This Westdale garden is exploding with colour and plant passion

This Westdale garden is exploding with colour and plant passion
A gardening “cold call” is risky. You knock on a door, introduce yourself, and ask whoever answers if they can talk about the garden you’ve seen from the street. Sometimes, it’s a dud.

This time, I got lucky.

In this slow and often cool spring, flower displays across the city, particularly of the early bulbs, the forsythia and the early flowering trees, have been so spectacular that some front gardens just beg to be investigated further. So it was that I knocked on the door of a home I had driven by several times in the Westdale neighbourhood, only a block up from the non-stop traffic of Main Street.

Josh Salmon's colourful front and side gardens at his Westdale home.

Here was a front garden exploding with colour, with hundreds of hyacinths in a mix of pastel shades, with urns overflowing with tall arching stems of flowers, with pansies filling up the front of beds. Clipped boxwood is terraced, with layers and levels of tight green foliage that no doubt looks as interesting in the dead of winter as it does now with new growth adding fresh subtleties of colour.

The creator of this garden is Joshua — Josh — Salmon. He showed me around his garden, explained the which, what and where of the garden design he has put into place, and showed off an uncommon knowledge of plants, their needs and how they can come together in a thoughtful design.

Pink hyacinth adorn the front garden.

Josh is principal partner in a high-end landscape design company in Toronto, commuting there four days a week. He only bought this house two years ago, but he’s been gardening since he was a boy, working with and learning from his grandfather. By the time he was a young teenager, neighbours were asking him for garden advice and now, he says, his hobby has become his business. His parents were professionals, but rather than push him toward a similar career, he was encouraged to “do what I love.”

His Hamilton garden is not a function of his business; it’s very much his personal passion for plants and gardens expressed in his private space. This is his sanctuary (that he shares with Scrappy, a ridiculously affectionate goldendoodle), and he talks about his garden with knowledge and experience — from plant disease (there’s a very nasty fungal blight attacking boxwood across North America) to favoured varieties of plants (Josh prefers reliable and unfussy Annabelle hydrangeas to the popular Endless Summer range).

Josh Salmon's dog Scrappy poses in front of a backyard sitting area.

Wrapped around the east side and a front corner of the house is the private garden — what might otherwise be called the back garden. Enclosed by fence, hedge and a brick garage, it’s hidden from the street. There’s a lovely teak dining table, a comfortable seating area, an old (verging on ancient) tree stump that is difficult to remove because of a natural gas line running through its root area. So Josh has planted a tree in the stump — a young tricolour beech that will show off its pink, green and white leaves from a height.

Josh has replaced the grass with artificial turf. This is not sports-field type turf but a premium (and expensive) product that looks and feels close to the real thing — and allows Scrappy to play fetch and do other dog things without damaging a lawn.

Hydrangeas growing in Josh Salmon's front garden.

Arborvitae cedars, yew, boxwood and privet are planted around the house and the edge of the property. The boxwood, which encloses beds and borders and stands alone as sculpted shapes, provides a classical, old-world feel to the gardens. “I wanted this to have a bit of an English look because this is a Tudor-style house,” he says. “I’m really into layers and levels in a garden. And I’m also into privacy.”

As well, Josh says, “my back garden is 99 per cent green. I like in the wintertime, which is a lot here in Canada, to look out at green as it depresses me to look at bare branches.”

The backyard fountain in Josh Salmon's yard.

Josh says he plants 800 to 900 bulbs around the house every fall. That sounds like a lot, he admits, but he has clients in Toronto’s most expensive neighbourhoods who will plant 30,000 bulbs. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“I love colour. I love coming in and out of my houses and it makes me really happy to see so many colours. But, the truth is that it is not a lot of flowers ... it’s just a strip of them at the base of a bed and around the trees. It looks like a lot because of the way I organized it. To have impact.”

Various colours of hyacinth dominate Josh Salmon's front garden.

Josh Salmon’s garden tips:

— “Get a good plan for your garden. Spend the money. If you want to save money and do it yourself, that’s fine, but work from a well-designed plan.”

— “Buy plants at a decent size.” Josh’s garden is filling in after only two years because he bought larger, mature plants.

— “Support the individual (independent) garden centres.” Josh is scornful of the quality of plants sold at big-box hardware stores and is a customer at local garden centres because he wants them — and his garden — to thrive.


Pink tulips in the side garden.

Here’s my garden tip of the month: Check out plant sales hosted by local horticultural societies.

I’ve been a fan — and a customer — of hort society plant sales for years. They invariably have an excellent selection of well-grown plants at very reasonable prices. Every group has a few “plant nerds” who grow unusual or hard-to-find varieties of plants and they always seem to donate some of those plants to the sales.

Horticultural societies are essentially gardening clubs — open to all — that are formally structured and organized because they get some funding from the provincial ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs. I’m biased: I belong to the Flamborough Horticultural Society and I’m an officer of the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society, which will be better known as Garden Hamilton. But there are equally wonderful groups in Haldimand, Burlington, Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Winona, Grimsby and others I know I have missed. Google “horticultural societies near me” to find out more and check those societies’ social media for plant sale information.

Get there early: If a plant sale starts at 9 a.m. there will be a lineup to get in by 8:30. Bring cash because many sales don’t or can’t accept plastic or cheques. Make a beeline for the plants you are most interested in and then browse afterwards. Some types or varieties of plants will be sold out 15 minutes after the sale opens.

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