The idea of restoring native ecosystems attracted Marc Pastorek’s interest in the 1990s, when he learned of the work of Drs. Charles Allen and Malcolm Vidrine.
The two professors at Louisiana State University in Eunice had found scattered remnants of the native Cajun prairie, believed extinct, in southwest Louisiana. The discovery meant that seeds could be collected and the prairies re-established.
“Ever since, I fell in love with the idea of collecting seeds for restoring ecosystems,” Pastorek said. “I owned a landscape design and installation company at the time and maintained it for another 15 years, until I finally phased it out in favor of the restoration work.
“I planted a 12 acre tract in Pearl River County, Mississippi, to grow plants for seed collection, then I trademarked the term ‘Meadowmakers’ to label the seed collection and preservation part of my work.”
Now a consultant on landscape design, Pastorek will share his knowledge of Cajun prairies, native plants, rain gardens, and bio-swales when he presents at the Garden Study Center in the New Orleans Botanical Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
He plans to include specific ideas on how homeowners can incorporate native plants, grasses and wildflowers into the home landscape.
Pastorek, whose business is Pastorek Habitats, said that the projects he has worked on range anywhere in size from a backyard wildlife garden to a 24-acre meadow in City Park.
“I consulted on the establishment of the prairie on Scout Island in City Park in 2009 and have been working with landscape architects for the past three years on the landscape design for the Lafitte Greenway,” Pastorek said. “The idea for the Greenway is to use only native plants.”
When it is complete in 2015, users will enjoy three distinct types of meadow (another word for prairie), according to Pastorek.
“One will be a diverse meadow with a lot of Cajun prairie species. Another will be a sedge meadow,” he said. “Sedges look a lot like grasses because they are clumping, but they are evergreen so they can provide four seasons of interest.”
The third type of meadow planned for the Greenway is a “bio-swale meadow,” in this case an installation of river oats in low, moist areas that will retain water and help with drainage. River oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) are native grasses that grow to about two feet tall and have attractive flat seed heads that dangle from the foliage.
“These do well in moist environments, like river banks and stream edges, so they will work well in the bio-swales that will help retain and direct stormwater on the Greenway,” Pastorek said.
Although the vegetation planned for the Lafitte Greenway has been selected for a large-scale public project, many of the plants included in the plan would be equally well-suited to a home garden.
Some of the plants for a home garden would be white leaf mountain mint and narrow leaf mountain mint, pale purple coneflower and Texas coneflower, little bluestem grass and narrow leaf bluestem grass, yellow wild indigo and white false indigo, and passion flower vine.
All are great pollinator plants, fragrant, or good butterfly hosts and nectar plants.
“Prairies in general are exquisitely beautiful, always delivering a new species (or ten) in the landscape, with moving parts. The grasses and the wispy plants dance in the wind,” Pastorek said. “John Earnest Weaver, a famous prairie researcher at the University of Nebraska, described prairies as ‘kaleidoscopic in character.’”