Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

There is a Garden in the Mind


Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California

By Dr. Paul Lee

North Atlantic Books, 2013

There Is a Garden in the Mind, by Paul Lee


While this book is as much about Paul Lee as it is about Alan Chadwick, still it provides an essential historical perspective on the work that Alan did and the attitudes about life that he embodied. It was Paul that first conceived of starting an organic garden at UC Santa Cruz and who, on recommendation of the Countess Freya von Moltke, asked Alan to lead the project.

The following excerpt is not from the book, per se, but from an online commentary meant to accompany the book. From this example readers can form an idea of the flavor of Paul's writing style:

"Alan Chadwick and the Salvation of Nature was the working title of the book I intended to write about the UCSC Garden Project, until I changed my mind. It led me down a garden path I had misgivings about. I was afraid of losing my way. I was inspired by a sermon with that title by my teacher, Paul Tillich: “The Salvation of Nature”. He made reference to the then newly formed science of survival and the endangerment of just about everything–the end of nature and the end of us. It was the late ’50s, when scientists announced the formation of such a group, as if science could get us out of the fix, although even they must have had doubts about any recovery given the responsibility science has for the predicament. It must have confirmed for Tillich his description of “the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society”, a phrase I learned from him that became, for me, a kind of negative mantra, a fancy way of referring to an obsessive preoccupation–the fate of the social order I had to call my own. Tillich makes clear that the scientists didn't mean the survival of humans, or the survival of endangered species, or the oceans, or the forests, or the air–they meant the survival of the earth as we know it, our planet, largely ruled, as it is, by industrial society. It meant the fall of a very large order–bigger than the Roman Empire."

Tillich mentions how the first time things turned sour, in the Biblical myth of the flood, God regretted–the word used is “repented”– what had come to pass with creation and caused a flood to wipe out almost everything; now, this time, we are doing it to ourselves. It is the Flood the second time around with ourselves to blame. Tillich was the only one I knew who used the phrase–”the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society”–our society–what he called “the world above the given world of nature”, long before the science of survival was proposed or environmental awareness had taken on anything like a national character, after the Earth Day event in 1970.

His formulation stuck in my mind. As a world above the given world of nature, industrial society is a sub-world, a reduced world, where science and technology are in charge as agents of self-destruction, under the ideological sway of Physicalism, the opponent of Vitalism. Physicalism is the reduction of everything to physical and chemical properties; Vitalism argues for the integrity of organic nature against the reduction. Physicalism defeated Vitalism in the early 19th century and now Vitalism has re-appeared in the environmental movement and a host of allied movements, what could be called a Neo-Vitalist revolution. The struggle has been re-enjoined even though Physicalists, or most scientists, having enjoyed a century and more of victorious rule, are reluctant to admit it. They see themselves as servants of industrial society devoted to its continuation, no matter what the cost. Universities are where these servants of industrial society are trained.

This is a bleak view. No wonder that instead of destined to direct history we think it our fate to suffer it.
The Chadwick Garden opened my eyes to the bleak view of the deep conflict in the culture–industrial society and organic nature. Two trends in the history and philosophy of science–Physicalism and Vitalism turned out for me to be the best way to conceptualize this conflict.

. . . Chadwick’s Arcadian Garden was the place where the original affirmation of the unambiguous goodness of creation was made again–he gave us all a second chance. It was definitely a place where nature was healed, as well as those who practiced the method –I saw that with my own eyes and experienced it myself. Nevertheless, Chadwick, a force-fit almost everywhere he went, was most definitely a force-fit at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Force-fit is a pun, especially for those who suffered the brunt of Chadwick’s temper tantrums, the force of his fits. And yet, over forty years later, in spite of all odds against it, the Chadwick Garden is still there, albeit an unintegrated appendage to the University; a mute but eloquent testimony to the unresolved character of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict.



This book by Paul Lee is important, as it gives a broad perspective of the history of the Garden Project at Santa Cruz. The many connections it makes with a counter-materialistic trend in western thought are interesting and absolutely necessary to gain an understanding of Alan's place in history. Some of the photographs of Alan Chadwick it contains are unavailable elsewhere, and they are excellent.

Although the book contains a few inaccuracies in Alan's history after he left Santa Cruz, particularly with respect to the garden in Saratoga, this does not detract from the general fidelity of Paul's account. But in one significant area of Alan's outlook, as Paul describes it, I would have to differ. Paul repeatedly suggests that Alan was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, and that Alan down-played this fact so as not to ruffle the feathers of the academics at the university. I suggest that it would be much more accurate to say that the ideas of Steiner and the ideas of Alan Chadwick were parallel, rather than that one very strongly influenced the other. Both developed their world views under the influence of the Theosophists, who were far-ranging and eclectic in their sources.

