Oct. 25, 1930 - April 14, 2017
"A '59 dump truck and a dream."
That's how Richard A. Salmon in 1968 referred to his new landscape design business and garden center on Dodge Road in Getzville.
"That first year was tough," he told The Buffalo News in 1992. "I unloaded the deliveries, watered the plants, sold the job by going door-to-door at night, and came back the next morning to install the job."
For the next 49 years, with Mr. Salmon at the helm, Arbordale Nurseries went on to design and install thousands of gardens at residences and businesses across Western New York. He personally designed over 25,000 gardens, said his son, Jeffrey Salmon, the current Arbordale president.
"He was thoughtful," his son said. "He wanted it to look good 15 years from now."
Mr. Salmon died April 14 in Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The cause was heart failure. He was 86.
Mr. Salmon got his start in horticulture at a young age, grafting and budding roses at Brown Brothers nursery in Rochester.
A Penfield native, he graduated from Penfield High School and married Jeanette A. Taylor in 1953.
A Korean War veteran, he was awarded a Bronze Star. After the war, he joined the U.S. Postal Service and rose to the rank of assistant postmaster.
A part-time job in 1963 with a landscape architect got him thinking he wanted to start his own firm. Mr. Salmon partnered with Bernard Stangler, owner of Land O'Trees Nursery in Williamsville, who saw potential in north Amherst, which was primarily farmland at the time.
The rezoning of their Dodge Road parcel was held up as Erie County officials debated where to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. One of the finalists for sites was nearby Muir Woods. But their business finally opened on the site of the former Lange Topsoil.
The family made a farmhouse on the site into their home and offices. A year after starting Arbordale, the entrepreneur added a small garden center, and a decade later, power products such as lawn mowers and tractors.
Despite its success, Arbordale also has had its share of troubles. For instance, virtually all of the company's buildings were destroyed by fire in the infamous Blizzard of 1977.
"It was very disheartening," said Richard Salmon told The News. "But I never thought about giving up."
Arbordale in the 1980s specialized in selling turf equipment in 17 states and in 1991 started specializing in water gardens and ponds, which continue to be its most popular offering, said Jeffrey Salmon.
"The Salmons should be involved in fishes," he said. "It just seemed right."
Construction of a new home and garden store in 1990 significantly boosted the small company, raising projected sales to $4 million from the $24,000 in receipts Salmon collected during his first year in business.
The octagon-shaped home and garden center features a consumer-friendly layout, plenty of signs, suggestions for home projects and pamphlets to answer gardeners' questions.
Mr. Salmon designed landscapes for the Twin Fair department store chain and Howard Johnson hotels. But residences gave him the most delight. He saw new homes as blank canvases, and also enjoyed restoration projects.
"That's where you can't see the front windows of the house," said Jeffrey Salmon. "You tear it all out and keep the good stuff, get rid of the bad stuff and start over with more color. Watching people's faces when they come home, we all get a kick out of that."
A signature of his designs was ensuring blooms throughout the seasons.
"He spent a lot of time on seasonal blooms so something's happening in spring, summer and fall," his son said. "It's a pretty big part of his design philosophy."
Even winter was a consideration in Mr. Salmon's mind, said his son: "'What's it going to look like in the winter? OK, we need some interesting bark. We've got to break the mold here.'"
Mr. Salmon was active at Arbordale up to the weeks before he died.
"He wasn't as active as he used to be but he was still walking around, pointing stuff out and giving the design team some sage advice," said his son.
He was a past president of the WNY Nursery & Landscape Association. In 1983, he was "Nurseryman of the Year." In 1993, the S.B.A. awarded him Buffalo Businessman of the Year.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a brother, Ronald; a sister, Shirley Jones; and two grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was said May 6 in the Newman Center at the University at Buffalo.
In a death notice in The Buffalo News, Mr. Salmon's son suggested mourners may want to "plant something in his memory in your yard."
"Now his old customers are coming in, like on Memorial Day weekend, and saying, 'Hey, I saw the note. We planted this really nice hydrangea in Dick's memory,'" Jeffrey Salmon said. "It was almost a fluke that I put that in there. I thought it might sound strange, but the feedback has just been really positive."