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Gardening with Soul - Film Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published May 25th 2014
A Sister with Soul
Sister Loyola Galvin is the central figure in this delightful, gentle, beautifully shot documentary, set in the grounds of Our Ladies Home of Compassion. The film is set in the community of Island Bay on the southern coast of Wellington, New Zealand.

The film opens with footage of a snowstorm sweeping across the grounds, covering healthy looking silver beet and other vegetables with a white, icy coating. And so we are introduced to Sister Loyola, who is pondering what is the best treatment for the beet - to rinse off the snow or not?

In the garden
Sister Loyola, in the grounds of Our Ladies Home of Compassion


Sister Loyola is the main gardener at the Home. She celebrates her 90th birthday during the film, and not surprisingly, needs a 'little help' with maintaining the extensive gardens. The vegetables produced form part of the meals eaten by the nuns at the Home. All the gardens are organic; Sister Loyola has a good understanding of, and is an advocate for, compost heaps.

You quickly get the idea that, although her body is starting to feel its age, Sister Loyola is sharp as a tack. She has spirit, and is strongly compassionate. In the course of the movie, which is shot over one year, she gives us interesting insights into a range of issues. One of the strongest scenes for me is where she is discussing the 'handicapped' children who were formerly looked after by the Sisters, in an era where people were embarrassed by children with disabilities and wanted to hide them away. To paraphrase: 'I used to say (about these children) tell me what they can do, not what they can't'. By finding things they could do, the children had a stronger sense of being part of the community, and therefore felt more worthwhile individuals. Later in the film, we meet one of these children, now an adult, and her love and respect for Sister Loyola is clear.

Close up
Sister Loyola has a strong spirit


Sister Loyola also provides very interesting insight into the issue of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, in terms of how it tested her own faith. To Sister Loyola, faith is based on love. How can you love someone if they have abused a child? This is clearly a question she has grappled with, the issue made more complex because it involves members of her own religion.

Another aspect of this film I found interesting is what led Sister Loyola to becoming a nun. We often hear it is a 'calling', but that does not seem to have been the case here. Sister Loyola trained as a nurse, and saw herself getting married and settling down. But a turn of events led her to think that 'maybe God wants me to do something else'. And so she turned to religion.

During the course of this film, we are also treated to some beautiful shots of the rugged New Zealand coastline. Sister Loyola visits the beach to rake up a few bags of fresh seaweed, for her compost bins.

Gardening With Soul won the Best Documentary, NZ Film Awards, and Honourable Mention at Adelaide Doc Week 2014.

Don't expect any high drama, major surprises or big reveals. This is, in a way, a simple movie, that gently takes us through a year in an ageing nun's life. It's an enjoyable, easy-to-watch 90 minutes.

Gardening with Soul movie


Gardening with Soul opens nationally in Australian cinemas on 29th May.

Here is the link to the official trailer for the movie:
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*Fiona Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? Enjoy this gentle documentary, showing one year in the life of a 90 year old nun with amazing spirit and insight.
When: From 29th May 2014
Where: Australian cinemas nationally.
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