Small Talk with Mark O’Loughlin of Sanctuary Synthetics
This week, Growtrade.ie talks to Mark about challenges in a niche industry, bouncing back from illness and keeping a business afloat during hard times
9 October 2023
At Growtrade, we’re running a new interview series titled ‘Small Talk’, where we talk to various influential members of Ireland’s horticulture trade. This week’s conversation is with Mark O’Loughlin of Sanctuary Synthetics in Naas, Co. Kildare.
How did you get your start in horticulture?
I grew up on a farm with all that entails, then studied marketing as opposed to horticulture. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 and living in California that I realised I had a passion for the outdoors and landscaping. In 1998 I returned home and set up on my own and haven’t looked back since.
What was one of the proudest moments in your career to date?
Building Sanctuary Landscapes and shortly afterwards sanctuarysynthetics.ie, pioneering our niche in the industry and continuing to grow after 20 years in the game. Winning a few medals in Bloom and launching my book were highlights but my best day was buying a derelict premises in my home town of Naas and transforming it into our ‘Grassland’ HQ
What was one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your career to date?
Being hospitalised with sepsis poisoning and struggling to get back on the tools in the early days was hard going. The 2008 crash was no picnic and we all had some worrying moments during Covid. The weather is a fact of life for our industry so it doesn’t really count. But I think facing both amusement and hostility in equal measure, yet persevering, when launching the artificial grass business must rank highest.
Give us an example of a recent success you had in your work:
I love getting daily pics and videos from on site on WhatsApp. Last month we completed a very challenging multifaceted project in a special needs school (only just) in time for their reopening. I’m most proud of having a strong team around me. Just recently we’ve announced a new partnership with LimeGreen to roll out cutting edge 100% locally recyclable artificial grass which, in time, should prove to be a real game changer.
What are the greatest challenges facing the industry today?
In 25 years I’ve seen the quality of design and landscaping improve dramatically as have customer expectations. Keeping up with social media (and now AI) is never ending and rising costs are a real challenge. The biggest issue for employers in our industry is finding and paying good people. The only constant is change so no resting on any laurels.
What are the greatest opportunities facing the industry today?
We’ve just completed the ‘Green for Micro’ programme and are instituting changes accordingly, including investing over €20k in Solar panels for Grassland. Remember, the vast majority of our population live in suburbia with small gardens so the challenge is to help maximise their beauty, utility and use.
What advice would you give to someone just starting their career in horticulture?
We are a fragmented industry. Think differently, be independent and question everything. Lean on mentors – most experienced people are only too glad to help. Keep an eye on the bigger picture. Participate, for example with LEO’s, local chambers, the GLDA, ALCI, Bord Bia and Growtrade! Remember with change comes opportunities.
What are your hopes for the future of Irish horticulture?
Bloom has certainly helped drive standards. We need continued innovation and, as ‘gardeners’, our skills tend to be undervalued so we need better marketing to the public. Don’t forget to cater for the smaller gardens. Big picture wise, continue the drive towards organic, more native woodland and accessible parks for every town and village. Learn from the likes of Singapore and enhance our reputation as the Emerald Isle.
Sanctuary Synthetics has been providing landscaping services for synthetic grass in Ireland for more than 20 years. For more information, visit: https://www.sanctuarysynthetics.ie/
Small Talk is produced in association with Gardenworld Nurseries – passionate about plants. For more visit gardenworld.ie