The natural world has always intrigued Eamonn Leonard. As a child growing up in Huntsville, Ala., he would often seek refuge in the outdoors which led to an ever-growing fascination with the plants he found there.
“I have always liked plants and being outside. I grew up in big family, I am one of six so it was always noisy inside,” he said with a laugh. “I would escape to the yard and I started noticing all the different plants and trees. I became curious about what they were.”
That led to Leonard developing a passion for gardening that took him through his high school years. He went on to study horticulture in college, eventually signing on as a biologist with the local branch of the Department of Natural Resources.
“I’ve been with the DNR for 11 years. It started with a coastal habitat mapping project, which was basically mapping different plant communities in the 11 coastal counties. It was a planning resource for conservation and prioritizing where we focus our efforts,” he said. “If you didn’t have a map, you would have no idea where to do that. And this got me involved more with invasive species management.”
It’s become a focal point of his work. Leonard shares information on how these plants impact the native landscape. He also offers lectures and programs through his side project, Coastal Wildscapes, that helps locals learn more about what is best to plant in yards.
“I really do what I can to promote the use of native plants as opposed to nonnative plants, even if they are not invasive. While they are not harmful, the native plants benefit wildlife, especially the pollinators and the birds. We want to re-create the natural food web in home landscapes wherever possible,” he said.
His passion for plants also led to other endeavors. In a round-about way, it helped Leonard discover his artistic side.
“I was pretty active with the Catholic church downtown and we wanted to build planters for the front ... but we didn’t want them to get stolen so I thought it would be great to use concrete because it’s heavy,” he said. “That was about six years ago.”
That idea led him to begin working with concrete, which quickly escalated into a full blown side business. Leonard has become active in the local arts community, sharing his work with fellow artisans and those who follow his Instagram account, @concrete_etc_by_edl.
“Building the planters for the church really set me on the journey to do more. I just kept playing with it and it’s really always changing. I make small planters for window seals, I do stencil work for the pots too,” he said.
“I’ve made concrete magnets and even a coffee table. I do jewelry, necklaces and earrings.”
Engaging with other local artists through events like the bi-annual Moxie Craft Festival downtown has prompted him to broaden his offerings and try new things. Sharing feedback and ideas has helped Leonard blossom as an artisan.
“It’s particularly helpful for me because I’m color blind. So hearing what they think about color combinations is great,” he said with a laugh. “But it is also the reason that I went to jewelry, someone suggested it. Everyone is encouraging and the crafters are not competing with each other. Everyone has their own style and medium that we work in ... but it is very helpful to have their input.”
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at email@example.com or at 912-265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.