Stories from the Glasshouse
Alan Chadwick had a small greenhouse in the garden at Santa Cruz, which, although glazed with fiberglass, he called affectionately, “the glasshouse.” The chancellor of the University had apparently paid for it in return for Alan’s looking after his collection of orchids, which were always kept in dormancy under the rostrums along the south side of the greenhouse.
The primary use of this building was for propagation of seedlings in the early spring, but Alan kept various and sundry propagation projects underway in there during other times as well. When I took over the maintenance of the nursery area in March of 1971, Alan had about a hundred coleus plants in 6” pots, and about an equal number of gravilia robusta trees in coffee tins, among other things. In the spring of that year, he also sowed early cucumbers in large, deep, rectangular boxes so that we would have ripe cucumbers at the beginning of the summer.
Earth Mother Spirit, by Libby Haynes Jackson
One of the drawbacks to growing cucumbers indoors is that very few bees find their way inside to pollinate the cucumber flowers, and so, left to themselves, not much fruit will set. To get around that problem, the cucumber flowers must be pollinated by hand, and Alan assigned this task to me. With a small, soft, artist’s paintbrush, you have to gently swab the anthers of the male flowers to pick up the pollen onto the brush, and then daub the pollen dust onto the mature female flowers.
The job can be a little bit tedious, but it is also meditative if you just relax into it. I can remember one rainy day, climbing up onto the rostrum and sitting on an inverted five-gallon bucket as I methodically went about my pollinating work. It was cozy in there, and nobody ever came in to bother me. I could think whatever thoughts I pleased as I rhythmically went back and forth between the newly opened flowers. This also gave me the chance to inspect the progress of the fruit that I had already pollinated that was beginning to form itself into small but vigorous young cucumbers.
Occasionally Alan would drop in to see how things were going, and this was a pleasant interruption. He always seemed to be in a friendly mood while in the nursery and glasshouse area. Perhaps he felt more pressure to keep the troops in line over in the main garden and around the chalet, but in the glasshouse he was always relaxed and informal. He would often recount stories of his youth and apprenticeship days in England, for example, and these were thoroughly engaging tales told with much humor and theatrical flair.
Once he described to me something that happened when he had been apprenticed to a world-famous poultry farmer somewhere south of London. After only a short time he found himself repulsed by the cruel treatment of the animals. It was the dead of winter, and so all the birds were kept inside in hothouses to keep them from freezing. The worst thing of all, Alan told me, was the way the geese were conditioned so as to provide the highest quality paté du froi gois. When I confessed to not knowing what that was, Alan explained that it is a paste made of goose liver that is considered a delicacy by many gourmands, who spread it over crackers or on thin slices of bread.
Because goose livers are sold by the pound, they must be enlarged to the greatest extent possible in order to maximize the profit from their sale. This is accomplished by force-feeding the geese—a most abominable procedure according to Alan. One by one, an assistant grabs each goose by the neck, pries open his beak, and holds his mouth open. Meanwhile another person shoves a hose down the goose’s throat and pumps a large amount of grain mash into the poor creature’s stomach. This is painful in the extreme to the animals, but such is the morality of factory farming in the modern age.
As part of his apprenticeship duties, Alan was required to participate in this work, but he did not like being an accomplice to such unnatural cruelties. Eventually he reached the point of rebellion where he felt that he could no longer countenance such business and so began to formulate a plan of counter action. Thinking that the most humane thing he could do was to put these poor creatures out of their misery, he waited for a chance to act. Finally it came.
On Christmas eve the whole farm staff was given the night off so that they could spend it with their families, gorging on roast goose and paté du froi gois in the comfort of their homes. Alan alone was left on duty, which consisted, for the most part, in keeping the heaters stoked with coal so that the thousands of birds would be kept warm. But Alan did no such thing. He purposely let all the fires go out, opened all the ventilating windows, locked the doors, and went home. It may be an accurate statement to say that Alan Chadwick was one of the first animal-rights activists in history.
On another such visit to the glasshouse—it must have been later that summer—Alan observed that a number of honey bees were finding their way inside. A fifty-five gallon drum was always kept full of water so that the cold tap-water could come up to ambient temperature and not shock the young seedlings. The bees were naturally attracted to the water, and so would approach the barrel in an attempt to drink. Unfortunately, they often fell in, and because the sides of the barrel were vertical, they could not get out again. They would buzz around on the surface of the water, looking for an escape, until they finally perished from exhaustion.
I would rescue them whenever I noticed them trapped there, but often being outside working in the nursery, I couldn’t always keep an eye on the barrel. On the day of that visit, Alan observed a bee or two floundering on the surface of the water, and he told me what to do. You find a wide stick, like a short piece of lath, he said, and you simply let it float on the surface of the water. When the bees fall in, they buzz around until they discover this little raft and then climb up onto it. When, in a few minutes, their wings dry, they fly away happily and unharmed.
At about that same time, some of the cucumbers had reached the size for eating. Alan chose one that he considered perfectly mature and showed me how to cut the stems to harvest them. He suggested that we taste the first one to verify its flavor and mildness. In my usual uncouth way, I simply stabbed one of the segments that Alan had set out, using my knife like a fork to pop the piece of cucumber into my mouth.
Alan shook his head in a startled disapproving way, and with a twinkle in his eye said that he personally never put a knife into his mouth because, as a child, he had seen his father eating in that way one day at lunch. Somehow, inadvertently, the knife missed its mark and severely cut the inside of his father’s mouth, resulting in blood running everywhere. Alan told me that almost no part of the human body bleeds as profusely as the inside of the mouth, so this incident had left a strong impression on him.
Another day, Alan announced that the time had come to make an air-strike from a liana. I had never heard the term liana before, but on seeing the plant, instantly recognized it as a common type of philodendron. He showed me how to make an incision just below a bud on the stem, then pack it with sphagnum moss, finally wrapping it in clear plastic and tying it up with a piece of raffia. I didn’t reveal to Alan that I was already familiar with this procedure because my grandfather had been a philodendron enthusiast. Together we had propagated many of them over the years. But Alan had a refinement of technique that my grandfather, who had learned from reading all on his own, never had acquired. So, observing Alan with humility paid off for me, as it always did.
Alan was almost always courteous and respectful toward me, and on the few occasions when he got a little bit cantankerous, I never took it personally. It was something that rose up out of his pain, wherever that came from, and I didn’t have to feel like it had anything to do with me.
— Greg Haynes, November, 2013