Leader of the Green-Thumbed

Story by Ontario College of Trades
Photos by Kris Caetano

There are almost 300 horticultural technician apprentices in Ontario focused on making our green spaces more beautiful. Mark Cullen can, in part, be thanked for inspiring many of these apprentices—he is known as perhaps the greatest cultivator of the green-thumbed.

Trades Today: Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and how you first started working in the horticultural technician trade?

Mark Cullen: I was born in Toronto and went to school in Scarborough. I was raised in a second generation family of gardeners with my Dad, who owned Weall and Cullen Nurseries Ltd. and I worked in the family business right out of school. I spent one year at Seneca in marketing but quit to work with my dad. My one regret—that I didn’t finish college and become certified.

TT: How long did you work in horticulture and how did you end up in the position you are today – member of the Order of Canada?

MC: I worked in the family gardening business until I was 23. At that time my father turned our chain of five retail garden centres over to me to run. He said, “Here is my office, my secretary, my phone. I am going to Whitby to create my dream garden [Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village]. You know where I am when you need me.”
I was nominated for the Order of Canada for my life-long communications to Canadians, about gardening and the environment. My wife and I also sponsor 13 students each year in Ontario, mostly providing scholarships to those studying to become horticultural technicians. My career in retail gardening has led me to believe two important things: one, that we need more well-trained workers in the horticultural trade and two, that our profession provides tremendous opportunities to earn a living while enjoying many benefits that include; working outside, creativity, service, and flexible hours.

TT: Tell me more about the work you do to provide so many scholarships for students entering the trade?

MC: The Cullen Scholarships program began in 2015 and is offered through the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation, the acting foundation for Landscape Ontario. They are awarded to students involved in full-time landscape/horticultural programs at 12 colleges across Ontario. Each scholarship is valued at $2,000 plus one additional scholarship for a post-grad program for $4,000. So far, a total of almost $90,000 has been awarded to horticulture students to help them complete their education.

TT: What kind of training do think should be required to become an horticultural technician?

MC: At one time our company employed over 1,000 people and I learned that certified horticultural technicians had not only acquired important technical knowledge but they had proof of their ability to discipline themselves, to get the education in the first place. A certified horticultural technician has to stick to the process and make an effort to earn their certification. That says a lot about their character.

TT: Tell me what it’s like to be a member of the Order of Canada and about the ceremony?

MC: The day of the ceremony at Rideau Hall on February 17, 2017 was incredible and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was most impressed by the people I met and that I was able to share the experience with my wife, kids and my sister Nora.

TT: Why do you think it’s important to become certified in the trade?

MC: Finding well qualified and willing employees in the horticultural profession is a challenge for employers. When you’re certified, you are ‘pre-approved’ and you come with a high level of skill based on your education and apprenticeship training.
For more information on the Cullen Scholarships program, please go to www.landscapeontario.com.


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