An important hobby for many Canadians and one that is increasing in popularity is gardening. “I have a firm belief that the gardening industry is getting bigger,” says Mark Cullen, President of Well and Cullen Garden Centers. Mark is well known across the country for his gardening expertise and from his syndicated radio show and TV program on Better Homes and Garden Television.
“This is an exciting time to be in the gardening business,” he says. “We are seeing a growth in demand. We are also seeing younger gardeners in their twenties and thirties embracing gardening – especially first-time homeowners.” Cullen notes that the business is also getting very competitive as mass retailers and others compete for a share of the pie. He notes that the focus of his company is on providing outstanding customer service and answers to their customers’ questions, especially in the area of plant selection and plant health.
To maintain a beautiful and healthy garden and home landscape, gardeners turn to a variety of tools to control pests that can otherwise damage sensitive plants. One of the key tools used is pesticides.
Cullen has seen a trend, particularly with younger gardeners, toward more environmentally friendly pest control solutions. This includes ready to use formulations of lawn and garden pesticides as well as organic pest control products. “People do not want concentrated products on their shelf, and they want to ensure that their pets and children are safe.” He notes that retailers are responding to consumer’s concerns by selling more ready to use products as well as organic and other non-synthetic products. He also sees homeowners embracing some principles of integrated pest management in terms of spot spraying only where there are weeds or insect problems.
Cullen himself combines a variety of tools including cultural, organic, and where needed, pesticides in his approach to gardening. He sees an important role for pesticides in terms of being one of the tools available for gardeners. Believing that consumers should look very closely at the toxicity of the products they are buying – whether synthetic or organic. “It is important for consumers to continue to educate themselves on what is safe to use,” says Cullen. “There are some synthetic pesticides that are in fact safer to use than some organic products out there.” He says that toxicity should be the criterion for use instead of labeling a product as either being a synthetic chemical or not.
In terms of safety, Cullen says he is confident in the safety of pesticides when they are used responsibly. “We know that our regulators in Ottawa operate to more stringent standards than in any jurisdiction in the world. This gives me confidence in what we are selling when it is used as directed.”
Cullen notes that the debate around pesticides is a complicated issue and that some special interest groups and even politicians try to make it a clear black and white situation when it is not. A balanced approach is needed with both sides playing a role in the debate. “It is unfortunate that the pesticide industry is dismissed outright as biased, as the industry does have credible information to offer.”
To ensure that pesticides or other products they sell are used properly, Cullen’s staff focuses a great deal of time on education with their customers. “We actively support all the products we sell and provide our customers with the information they need to use these products properly. Most consumers lead busy lives, so they trust our staff to make the recommendations that are right for them.”