dad put him in charge of promotions.
“We were a smaller operation and didn’t have the money that some of the larger greenhouses had in the Toronto area. So, I went to a local radio station and asked to do an on-air question and answer program about gardening. I did it for free.”
From there, he developed a newspaper column, which became syndicated across Canada; more radio shows and a stint on Canada AM, plus 23 best-selling gardening books (over 500,000 books in print). For the past few years, he’s become the official spokesperson for Home Hardware, which carries a line of his own garden tools, Mark’s Choice.
Last year he was awarded Member, Order of Canada for his constant work at educating Canadians on all things horticultural.
And while a list of his volunteer work would fill 10 pages, he is most proud of his role as founding chair of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute (www.hohtribute.ca) whose goal is to plant 117,000 trees along the Highway of Heroes between CFB Trenton to Keele Street in Toronto to honour Canada’s fallen since the First World War.
Cullen also spent some time at Home Hardware, and on Saturday morning, was guest speaker at the Healthy Lifestyles Expo held at the Cominco Arena.
For any gardening questions he didn’t get to while in Trail, he invited people to seek out his blog at www.markcullen.com