While going through our family history chest, Jordanne came across this 1979 article about our grandfather. While our grandfather grew tropical and ornamental plants, we’ve taken that growing background/experience and have for the last 30 years focused on growing food.

I would like to share some excerpts (with a few of my little ad libs):

Wrong Is Right, For Croton King

The Tampa Tribune
by Panky Snow

Sunday February 11, 1979

According to the book, the man is doing everything wrong.

He doesn’t put commercial fertilizer on his plants. He admits that he waters them only occasionally. He doesn’t even know their botanical names. He didn’t even cover them when it snowed in Tampa two years ago. [Sheesh, I can remember this freak snow storm.]

It really is a shame about Jules Dervaes [Sr.]

All he has to show for his “neglect” is a yard full of some of the most beautiful crotons in Florida.

And, a yard full means in the neighborhood of 2,000 crotons. [Crotons so beautiful folks would up and steal them during the night!] Dervaes has between 40 and 50 varieties covering almost 60 percent of his one-and-a-half acre lot in Beach Park.

“When we had this house built [Jules Jr as a kid helped his father clear the land by hand – it was hard work!], I already had planned to put in crotons, ” he explained. “My dad was in the nursery business and he taught me how to air layer them. I knew grass would not grow too well because there are 80 oak trees and 150 cabbage palms on these four lots.” [Our grandpa made sure when they were building the house to save 99% of the existing oak trees.]

“I have never bought a plant, even palms. When something dies, the birds or squirrels bring something else to replenish it and occasionally, somebody gives me a cutting.”

Disclaiming the fact that two green thumbs are needed to grow such magnificent crotons, Dervaes says they require instead, a lot of loving care.

“They are just like children. If you don’t care for them, love them, they will not flourish,” he said.

You may ask if this is the same man who doesn’t water, fertilize or cover his plants. It is – but there is a reason for his apparent lack of attention.

Because of the many trees, very little direct sunlight filters through to the crotons. The trees also help the yard reclaim moisture and protect the crotons from frost damage. Helping to keep frost to a minimum is the fact that Old Tampa Bay is only a block away and there is a creek running behind the Dervaes’s backyard.

… And as for fertilizer — who needs it with a yard like Dervaes’? When a strong wind blows down leaves and branches, he gathers them, along with his raked-up leaves into a large compost pile. [Grandpa was a compost maniac. I remember collecting bags of oak leaves with him.] As they decay, he sifts the debris through a large framed screen, then mulches [Grandpa mulched religiously] his plants with the compost. All orange peelings and pulp are thrown on the ground around the plants, too. Dervaes feels the acid helps the soil.

Although he has not watered his yard for two months, the plants obviously get enough moisture and fertilizer the natural way. [Yeah!]

… It’s obvious that Dervaes spends a lot of time in his yard, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t do the conventional things with his plants. [Grandpa was a non conventional sorta guy.] The native of Balast Point retired as a division manager of Standard Oil Company after 41 years with the organization. [Hmmm, is that where Justin gets his biodiesel brewing passion from?] However, even before his retirement, the yard was his domain, just as his wife, Lisette, claims the kitchen as hers. [That’s where we gals get our passion for baking and cooking.]

As least one neighbor has facetiously threatened to visit the Dervaes yard with a chain saw some dark night just so he won’t be shamed into spending the same amount of time in his yard as Dervaes does in his. [Grandpa’s yard was amazingly beautiful – folks would drive by just to look at the lovely oaks hanging with moss, colorful crotons and luscious tropicals. Oftentimes Grandpa would be working in the yard and folks would mistakenly take him for the gardener. They’d ask, “Who’s the owner?” To their surprise, he would answer, “I am.”]

Dervaes said he hopes his interest in nature will be perpetuated by the couple’s six children.

There are certainly similarities!

Sadly, Jules Dervaes Sr passed away in 1996 – never seeing where his passion and purpose have taken the next generation. I think he would be proud, and we dedicate our website and work to this extraordinary man.

No Comments

  1. Ginny says:

    What a nifty article! And what wonderful memories! Thanks for sharing. 😀

  2. Amy says:

    What a great article, and so neat to see the legacy you grandfather left behind 🙂 I’ve been thinking alot lately about getting my kids more involved in gardening. The spring section of our homeschool science is all about plants so we’ll be getting down and dirty in the yard for lots of hands-on experience!

  3. Anais says:

    Greetings Ginny & Amy

    Thanks for your comments. I enjoyed digging up some of the family history!

    Amy – your homeschool project sounds fun. Kids love getting dirty and what better incentive/excuse to get dirty by growing their own food.

    Happy plantings!

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