While Alan spoke occasionally about Rudolf Steiner in respectful terms, he was not familiar with much at all of Steiner's philosophy. Even after he left the university, where it would not have mattered at all about his spiritual influences, he hardly said a word about Steiner. I have known many anthroposophists in my life, having worked in Waldorf schools for twenty years, and Alan Chadwick was not one of them. Except in a very limited way during the last few years of his life, he did not use any of the specialized terminology, which is extensive, nor did he ever think much of the biodynamic preparations that anthroposophists religiously apply to their garden beds.

One time I asked him why he didn't use these preparations in the garden. He told me that if he did, everyone would think that the enormous productivity, the abundance he conjured forth from the earth, was a result of the application of these biodynamic preparations, which it was not. His success was based on two quite other factors: Classical technique, and a correct attitude of approach. Not that he had anything negative to say about biodynamics as the anthroposophists have developed the discipline. But as anyone who has observed numerous scruffy backyard gardens that use these products, they are not much better than those that don't, if at all.

My own view is that the preparations that Steiner advocated were meant to be used in large-scale agriculture, not in garden-scale horticulture. As Alan once told me, "A good gardener looks at every plant every day." In my experience, the focus of the gardener's consciousness, as Alan advocated, is a far stronger tonic and stimulus than these homeopathic practices. I can give Steiner the benefit of the doubt, and allow that they may serve a useful purpose in large-scale farms. The large number of acres now being operated under the imprimatur of the biodynamic association would indicate that farmers are convinced that this is so. But it never was a part of Alan's practice.

Alan readily identified himself with various spiritually-oriented traditions, but this reflected more of a sense that they generally tended to be groups that recognized the intangible and the magical, rather than the exclusively materialistic and mechanical view of life. I once heard him claim to have been a student of Madam Blavatsky and Annie Besant. Then, after reflecting for a second or two, he qualified himself by saying that he had studied their writings. So, if he had ever declared himself a student of Rudolf Steiner, or a follower of Steiner, I would take it in a similar light . . . a kind of vaguely positive attitude toward him. On the other hand, Alan did spend a summer on a farm in Germany where Steiner's methods were practiced, and which Steiner himself would sometimes visit, but Alan was only 14 years old at the time and his stories describing meetings with Rudolf Steiner deal with practical matters of farm technique, as well as some in-depth nature studies and observations.

Although Alan later called his system of gardening " Biodynamic French Intensive," this must not be taken to indicate that he joined the traditional French Intensive method to the practices advocated by Rudolf Steiner. In fact, it was only late in his sojourn at Santa Cruz that Alan added the word biodynamic to the name of his system. To him, more than anything else, it represented the interplay between various beneficial wild plants and the crops produced in the garden. He would refer to the Nicotiana Affinis, for example, as a biodynamic because the stickiness of its leaves would entrap aphids that were drawn to its intoxicating nocturnal fragrance, thus preventing the aphids from damaging the vegetables. Notwithstanding Alan's occasional mention of Rudolf Steiner or his use of the word biodynamic, Alan's practice had little in common with the indications Steiner gave in the Agricultural Course, or anywhere else. Most of the philosophical overlap, I would argue, was due to shared influences. (For more on this discussion, see the review for Performance in the Garden, below.)

It's important to understand that Rudolf Steiner cobbled together what he called Anthroposophy from numerous and varied sources, to which he rarely gave credit. Much of what he said came right out of Theosophy. If you read theosophical accounts of Atlantis and Lemuria, for example, you will discover very few differences from Steiner's version of the story. His description of the four-fold man as composed of the physical, etheric, and astral bodies, together with the ego, can be found in its original form in Aristotle's De Animus. It should, therefore, be of no great surprise that Alan's outlook bears many similarities to those of Steiner. But that does not imply that Alan took these concepts from Steiner, but more probably that they both partook of similar influences. Clearly there were some direct borrowings, but these were mostly limited to the luciferic-ahrimanic duality, and references to the four archangels which Alan only employed in the last few years of his life. He had pretty obviously read a book or two by Steiner at that late date, and incorporated some of the vocabulary into his repertoire. I never heard him mention any of these concepts in Santa Cruz, Green Gulch, Saratoga, or in the early days of Covelo.

