The orange trees got their annual hair cut and the clippings aren’t taken away or put into a compost pile. Instead, the trimmings are placed right underneath the trees. Sure, it looks a bit untidy, but why take this organic material away from the plant which produced it. It’s foolish to come back and perhaps fertilize it later on store bought stuff.

My grandfather (who died in 1996) did this every time he pruned or clipped. He placed the trimmings underneath the plant from which it came, believing that whatever nutrients the plant needed, the trimmings would decompose and return the exact vital nourishment back to the living plant. In the humid climate of Florida the green material broke down pretty quickly. Here in California, it takes a bit longer.  

This mulching practice, along with many others have been passed down to the next generation, is used here on the homestead.. For me, it’s normal and what comes naturally. Our grandfather didn’t know it, but he was ahead of his time. He gardened naturally, used no chemicals and garden work was always done by hand with no fancy tools. He slowly transformed a typical Florida lawn in into a tropical paradise. Sound familiar?
Jules Dervaes Sr


by Bette Smith(Tampa Tribune)

Surrounded by plants while working on his corner landscaping, Jules Dervaes is familiar figure in Beach Park. Nearly an acre of winding paths criss-cross four lots of shade oaks and ornamentals.

This Tampa native modestly gives credit for his unusual gardening to the birds who dropped many of the seeds and to his family background.

“My daddy was originally from Belgium, ” he explains. “He came to Tampa in 1902 and was the landscape architect for Tampa Electric. ”

… But his own career was never related to horticulture. Now 79, he retired 11 years ago as division manager for Chevron for 41 years.

That’s when he found that he had time and energy to spare. Though he has good luck fishing, it used to be better. But, he says that he caught eight snook this year. Fishing isn’t his only water sport.  “I used to have a boat and trained six kids how to swim and ski.”

At this stage of life, he explains with a laugh, ” You’ve got to do something. Plants don’t talk back at me.” But a lot of people do stop and talk about his plants, he says.
Sad to say, sometimes thieves come in the dead of the night. ” I had 3,000 crotons air-rooted.” He air-layers a scraped limb with wet sphagnum moss wrapped in foil and waits six weeks or so unit roots form to make a new plant. ” I planted 55 crotons. The next day they were gone.”

But numerous colorful crotons still make up a large part of his landscaping, along with jatrophas, calladiums, pepperomias, gingers, bromeliads, crinums, camellias, copperleaf, dwarf oleander and borders of liriope, purple queen and striped spider plant. At the curb some roses and daylilies bloom in the sun, bougainvilleas are clipped into a hedge and magenta mallow flowers brighten the corner, lasting only a day.
His son gave him one mallow, a perennial hibiscus that dies down in winter. It sprouts from the bottom up and roots so easily from cuttings that Dervaes now has 40 or 50 from the original.

Dervaes says he cuts the old fronds of the 15 cabbage palms next to he house because of concern about rats, but he allows other numerous sabals and queen palms to grow naturally, letting fronds fall as they may.

He says oaks and palms give shade so the land doesn’t dry out. They also protect his tender tropical from frost and cold. Buried leaves and fronds help to build his soil just as plants do in forests, he explains. Papayas grow in the less-shaded backyard, protected from the wind.

He explains that 40 trees were taken out of the wooded lots when he had the house built 28 years ago. He recalls that he and his children cleared the vegetation so dense they were surprised to find a boat hidden there. It has been stolen, police records showed.

[Comment: My father, Jules Jr., often mentions that clearing that piece of land was one of the best things that ever happened to him growing up.]

Dervaes says that he has used “not a drop of fertilizer,” depending instead on the organic matter and the original soil. He says he had three wells put in, “one for irrigation and two for the heat pump, a conservation deal.” He says all along he has been interested in conserving water, making recesses along the curb to allow water to soak in instead of running off.

His park-like setting has been described by one admiring walker as an “orderly jungle.” Dervaes explains, “I do a lot of pruning… “plants are like children, needing consideration and care. ”

In all of his expanse only a narrow strip of grass needs care. With his ready grin, Dervaes explains, “I’ve been accused of being too lazy to mow.”

[Comment: That narrow strip didn’t last long, it was replaced with an assortment of plants. Grandpa’s growing methods, natural gardening practices, and conservation of resources have been influential in our lives.]

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  1. dragonfly183 says:

    Thats very interesting. I never would have thought of leaving the clippings under the plant.

  2. Anais says:

    Glad to share this little gardening tip.

    Using the plant clipping as mulch (an eventually compost matter) over soil surrounding the plants helps the plants get back what they need. Simple and inexpensive.