He is, simply, Canada’s Gardening guru, with an instantly recognizable face.
He’s written more than 20 books and his columns—that appear in 29 newspapers, and other publications—are read by more than two million Canadians each and every week across the country.
He’s a Member in the Order of Canada and his face is plastered on more than 150 garden-related products and, through television and other media, is a constant visitor in living rooms and electronic devices around the country.
And at the age of 61, Mark Cullen shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
He was busy in town last week to help celebrate the grand re-opening of Lloydminster’s Home Hardware, but took the time to sit with the Source for an interview.
Mark Cullen is no stranger to Lloydminster.
In fact, last week marked the sixth time Canada’s most famous gardener visited the Border City.
“I think the first time I came was in 2004 when I spoke at the agricultural grounds where they had an early spring garden festival symposium and I was the featured speaker,” he recalled during a recent sit down in the Source’s boardroom.
“That was before I joined Home Hardware, and when I did join, one of the first events I did was here at the Home Hardware in Lloyd.”
Cullen has been writing his gardening column for 25 years, and has been a fixture in the Source’s pages for the past five.
He said he’s noticed some gardening differences over the years.
“It’s changing so quickly right now,” he said.
“Kids that are gardening for the first time are gardening for food—that’s their No. 1 reason for picking up the trowel.”
It’s not just personal observations that helped Cullen come to that conclusion.
Seed sellers have told him they saw a 30 per cent increase in sales just last year.
“That’s vegetables,” said Cullen.
“The flowers, not so much.”
He said the growth in gardening can be attributed, somewhat, to the yearning for natural food, but it’s not the main reason more and more younger Canadians are washing dirt from their hands.
“People aren’t concerned so much about organic as they are about eating local and knowing where their food comes from,” he said, adding “it’s a great way to save money.”
Cullen is a third generation gardener—his son just joined the business to mark the fourth—and caught the gardening bug as a child.
“My dad was a retail gardener and landscaper in the Toronto area and that’s where I picked up the interest and eventually bought the company, then sold the company to my nearest competitor in 2003,” he said.
He joined the Home Hardware family in 2004—“We did the deal with a handshake,” he said—and is the company’s spokesperson for its lawn and garden endeavours.
“The other side of my business with Home Hardware is the Mark’s Choice line, with 160 products in the lawn and garden and birding, we do a lot of birding as well with Mark’s Choice.”
Cullen recently wrote a column that appeared in the Source about the decline of honeybees, a subject near and dear to him.
He cited mites and the possible effects of a pesticide that’s responsible for killing off the bees, a situation that seems to worsen every year.
“The point I was trying to make in the column is we’re all certainly concerned about the decline of the honeybee, but the honeybee is a European import,” he said.
“There are more that 700 native bees in Canada, but we never talk about that—we never talk about that because they don’t represent the $200 million economic engine of honey in this country.”
Cullen said part of the problem is we keep encroaching on our natural meadowlands where native flowers produce an abundance of pollen.
“People can help by planting more native plants, which, in this area, would be echinacea, a native prairie plant—I have 50 on my property and the butterflies love them when they’re in bloom.”
However, the one thing that would make the biggest impact, though, is to have a still water feature in your garden,” said Cullen.
“It’s a place for them to drink, and still water is the best for that,” he said.
“People get concerned about mosquitoes and my answer is put a few goldfish in the pond. And they will eat all the mosquito larvae—the fish have a huge appetite for them.”
Cullen was winding up his spring tour last week, and isn’t sure when he’ll return to Lloyd—but he said he hopes it happens sooner than later.
“Lloyd is friendly, everybody’s your friend. I’m always impressed by the distances they will travel. I think you look out for one another with a feeling of we’re in this together.”
Cullen was more than complimentary about Lloyd’s Home Hardware store.
“It is definitely one of the top three out of the 1,100 Home Hardware stores,” he said.
“It’s their breadth of selection and outstanding service and, where the garden is concerned, they sell more live plants than any Home Hardware in the country.”