Growing Health & Happiness In Your Own Back (and front) Yard

Hydrangeas and hostas thrive under the Japanese maple at Dr. Almatari’s place in Jonesville.

Working outside, harnessing the miracles of nature to create beauty for all to enjoy is a key to good health for the mind and body. That is a message Dr. Abdul-Latief Almatari lives by. He spends hours just about every night working in his yard helping beautiful things grow. Everyone who passes through Jonesville benefits from his hard work and dedication, for, you see, the arrangement of beautiful roses and now vibrant gladiolas in full bloom at the corner of Main and Ely Streets are his handiwork. They are not only his, “their beauty is for everybody to enjoy,” Dr. Almatari told me during a recent visit to his home.

Dr. Almatari is seen here working on a new section of the east bank. He is driving a spike into the earth to secure this weed barrier.

Dr. Almatari estimates that he has set out about 200 tea and knockout rose bushes and nearly 6,000 gladiola bulbs in the 15 years since he first bought the house. He said, “I had a plan from the first day I moved in.” Through years of hard work, his plan is coming together nicely.

A beautiful, red tea rose opens its delicate petals to the world.

The great multitude of red blooms now encircling his yard are the progeny of only a few gladiola bulbs that he started in a small bed in back of his house years ago. He bought most of the rose bushes, but he is learning how to propagate them through experimentation. Zinnias of many different colors line most of the beds, too. A few are blooming now, but most will show their splendor later in the summer.

Though rose bushes and other flowers can be expensive, Dr. Almatari advises, “Go to Lowes or someplace near the end of the season; I buy a whole flat of them at a time for 50-80% off!” Through good care and good fortune, he hasn’t lost very many to disease over the years. “It happens,” he says, “but you just try again and eventually it will work.”

A row of young arborvitæ grow atop the east bank of Dr. Almatari’s yard in Jonesville. Many roses grow on this part of the bank, along with Japanese maples (one appears here just left of center).

Roses and gladiolas are not the only things Dr. Almatari grows in his yard. From one arborvitæ (T. occidentalis, northern white-cedar) that was there when he bought the house, Dr. Almatari has propagated several trees that now line the border of his backyard. “From this one”, he said, pointing to places he has made cuttings, “I have grown every other cedar.”

A physician-horticulturalist’s laboratory: multiple pots, buckets, and pails await new plantings as cuttings and seedlings take root nearby.

He had numerous small trees growing in pots of various sizes. “They don’t all make it, but I keep trying. The fun is in trying and trying, and then seeing it succeed,” he said, gesturing to several pots with small trees in various stages of growth or decline. “I experiment: try different things.”

I asked Dr. Almatari why he enjoys working in his yard so much. He replied, “It is good for me, good for you, good for everybody. Moving keeps the body healthy, and doing something constructive keeps the mind healthy, too.” He continued, saying, “It’s also good for the environment. It’s good for the air, for the birds and butterflies. These flowers and trees make it beautiful for everyone and everything.” I agreed with him, and he added, “Instead of a hedge or a fence, why not plant flowers, trees?” A good idea, indeed.

A panoramic view of Dr. Almatari’s place taken from the light pole at the corner of Main and Ely Streets in Jonesville.

Dr. Almatari’s place is certainly a bright spot in Jonesville, and he is generous in sharing its beauty. While we were out in the yard, a lady came walking down the sidewalk. The three of us talked for a few minutes, and she gushed, “I just love your flowers, Dr. Almatari. They are so beautiful, and I love walking by here!” Dr. Almatari thanked her and, begging her pause, said, “Just a minute.” He walked over to the gladiolas, plucked a stem decked with numerous, just-opening crimson blossoms, and handed it to the lady. “Oh wow, THANKS!,” she replied, excitedly. She walked away with a huge smile. 

These lovely pink gladiolas provide a nice compliment to the red ones seen elsewhere at Dr. Almatari’s.

I asked him if he often gives folks flowers, and he said, “Yes. I do. When people come by, and I cut roses and take them to work and to friends to enjoy.” He remarked that one of his colleagues’ birthday was the day before. “I filled a vase with roses and gladiolas for his birthday. It was a surprise, and he loved it.”

The sun began to set as we visited Dr. Almatari, who appears here, framed by his work.

Throughout his rose bed, I noticed some young Japanese maples growing healthily. I asked, “Did you start those yourself?” “Yes”, he replied, “There were two growing by the driveway when I moved here, and I’ve raised many others from their seeds.” Dr. Almatari also said that he gives the young maples away to people that want them, too. He even gave me a fine one that he had growing in a pot, saying, “Take that home and enjoy it.” He never knew that I had always wanted one.

Hydrangea flowers, like these, are indicators of soil pH. Blue flowers occur when the soil pH is acidic (around 5.5 or lower), while pink flowers appear when soil pH is neutral to alkaline (around 7.0 and up).

Other plants he has grown from cuttings or bulbs include hosta, hydrangea, and viburnum (commonly known as snowball bush). Of the snowball bush, he said, “I bought one many years ago for $10, and I’ve been growing them and giving them away as fast as I can ever since.” Viburnum is a hearty shrub that is fairly easy to propagate. Dr. Almatari made some viburnum cuttings while I was there for me to take home, as well. He is a generous man, and he truly wishes to share the beauty of plants and flowers with everyone he can.

I asked him what was the take-home message he wanted me to get across to my readers. He replied, “That getting outside and working is good for you and good for everybody and everything around. And, that you can do all of this without breaking the bank. It just takes time.” Get a vision and stick to it, in other words, don’t worry about what it looks like right now, keep your vision in mind and it will all come together. You will be healthier for it: physically and mentally. Plus, you might just bring smiles to other people’s faces, too.

Today’s world is so full of sadness, fear and despair, and working to bring beauty into it is noble work, indeed. Dr. Almatari says, “There is so much hate, hurting, and killing. We don’t work together anymore; we need to do that. We need to show that the world is still full of beauty.” With that, I could not agree more.

Dr. Almatari appears among his gladiola blooms.

Enjoy this gallery of photos from our visit with Dr. Almatari.

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