Parents for the Planet: ‘I’m optimistic that things will come right’

Parents for the Planet: ‘I’m optimistic that things will come right’
Chris Gilroy with his children Cate, 11, Shane, 6, and Rory, 13. The children are very aware of things like recycling and the state of the planet.

‘I trained in Horticultural College in England and then I got into golf course construction and landscaping. I worked on golf courses all over Europe for years and then moved to Ireland in 2000 and set up my own landscaping company.

The economy went belly-up and business got very slow, so I started working as head gardener at Castlemartyr Resort; I was there for six years and now I’ve been here at Fota five years.

“Fota house has more scope for landscaping and there are a lot more new gardens being built here, so it’s a bit more of a challenge, which is enjoyable.

There’s five of us on the landscape team. This time of year, there’s a lot of maintenance work in things like clearing up leaves, but there’s also winter bedding.

We have polytunnels too where we grow vegetables and herbs for the hotel. I built that element of the garden up; there weren’t polytunnels here, but we have them now and we also use them for propagating plants as we go along too.

We’ve got two beehives in the gardens now. We also set a wildflower mix down by the polytunnels and we’re going to increase that area down towards the golf course as an ongoing project for the bees and the insects in the coming years, to increase the areas for bees and pollinators.

In the past three years, I’ve been constructing an entirely new garden down by the helipad and that’s being managed for pollinators too.

I’m interested in bees, so it’s been a really interesting project that I’m looking forward to developing more. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but they’re thriving, so hopefully next year we’ll have a bit of honey.

I try to minimise spraying; we don’t use any sprays on the veg but obviously on the gardens we sometimes have to.

In an ideal situation, it would be great to not have to use any pesticides at all and that’s going to be the aim, to be able to do that. As our staff numbers increase, hopefully we’ll be able to keep decreasing the amount of pesticides we use until we can phase it out.

I’m 54: Years ago, we would have used all the chemicals and we wouldn’t have thought anything about it, but you have to keep your mind open to change. You have to move with the times.

A lot more people do seem to understand now that having a garden looking really tidy might not always be the best for biodiversity, but if I’m worried that people will think an area that’s been set aside for pollinators is just untidy or not being looked after, I’ll put up a sign.

I think there’s been a lot more education recently and I find that, especially with keen gardeners, people are getting familiar with the idea that good gardening isn’t all about manicured lawns and sharp edges.

The veg you grow yourself tastes a lot better than what you can by in the shops, to be honest. I bring veg from the polytunnels home throughout the growing season, potatoes and carrots and the like.

For the weekly shop, I go to the supermarket with my youngest, Shane He’d be throwing more and more things into the trolley and I’d be taking them back out again. Sometimes things like packaging take a bit of a back seat when you’re just trying to make sure everyone has a balanced diet.

At home, we recycle all our plastics and cans, so that’s been passed down to the kids so hopefully they’ll continue it.

Rory is the eldest and is in first year in secondary school. Teenagers don’t tell you much, but he’s definitely learning more about the environment side of things. The educational side of things is much better nowadays: They really seem to be drumming it into the kids, and rightly so, when it comes to what can be done to save the environment.

I think they’re doing a great job in school, according to the feedback I get when they come home with homework. It’s definitely improved from when I was growing up.

Cate and Rory are very aware of things like recycling and the state of the planet. Shane is too, but I think because Rory’s in secondary school, he’s more conscious of it at the moment.

I’ve got a car to get to and from work, and a motorbike that I sometimes use in the summer. That’s all changing too, down the line, with diesel and petrol. It’s definitely something we’ll have to look into in the coming years.

I think awareness of the importance of protecting the environment is growing a lot and worldwide there seems to be a real focus on it.

I think it will take time to put things right, but I’m optimistic that things will come right. You have to be an optimist when you’re a parent. I think everything’s going to be fine.”

Chris Gilroy is the head gardener at Fota Island resort, Co Cork, where he has been working on recent pollinator-friendly measures including installing beehives in the grounds and creating wildflower meadows to provide habitat and forage for bees, butterflies, and other threatened pollinators. Chris, who is separated from his children’s mother, is dad to Rory, 13, Cate, 11, and Shane, 6.

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