The honourable gardener

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 31/12/2013
Sister Loyola

SOUL GARDEN: Island Bay Home of Compassion gardener Sister Loyola has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ

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When Sister Loyola Galvin received a letter from the Government, she thought it must be a traffic fine.

The 91-year-old nun examined her conscience, before discovering it was from the prime minister, to tell her she was becoming a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

It is a recognition of her long career as a nurse, and latterly as a gardener at the Island Bay Home of Compassion on Wellington's south coast. "I think it's rather amusing and I'm very grateful somebody thought about it," she said. "If I'd known it meant all this publicity, I would have said no."

She modestly describes herself as "a very uninteresting person".

She came to the home 15 years ago and has tended its vegetable garden, which supplies the Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre soup kitchen, ever since.

Until this week she could be found in the garden seven days a week, rain, shine or snow. Even a hip replacement did not stop her.

"The secret is being outside and not giving up," she said.

She was named Gardener of the Year in 2008, and a documentary, Gardening With Soul, has been made about her.

She left Island Bay four days ago for the sisters' retirement complex in Upper Hutt, but hopes to go back to her garden soon. "I am very much missing my garden shed," she said. "I know from my nursing going somewhere else is difficult for elderly people . . . I can diagnose it in myself."

If she had to stay in Silverstream, she would take up a plot in the gardens there.

"I haven't done anything as yet, but they do have lovely gardens here."

As well as her gardening work, Sister Loyola has spent many years looking after babies and children, the elderly, and parents of stillborn or disabled babies.

Some of the children she had looked after came to visit her with children of their own, she said. "I feel like a great old grandmother and I'm having a wonderful time."

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