Reverence, Obedience and the Invisible in the Garden
Lectures by Alan Chadwick, edited by Steve Crimi
Why we oppose the commercialization of Alan Chadwick's legacy that this book represents.
This book is a sequel to Performance in the Garden, published in 2008, which is also a collection of lectures by Alan Chadwick. This recent volume includes talks by Alan from Green Gulch, Covelo, Virginia, and from several independent conferences. They span the period from 1975 to 1980, shortly before his death. The Table of Contents lists the following lectures:
- Nature's Medicine Chest
- Everything is Governed by an Invisible Law (Listen to and Read this Lecture)
- Bloom and Area of Discontinuity
- Intellect, Reason and Idée
- Seed: The Utmost Idée and the Least Metamorphosis
- Energies and Elements
- King of the Golden River (Listen to this Lecture) (Ruskin's original text of this fable)
- Ley Crops
- Raised Beds
- Fertility / The Merchant and the Seer
- The Garden as the Mirror of Man
- History of Herbs
- Energy, Color, Herbs
An introduction by Dr Rodney Blackhirst attempts to classify Alan as a clandestine alchemist—definitely a force-fit—but the idea is not altogether inappropriate. If you set aside those early chemists who attempted to make gold from base metals, and instead focus on the more spiritual alchemical tradition, then indeed, there are parallels. The Rosicrucian Brotherhood, for example, which carried the banner of alchemy during the 17th century, required that all of its members be trained physicians who agreed to treat the poor without charge. Using the arcane language of Greek mythology, they dedicated themselves to a rigorous regime of self-purification and personal development through service to humanity. Transmutation—not on a physical, but rather on a soul level—was always the keynote of this school of alchemy. It recognized the seed that lies dormant in almost every human being and set about transforming and nurturing it into the awakened state that is the highest human potential.
Looked at from that point of view, Alan Chadwick could be seen as a kindred soul who shared similar values, but he was as little a follower of alchemy as he was of Anthroposophy. Yes, he sometimes referred to alchemy in positive terms, just as he had done with Steiner, but this, more than anything, expressed his general approval of most non-materialistic, non-reductionist points of view. In his talks he often refers to “God,” “the Spirit World,” “fairies,” “undines,” and “archangels,” but these should never be taken in any theistic sense, nor in an anthroposophical sense either, but rather simply as symbols. Alan employs them to allude to those mysterious relationships that exist between all living beings. They are the elements and forces of nature that, together, conspire to create the beauty and abundance of the garden. For him, nature and the garden are a pure magic that is completely ineffable. Through such hints and allusions, however, he points the way to a path of knowledge beyond words.
With respect to Alan’s relationship to Anthroposophy, one has to agree with Dr. Blackhirst:
“In other respects, his use of Steiner is selective and distinct, like his construction of a rural Socrates. It is not the anthroposophical Steiner that we find in Chadwick; it is an alchemical Steiner seen largely through one work, The Four Seasons and the Archangels. He takes from Steiner what he needs. He needs the structure of the year and the calendar of the invisible. Otherwise, as Chadwick once said, Steiner planted seeds within his young pupil that would mature of their own accord. It is remarkable that some people quibble over how ‘true’ Chadwick was to Steiner. Rudolf Steiner—who taught individuality, integrity, autonomy as virtues of our Age—had no more authentic or accomplished protégé.”
While one could argue whether the word protégé is technically correct, as it implies an extended and personal relationship that probably never existed with Alan, still Chadwick was nothing if not authentic. He never spoke except out of his own experience. He never pretended to be other than what he was. He claimed not to be a teacher, certainly not a guru, and preferred to allow his actions—or rather the results of his actions: the garden itself— to speak for him.
As regards Alan’s accomplishments, they were many indeed. He undoubtedly did more to popularize the idea of organic gardening and farming in the United States (and thence far and wide) than anyone else. Furthermore, he demonstrated a form of horticulture that was raised to the level of a high art, and that art had the power to transform souls. It reconnected human beings to the natural world, a world which is hardly even considered relevant in modern society. No. We live in a world of gadgets and machines. We are educated to believe that we can comprehend life through written words and abstract thinking. The predominant cultural attitude is that physical work is demeaning, and that those who work the earth are uneducated inferiors. The majority of people in the “developed world” buy food in supermarkets that has been preprocessed and prepackaged months or years earlier and which retains nothing of the natural freshness that can enliven a human being.
