UNIVERSITY College Cork is tending to its vast gardens with the conservation of animals and nature in mind.
The UCC Buildings and Estates team take care of the grass, plants and gardens across the 42-acre university campus at the heart of Cork city.
Jack Byrne, head gardener at UCC, admitted that from the outside, maintaining 42 acres can seem a little daunting but the university’s dedicated gardening team keeps the grounds at a high standard.
Speaking to The Echo, Jack explained that UCC’s gardening routine focuses on promoting wildlife on the campus.
“The total size of the UCC campus is 42 acres,” he said.
“From the outside looking in it might seem a daunting task to maintain but having a dedicated team in the grounds department, the maintenance of the grounds runs smoothly enough through the seasons.
“Areas where we are still grass cutting, such as the Quad and the President’s garden, are some of the few areas on campus where the grass is cut weekly,” he added.
“We cut hedges between September and March to ensure birds can have a safe nesting season, and whatever other animals use it to have safe refuge.
“All other shrubs and plants are pruned at the correct time of year to maximize flowering and strong, healthy growth.”
Jack explained that the team made up of himself, Noreen O’Sullivan, Jer Creedon, Patrick Hallinan and estates administrator Barrie Curley, do their best to make UCC’s gardens a haven for natural wildlife at the heart of Cork city.
“The one aspect of the job we can’t control is the weather,” he said.
“But there are very good weather apps on the go and a daily weather update from Met Éireann makes planning the weekly or daily tasks that bit easier. If we can’t get a job done on a particular day there is no hassle in putting it off to another more suitable day,” he added.
Jack also revealed that UCC has a tree management plan in place to minimise any potential damage from winter storms which he said “has been very effective in the last few big storms”.
UCC also introduced a no-mow policy in some areas on campus in 2019.
“We first started the no-mow policy on campus in early 2019 in response to the reduction of natural habitats for pollinators and we thought, where better place to highlight it than here in UCC where we have a very large footfall through the campus on a daily basis,” said Jack.
“It’s been a great success and it’s been very interesting monitoring what type of native wildflowers will grow in an area without intervention.
“For example, this year we had Pyramidal Orchids growing in one of the unmowed areas and, hopefully as the years progress we will have a more diverse range of wildflowers growing naturally on campus,” he added.
“We mow different patterns through the areas to highlight the area which makes it more effective and pleasing to the eye and hopefully people might replicate it in their own gardens and create more pollinator habitats.”
Jack also highlighted other sustainable work being carried out at UCC.
“We are hoping to increase our battery-powered gardening equipment this year,” he said. “Roughly 50% of our equipment is battery-powered, and we want to reduce our reliance on petrol-powered equipment and always garden as sustainably as we can.”
Jack revealed that his love for gardening was encouraged by his grandmother Lizzie Kelleher.
“There was always a bit of gardening to be done around her house growing up,” he said. “Then in 1995, I got work for the year in the Newmarket Pitch and Putt club working under the late John Walker who was a great source of encouragement. From there, I found out about a course in Scoil Stiofain Naofa where I studied horticulture and landscape design, and then I joined the grounds department in UCC in March 2002, working under the then head gardener of UCC the late Noel O’Mahony,” he added.
“Last year the grounds team were awarded for enhancing the student experience at the annual college awards night which was great recognition of our work and we were very proud as a team to collect it.”