Should you make your way down Madison Street, you’ll find the home of the Urban Naturalist Marcus Descant and the third of an acre he cultivates. The garden center offers environmentally friendly products and solutions for Acadiana gardens that work within our unique ecosystem.
“Most of my customers do realize it is an ecosystem you’re assembling,” said Descant. “It is a complex machine if you grow things for yourself.”
Descant said his most successful farming friends operate on small patches of land, rich in diversity. Plants native to the region which cross-pollinate promote overall abundance with ease, such as with bell pepper, zucchini and squash.
“You implement native prairie plants and get a more complete system. You don’t build a car with a tire,” he said. “There’s a lot of components that get you down the road in creature comfort. The more variety and diversity, the more bang for your buck. The more birds and less they will eat berries because they eat insects. More bugs plus more birds equals happier ecosystem.”
Native plants like black-eyed Susans, bee balm, silphium gracile cohabit more harmoniously than plants from Europe or South or Central America. Not only are native plants beneficial for the environment – they’re ideal for the beginner gardener.
“One thing on your side with native plants is they want to be here,” said Descant. “They were designed for this place, your soil, your pH, insects that inhabit the place. So those are all good factors you should weigh in as a beginner gardener. Get in the tube and get in the lazy river. Don’t try to be a hotshot; just go with the flow.
“You’ll watch lots of diversity of insects build confidence, and you can reap benefits of pollination environment building you’ve been putting in. I have a lot of easy plants – all you need is sun. You don’t have to build a bed. You can use cardboard.”
According to Descant, the beauty of native plants extends to what they don’t do: they’re also less likely to become invasive.
“Some will continue to grow when they should be, following cycles whenever everyone else is sleeping. Louisiana is a drab place; there’s little evergreen. Everything shuts down and drops its leaves. This cycle is helpful for the grasses on the ground, and all the trees follow the same rules.
One example of this rhythm can be seen in the partnerships native plants have with insects.
“A non-native flower has not co-evolved with insects here. The length of the steeple won’t matchup to bee’s tongues native to your area. These are things we don’t think about when we look at our views of beauty.
“Humans are focusing more on color than the make-up of that flower. Box stores sell you on little fancy plastic pictures, and its great marketing. But our local, native plants, our eco system and birds, they pay the price for it,” Descant said.
Currently, the Urban Naturalist has been cleared out of many plants, such as bell peppers and tomatoes. While more native plants and herbs grow, Descant is keeping busy with bagging a custom manure and dirt blend, delivering pine straw and eco-friendly mulch.
Quarantine has altered Descant’s ability to attend gardening events and teaching workshops, but his contactless system is operating as before. Customers can still self-checkout and pay Descant via Venmo, paypal, his website, or by dropping cash into the slot on the shed door.
Most plants are cleared out—for now. However, Descant said he’s working to reestablish popular plants that are as beneficial as they are beautiful. For more information on the Urban Naturalist’s plants, visit facebook.com/TheUrbanNaturalist.