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Nun notches up national NZ Gardener of the Year 2008 title

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An 86-year-old Wellington nun who set up a community garden that rents vege plots to apartment dwellers has been named NZ Gardener 2008 Gardener of the Year.

Sister Loyola Galvin from the Home of Compassion in the coastal suburb of Island Bay was the clear winner in a public vote from among 15 regional champions.

NZ Gardener magazine’s ultimate accolade aims to recognise New Zealand’s unsung horticultural heroes who use their passion for gardening to give back to the community.

Encouraging novice gardeners
Sister Loyola won the top prize for her efforts to encourage novice gardeners to grow their own food.

Sister Loyola set up the Common Ground community garden scheme, putting aside an area of lawn at the Home of Compassion for allotment-style gardens for apartment dwellers who have no land to grow food. Members of the scheme, and two gardening writers from the Dominion Post newspaper nominated her for the award.

She began gardening when she was in her early 70s, after “retiring” from a life of nursing, counselling and chaplaincy work. When asked what she’d like to do she said, “I’d like to go outside, because at the time they couldn’t afford a man full time in the grounds and I thought I could do it.”

At the age of 81, Sister Loyola was accepted for a permaculture course, which led to a meeting with a group of friends looking for a place to grow produce. She asked religious leader Sister Rae whether a 4ha area of garden could be used by the community. The rest is history, and now a Common Ground and 16 individual plots produce fresh produce for “different people who live in the concrete jungle”.

Sister Loyola says she feels “in touch with reality” when she’s gardening and hopes that her efforts are helping to preserve the planet for future generations.

“Sister Loyola is a true inspiration,” says NZ Gardener editor Lynda Hallinan. “You’ll find her outdoors, whatever the weather, potting up seedlings, making compost and sharing her warmth and wisdom with beginner gardeners.

Pioneering home grown
“She is right up there with celebrity chefs such as Jamie Olivier in pioneering growing your own food. Her community gardening scheme was ahead of its time,” she says.

The runner-up for NZ Gardener 2008 Gardener of the Year was Auckland’s 87-year-old Margaret Jones. Margaret joined the Soil and Health Association in 1941 and, 67 years later, her motto is still: “Don’t panic, it’s organic!”.

Organic living proof
NZ Gardener editor Lynda Hallinan says: “Margaret Jones is living proof that eating organic food is good for you. She hasn’t been to a doctor in 30 years and, as well as all her community work, she still has plenty of energy to go dancing twice a week.”

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