Dear Garden: I have changed

Mark Cullen
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“The Green File” column

Last year at this time I wrote a column titled, “Dear Garden: I will change.” I pulled it from my files in an attempt to stimulate some thought on how, in fact, I had changed and why. I hope that this written reflection is helpful to you.

Mark Cullen at his window.

I Will Listen More

In January 2013 I wrote: “My world is full of noise. By day emails fill my head with information and planned responses. 

In 2013 I am going to be more attentive to bird song, wind in the trees and the buzz of a honeybee visiting a nearby flower. I will take more time to absorb the music of nature precisely where I find it. I will turn off my cell phone. I will leave the power equipment in the shed whenever possible.”

I changed all right. Perhaps without making a conscious attempt at listening more, it happened anyway. As the soil warmed and the month of April slipped over the horizon of time, May gave rise to more than 14,000 daffodils that I had planted on my property over the past seven years. 

On May 4, I attended a long-awaited appointment with a urologist. My GP had sent me there to get my prostate checked out as the results of recent PSA tests indicated that there may be a problem. During my brief first visit with the specialist, it was determined that more tests were recommended, which I undertook.

By mid May I had received the news that, indeed, I had prostate cancer. It was serious enough that I needed to give it immediate attention, though it was not life threatening.  When I arrived home I sat on the front porch and watched the feathered wildlife while I continued to ask questions, this time directing them to no one in particular. But the big oak tree in our front yard seemed to be listening.

I Will Create More

Last year I wrote: “One of the wonders of humankind is our ability to dream and convert dreams into something real. Gardens are the result of this ability. There is, after all, no animal that dreams and creates quite like we do. This ability can destroy nature or build it up.”

On June 13, I was admitted to hospital to undergo a radical prostectomy. Two days later I was released. The excellent staff there handed me off to my excellent wife who took me home for the six-week recovery. This journey, I was to discover, was just beginning. 

As my body took its own sweet time healing, I was instructed to not push a lawn mower, dig any holes or swing a golf club until I had the ‘all clear’ from my surgeon. My next appointment with him was six weeks away. I spent a lot more time on that front porch, watching for hummingbirds, changes in the weather, visitors pulling into the driveway, and imagining an amazing golf swing. 

But dream I did. I conjured up images of colour and cool shade: an enhanced yard and garden, without the competition of twitch grass or Canada thistles. I imagined a new plan for my acre of vegetables and a green roof over my wood shed. I discovered that when you sit and think long enough you can come up with all kinds of make-work projects. In late July my urologist told me that I am ‘cancer free’ and could move on to the ‘monitoring’ stage of the plan. 

Yes, I changed all right. Not in ways that I had predicted a year ago, nor for reasons that I anticipated. But I have changed. Through the miracle of nature's healing and modern science I am a new man, for better or worse. I am one of the lucky ones. 

I look forward to my 2014 garden with great anticipation and renewed energy. I hope that we can share this experience, you, dear reader, and me. It is up to us to get our knees dirty and feel good about it. To the men reading this, get your PSA checked annually by a doctor that you trust.

Then, perhaps, all of us will have made progress in 2014.


Mark Cullen appears on “Canada AM” every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at

Organizations: The Green

Geographic location: Canada

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