In contrast, Chadwick pointed out a way of life that regarded nature as primary. He taught that direct observation—not abstract thinking—was the avenue most likely to lead to comprehension. He showed that beauty is important and that it can lead to personal authenticity. He gave his students the direct experience of what it meant to nourish themselves on fresh, healthy, delicious foods that they had grown themselves. And those students discovered that the difference was like night and day in terms of their vitality, creativity, personal contentment, and independence of thinking. This was not mere theory or opinion. It was rather a certainty of knowledge based upon the effects felt within one’s own physical, emotional, and spiritual life. In the lecture entitled, “Nature’s Medicine Chest,” Alan says,
“Now you understand that the ancient Greeks, from the other ancients upwards, realized that what they ate was an emphatic interplay of their physical body, the uplift of their mind into vision, and the living in spirit.”
“…Out of this image have come all the exquisite things that we know to eat. And that is only the basic beginning, for the eating is nothing. How incredibly little do we understand what magic meals we have upon sight, upon scent, upon textural touch. What huge meals we have out of the scent of a flower, out of the greeting and observation of the dawn, and the rising of the Dog Star, and of its very opposition, the eventide, the equinox of spring of day, and the equinox of sleep, of night, which are complete opposites.
Are we aware of these things? Do we perceive them, or are we hypnotized with gadgets and machines and incredible thinkings in gurgling of words? Are we hypnotized? Are we aware of the infinite magic that is happening every second of every day? And it is always new, and never repeated. Everything, even classicism, is not static, nor education, nor knowledge: for knowledge is a journey. And behind the whole of this journey is a pathway, and that pathway is crystal clear.”
For Alan, that pathway is a direct communion with nature through obedience to her laws. The place where that encounter with nature can best occur is in the garden, and the activity that can best lead one into the laws of nature is in the creation of fertility. Here the word alchemy would not be misplaced, for the creation of fertility in soil is an alchemical process that requires the marriage of the four basic elements of the Greek world view: earth, air, fire, and water. When these are present in the correct proportions, then a magic begins which is really a bacterial fermentation that provides the ideal environment for plant growth. Again, from the lecture, “Nature’s Medicine Chest,” Alan says,
“When you create fertility in the soil, and in the plants that you grow and the trees, and the birds and the insects and the fish that you introduce with it, something happens that is outside your verbal understanding. You are connected with the cornucopia of the birth of the spirit-world, of the invisible through the four elements into the perpetual visible and temporal. And out of that creation of that fertility brought about by the image of man through the life force of biodynamics into the living world, comes a birth and a consummation that you cannot calculate, that you cannot count, and that is without profit. It is so endless, and is more than the utter fulfillment of all requirement.”
But the biodynamics that Alan refers to here is not the biodynamics of Rudolf Steiner. The word “biodynamic” is Alan’s shorthand way of referring to the “Laws of Nature,” or what, for him, amounts to the same thing, the “Law of God.” He explains what he means by this in a direct and straightforward manner in a lecture included in this volume entitled, “Everything is Governed by an Invisible Law.” There he enumerates the essential principles that affect the creation of fertility and the maintenance of a productive balance in the garden. For example, when he talks about insect pests, he says,
“Pest and disease come as a result of weakness, impure blood, poor juices, and general such matters. When you have strong vitalities, when you are not running into weakness and weakness and weakness. You know very well that if you feed a child or a person upon white bread out of the emporium, they will go on eating it all day, and be completely stuffed with it. Likewise, it is true to say—and this is not negative—that if you grow plants upon extracted sub-terrestrial chemicals, you are doing exactly the same as feeding a person on white bread. The plant will fill itself, and fill itself, and fill itself; hunting, and hunting, and hunting—which is exactly what those chemicals are supposed to do—and will be full of weak juices. When all the insects, which after all are a complete ordinance of God’s law, and the laws of Nature, come to feed upon the foods which are ordained for them to feed upon, they will find something which is the equivalent of white bread. And they will eat and eat and eat until they are sick, and they will breed and breed and breed until they are sick. It is exactly the same as life in the city.”
