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Gardening books to curl up with this winter: Urban Growth





There is something enduring about a book. Generally, we don’t toss them in recycling after we have read them, and who would think of lining a bird cage with pages from a book?

The experience of reading a book is a deep dive into a chosen topic. Consider these:

Harley Rustad on a stump in the logged timber stand near Port Renfrew, on Vancouver Island, B.C., with the lone remaining tree: the massive and ancient Douglas fir, “Big Doug.”
Harley Rustad on a stump in the logged timber stand near Port Renfrew, on Vancouver Island, B.C., with the lone remaining tree: the massive and ancient Douglas fir, “Big Doug.”  (TJ Watt,

Big Lonely Doug. This is a story about the second-largest Douglas fir tree in Canada that is about much more than one tree. It is an education in modern forestry and an insight into how naturally occurring forests work versus the second-growth versions that are planted by the hand of humankind.

In Big Lonely Doug, author Harley Rustad paints a picture of a man who has a conscience and a heart despite his history as a forest surveyor for “big timber.” Dennis Cronin was responsible for flagging areas to be clear cut. One day back in 2011, while surveying a first-growth timber stand near Port Renfrew, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, he stopped short at the base of a massive Douglas fir. He flagged it for preservation and by doing so, he managed to change the history of B.C.’s forestry industry.

If you love trees as we do, you will be interested to learn that the forests of coastal British Columbia are denser with biomass than forests found in the tropics, where the greater heat breaks down dead matter more quickly. A fallen log in the B.C. rainforest can take over a century to break down.

Mark and Ben Cullen with their new book on the meaning of the gardening experience.
Mark and Ben Cullen with their new book on the meaning of the gardening experience.  (Special to The Star)

Rustad explains that, in 1997, a University of B.C. professor named Suzanne Simard published a study that proposed radical notions about the depth of ecological relationships in forests. By injecting a mature Sitka spruce with a harmless radioactive isotope, she was able to trace the path of the isotopes using a Geiger counter. Sugars were created by the tree in exchange for carbon dioxide, and as the sugars travelled down the tree’s trunk into the ground, they were dispersed into a network of mycorrhizal fungi, “and up into neighbouring trees. The strands of fungi were, in fact, tubes of a superhighway tunnel system, a massive underground network that connected trees together.”

Based on Simard’s groundbreaking work — pun intended — it was determined that Big Lonely Doug supported 42 smaller trees within its underground reach.

This book is a deep dive into the history of Canada’s forestry industry and the current, more hopeful situation in which Canadians on the west coast find themselves. Fact is, there is hope for the remaining old-growth forest and much of the reforested land across the country.

By reading this book, we discovered a deeper meaning for saving our forests, for replenishing clear cuts and for reforesting our cities as well.

The benefits of preserving trees and planting more of them are many. It is all in the book.

Author: Harley Rustad. Publisher: Anansi, The Walrus. $22.95

Big Lonely Doug, by Harley Ruland. ( ANANSI )
Big Lonely Doug, by Harley Ruland. ( ANANSI )

Escape To Reality. Every good book should be an escape. We wrote this one as a special escape.

We’ve been working on this book for over three years, taking time to reflect on the meaning of the gardening experience. Between us, we have the benefit of two generations of insights. Taken together with the lessons taught to Mark by his father Len and the teachings of “The Professor” — John A. Weall, Len’s mentor, counsellor and business partner during their days running Weall & Cullen Nurseries.

We are very excited about this new book: Escape to Reality: How the World is Changing Gardening and Gardening is Changing the World is about fresh, healthy food, clean air, pollinators, native plants and the benefits of the horticultural social-exchange that occurs every time a gardener sets foot in the dirt. It is also about the need to fail, the surprising places where inspiration can spring from and it is about hope.

We think every gardener should read it.

Certainly, if every Canadian did read it, we could share a better understanding of the natural world just outside our back door.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4


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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers





Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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