Anthroposophists also have very definite ideas about meditation and personal development, as Rudolf Steiner wrote extensively on the subject. But Alan, when he spoke about meditation, used entirely different concepts. He once said that the practice of communing with the divine involved three steps: "Concentro, Meditato, Contemplo." These are terms which you will not find in Steiner. He never referred to the astral or the etheric, which are standard concepts among anthroposophists. Not that Alan was anti-contemplative, not at all. For a while in Santa Cruz, every Friday morning was designated "a morning of quiet and contemplation in the garden." No one was allowed to talk during this time, we were to focus our energies on observation and awareness of the present moment, rather than engage in the usual mindless chatter of the world. I can still recall Steven Decater demonstrating to me how to sow vegetable marrow completely in pantomime one Friday morning.

No. Although it does make Paul Lee's theory fit a little more nicely to suggest that Alan was a follower of Steiner, it's just not the case. Alan's upbringing was thoroughly imbued with spiritualism, his mother having been an ardent Theosophist, and Alan no doubt absorbed much of that outlook into his own. He told me one time that, as a child, his mother's guests would perform psychic experiments on him. One, which he described to me, consisted in locking Alan in his room so as to insure that he could not observe the preliminary stages, in which the experimenters would hide a key in the garden. Then Alan was released and instructed to find the key, if he could, by use of his psychic powers. He told me that, in most cases, he was successful, but expressed some doubt about whether this was an appropriate business to involve a child in.

I often wondered if this kind of premature meddling in the soul-life of a young child were not part of the acute, sometimes pathological, sensitivity that Alan contended with in his own character. No doubt this problem was exacerbated by the triple spinal fracture he sustained in World War II, and by other factors as well. Anyone who chose to work with Alan for any length of time had to rise above a knee-jerk, fight-or-flight response to his outbursts of temper. He was as much a victim to them as was anyone else, that is, when he wasn't just being mischievous. You had to think about them as you would react to somebody suffering from epileptic attacks; that they were largely beyond conscious control. Yet, very often there was profound truth to what he said while the tempest took hold of him, and it behooved you to pay close attention, despite the uncomfortable form in which it was communicated.

Paul Lee puts it nicely, relating Alan's character to the ancient Greek characteristic of thymos.

"He was the personification of the Greek word thymós, a particular form of natural vitality, as in the word 'spirited', the sort of spirit a horse has. He had it in spades. I learned the word from my teacher, Paul Tillich, who wrote a book about it: The Courage To Be, his astute translation of thymós. It is an extraordinarily rich word, as it means:
1. "the courage to be or vital self-affirmation
2. "the unreflective striving for what is noble", as in a noble warrior, the embodiment of vital courage (Achilles is a good example)
3. "the bridge between reason and desire"; relating to both of them, in the middle, between them, the bridge between the head and the groin.

It is a good term to describe the courageous vitality of Chadwick. It is a very good word and it is a pity it is not in common usage. Because it is in the middle, an in-between term, it is represented by the thymus gland, a cognate word, the very organ of courage as the master organ of the immune system, the vital defense against illness and disease. The thymus gland is the bridge, in the middle between reason and desire, as in Plato's construction of consciousness. Thymos is my favorite word. Even the herb thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a cognate, my favorite herb, considered the herb of courage throughout history, probably because of its germicidal properties. Chadwick was pure thymós. I would translate it as "vital root". It is remarkable that it even captures his tempestuous side, as it also means anger, or rage, or wrath, because one of the meanings is smoke, as in the Latin fumus. It also means the ability or courage to say "no", to resist."

Alan's resistance to the evils of modern agriculture was far more than merely quixotic. He began a revolution in consciousness that has continued to grow in the forty some odd years since he began his work in the U.S. Before Alan, the words organic fruits and vegetables were synonymous with worm-eaten, stunted, unappetizing specimens more worthy of the compost pile than for human consumption. Now, organic produce is available almost everywhere, and its quality, flavor, and nutrient-value are universally recognized.

Another example, which Paul mentions, is that although Rachel Carson had documented the terrible environmental effects of DDT in her book, Silent Spring, efforts to ban this chemical were painfully unsuccessful. It was not until the nationally respected Sunset Magazine came out against it that the tide of public opinion turned and DDT was made illegal. What caused this change in the editorial view of Sunset? It was because Joe Williamson, the editor of the magazine came out to visit Santa Cruz and did an article on Alan Chadwick and his garden. It was the first example that he had seen of organic gardening that actually functioned, that could produce flowers and vegetables of a quality equal to or better than gardens using chemicals.

Paul Lee is correct in his assessment of Alan Chadwick's work as a turning point in the cultural attitudes about our responsibility toward the earth. Alan proved that we can live far better when we work within the laws of nature than when we fight her every step of the way. He demonstrated positively that we can have a much better quality food without poisoning the very earth that we, and future generations, depend upon.



Sunflower. Variety: Mammoth

Sunflower. variety: Mammoth






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