Alan’s detailed description of the process whereby fertility can be created has a definite goal, and that goal differs from the typical organic gardening enthusiast, or even from the practitioner of traditional biodynamics. Whereas those groups of people have the goal of creating healthy soil so that they can achieve the result of healthy and abundant crops, Alan was really after something else entirely. Although the production of food was something that he did very well, that production came as a secondary by-product to his real interest. Alan’s primary mission was the creation of beauty in the world.
“It’s very opposite to today’s procedure, which is piracy. ‘I don’t care what I do to the land as long as I get the money in my pocket out of selling the beans.’
…This [attitude] is very disastrous because that’s the whole reason of most people’s organic focuses today, and therefore, they’re falsely placed. It’s the beatific joy that is the matter.
… It’s one of the reasons that all art is essential to us as a stepping stone into horticulture. Technique is the fulfillment of the method of playing and using the instrument, having been brought to such a perfection and fruition that it is invisible. The world of visibility and the world of invisibility. And here, all visible technique altogether becomes finally invisible, and a magic. Therefore the technique of the high art of horticulture is invisible, and you won’t see it. You will look at the horticulture in the garden and you will be eclipsed, you will be delighted by a magic. And the whole joy of it is that you can’t understand it.”
But why all this emphasis on beauty? one might ask. The answer is that beauty has the power to raise human beings to a higher level of consciousness. It is transformative. It brings about an awakening into a deeper seeing of the subtleties of life. Alan says,
“So that under all these comes this effect into the gardener of the garden, and it goes to the area of image. And here the individual is lifted, so that the image is in a new strata. It perceives what it has not perceived, and is lifted. And out of this lift a further perception invokes that into the re-creation of the fertility of the horticulture.”
It is the gardener that Alan Chadwick is concerned with, much more so than the garden itself, and this was always the case. Even in the midst of his tirades, his intention was to wake up the slumbering faculties of human beings to the mysteries and sanctity of the natural world. For him, it was a moral issue, that is, to treat the earth with respect. But Alan saw that most of us go through life like sleepwalkers, blind to the most important matters that concern us. By shattering that in-bred complacency, that smug self-delusion that we are all that matters; by shocking our limited minds with an experience of beauty so powerful that we can’t ignore the realization that our world view is not big enough to comprehend it, Alan moves us to a higher level of being.
But beauty is nothing if it is not shared with other human beings, and that was Alan’s greatest joy in life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his attitude toward children. I can remember once going with him to the country estate of Harold and Louise Easterbrook in Mendocino County, California, in order to assess its potential as a garden project for Alan. The place was beautiful, with ancient Indian bathing areas carved out of solid stone near a natural spring, old-growth redwoods, sunny meadows with sparkling creeks, and much more. When Alan was asked how he would envision the development of the place, he recommended that we transform it into a “children’s paradise.”
He speaks more about childhood in several of the lectures included in this collection:
“And here you have one of the huge answers of the great sorrows of today. Whenever mankind—almost whatever nation, not quite with some of the native tribes, but with the majority, certainly, of civilization—whenever mankind begins to live either in a village, or a farm, or a hamlet, what happens? All the rare plants, birds, and the animals are gone. It’s ludicrous.
… And this is utterly, utterly, utterly, hopelessly erroneous. It’s got to be put right. And it’s got to be put right in the exquisite matter of children. Why should the magic of children be destroyed, and they be turned into machinated machines, and lose all of their contact with that with which they were born, and have it driven out, that they shall not see, and not know, and be hidden by the travesty of this matter?”
… And it is one of those things that we have thrown away. And it must come back. There was a period when every country person understood their climatics, understood their soils, their animals, their wild plants, and knew them intimately.
What children today are really educated or led into the whole of this? There is no approach to it. It is all how to make a motorcar, how to watch a television set. If you are terribly busy with that, you can’t be very, very busy watching the sunrise. And I think that that’s the whole answer. And it’s a huge enigma.” (see also this article)
These, then, are a few examples from Reverence, Obedience and the Invisible in the Garden. Alan Chadwick almost comes back to life through his words here; If you once knew him, you can hear the inflections of his voice as you read. But even if not, this book is a good representative sample of his many profundities and his inspired manner of speech. All in all, it is a moving experience to revisit these ideas, and through them, to rediscover the genius who spoke them so eloquently.