This Westdale garden is exploding with color and passion for plants

A cold call in horticulture is risky. You knock on a door, introduce yourself and ask who answers if they can talk about the garden you saw from the street. Sometimes it’s a dud.

I got lucky this time.

In this slow and often chilly spring, flower displays across the city, particularly early bulbs, forsythia and early blooming trees, have been so spectacular that some front gardens are just crying out for a closer look. So I ended up knocking on the door of a house I’d passed several times in the Westdale neighborhood, just a block off the busy Main Street.

Here was a front yard exploding with colour, with hundreds of hyacinths in a mix of pastels, with urns overflowing with tall curving flower stems, with pansies filling the front of the beds. Pruned boxwood is terraced, with layers and tiers of dense green foliage that no doubt looks just as interesting in the dead of winter as it does now, when new growth adds fresh nuances of color.

The creator of this garden is Joshua – Josh – Salmon. He took me through his garden, explaining which, what and where of the garden design he did and showing an unusual knowledge of plants, their needs and how they can come together in a thoughtful design.

Pink hyacinths adorn the front yard.

Josh is a principal partner at a high-end landscape design company in Toronto and commutes there four days a week. He only bought this house two years ago, but since he was a child he has been gardening, helping and learning from his grandfather. Neighbors asked him for gardening tips when he was a young teenager, and now, he says, his hobby has turned into a career. His parents were professionals, but instead of pushing him towards a similar career, he was encouraged to “do what I love.”

His Hamilton Garden is not a function of his business; it is very much his personal passion for plants and gardens that is expressed in his private life. This is his sanctuary (which he shares with Scrappy, a ridiculously affectionate Golddoodle), and he speaks with knowledge and experience about his garden – from plant diseases (there’s a very nasty fungus that affects boxwood trees across North America) to favorite plant varieties (Josh prefers reliable and unfussy Annabelle hydrangeas to the popular Endless Summer range).

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

Around the east side and around a front corner of the house is the private garden – what might otherwise be called a back garden. Enclosed by a fence, hedge and a brick garage, it is hidden from the street. There is a beautiful teak dining table, a comfortable seating area, an old (almost ancient) tree stump that is difficult to remove because a natural gas pipe runs through its root area. So Josh planted a tree in the stump – a young tricolor beech that will show off its pink, green and white leaves from above.

Josh replaced the grass with artificial turf. This is not sports turf, but a high quality (and expensive) product that looks and feels like the real thing – and allows Scrappy to play fetch and do other dog things without damaging a turf.

Hydrangeas grow in Josh Salmon's front yard.

Arborvitae cedar, yew, boxwood and privet are planted around the house and the property line. Enclosing beds and borders and standing alone as sculptural forms, the boxwood gives the gardens a classic, old-fashioned feel. “I wanted it to look a bit English because it’s a Tudor style house,” he says. “I’m really into layers and planes in a garden. And I also like privacy.”

Josh also says, “My backyard is 99 percent green. In winter, which is common here in Canada, I like looking at the greenery as it depresses me to see bare branches.”

The garden fountain in Josh Salmon's garden.

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 neighborhoods who will be planting 30,000 flower bulbs. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“I love color. I like going in and out of my houses and it makes me really happy to see so many colors. But the truth is, there aren’t many flowers… it’s just a strip of them at the foot of a bed and around the trees. It looks like a lot because of the way I organized it. have an effect.”

Various colors of hyacinths dominate Josh Salmon's front yard.

Josh Salmon’s Gardening Tips:

— “Create a good plan for your garden. To spend money. If you want to save money and do it yourself, that’s fine, but work from a well thought out plan.”

— “Buy decent-sized plants.” Josh’s garden fills up after just two years because he bought larger, mature plants.

— “Support the individual (independent) garden centers.” Josh disregards the quality of the plants sold at big hardware stores and frequents local garden centers because he wants them – and his garden – to thrive.

Pink tulips in the side garden.

Here is my gardening tip of the month: View plant sales hosted by local horticultural societies.

I’ve been a fan – and customer – of the Hort Society’s plant sale for years. They invariably have an excellent selection of well grown plants at very reasonable prices. Each 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 sell.

Horticultural societies are essentially garden clubs – open to all – formally structured and organized because they receive some funding from the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. I am biased: I belong to the Flamborough Horticultural Society and am a board member of the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society, better known as Garden Hamilton. But there are also wonderful groups in Haldimand, Burlington, Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Winona, Grimsby and others that I know I’ve missed. Google “horticultural associations near me” to find out more and browse these associations’ social media for information on plant sales.

Be there early: If a plant sale starts at 9 a.m., there is a queue until 8:30 a.m. Bring cash as many outlets cannot or will not accept plastic or checks. Make your way to the plants that interest you the most and browse for them. Some plant species or varieties are sold out 15 minutes after sales open.

Rob Howard lives and works in Hamilton. He is a garden author, speaker and garden coach. You can reach him at or on Facebook at Rob Howard: Garden Writer.


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