Memories of Alan Chadwick by Gregg Novotny
Alan Chadwick (center right) with Gregg Novotny (left) at a garden demonstration given by Alan at New Market, Virginia, ca. 1978.
Gregg Novotny was introduced to the Biodynamic French Intensive Method of gardening in Los Angeles where he worked with former Chadwick apprentice, Larry Hirschmann. He also attended a lecture that Alan delivered to the annual meeting of the Anthroposophical Society that was held at Highland Hall in 1971.
Later, resolving to work directly with Alan, he arrived at Covelo just as the project there was winding down. Encountering something of a leadership vacuum, he pitched right in and was soon given the job of head gardener. His duties mainly consisted in keeping alive those plant materials that Chadwick had intended to transport to wherever his next project should materialize. When this turned out to be at New Market, Virginia, Gregg drove the truck loaded with perennial plants out to the East Coast where Alan had gone several months earlier.
Greg subsequently worked on that project until, almost a year later, they received the heart-breaking news that the land there had never been properly bought and paid for, and that the gardens could not continue. Alan had already become seriously ill, so this shocking development caused a further severe setback to his health.
Afterwards, Gregg worked on projects in Santa Cruz, Missouri, and as a gardening teacher at the Highland Hall Waldorf School in Los Angeles. For many years he ran a successful landscaping business. Now he operates his own farm and C.S.A. called "Mount Plesant Farm and Garden" that is located just north of Auburn, California. Gregg spoke with Greg Haynes on March 1, 2014, about his experiences working with Alan Chadwick. During this interview they sat inside the newly constructed barn on Gregg's farm. The following six video clips capture the gist of what he told us.
In addition to the horticultural training that Chadwick offered at New Market, Virginia, Alan also gave classes in mime, elocution, drama, singing, and deportment. Gregg recalls his studies in those areas, and talks about why the arts are important in education. (5:06)
How Gregg first learned about Biodynamics. Working with Peter Duckich and Larry Hirschmann in Los Angeles. Attendance at the Chadwick lecture at Highland Hall in 1971. Gregg's first meeting with Alan in Covelo. Being appointed Head Gardener. Rapid personal development as a result of Alan's rigorous training and testing. Living in the same house as Alan in Covelo. The early days at Virginia. Some experiences with the associated spiritual community. The end of the Virginia project. Bernard Taper's interviews with Alan at Covelo. Bernard donates a truck that is then used to transport plants to Virginia. (10:02)
Second visit to Covelo to get Black Currant cuttings for Alan in Virginia. Packing up Alan's belongings. Staff and apprentices at Virginia. Planning the gardens at New Market, Virginia, including the sanctum sanctorum and herbacious borders. Building the glasshouse. Propagating seedlings under Alan's directions. The size of the gardens there. A minor conflict with Chadick resulting in Gregg's demotion as Head Gardener, but with his continuing role in the leadership of the Virginia garden. (7:21)
The apprentice trial period at Virginia. Details of the poultry operation there. Gregg's work as beekeeper with hives built according to Chadwick's specifications. Some staff and apprentices were fearful of Alan. Descriptions of his theatrical outbursts, but also his playful nature. Alan's illness and his temperament at Virginia compared to Covelo. The "spiritual" aspects of the Biodynamic French Intensive Method are grounded in practical observation of nature. Learning from experienced farmers rather than from textbooks. (10:14)
The end of the Virginia garden and moving on to other projects. Working in Santa Cruz, travels in South America, working as gardening teacher at Highland Hall Waldorf School in Los Angeles. Some experinces with students there. Working with Alan York and others in Missouri. Farming as a business and the rapid learning curve that that activity fosters. A legacy to leave behind in the world. Advantages of the C.S.A. economic structure. Alan Chadwick's last words to his apprentices. (9:31)
Life in the Virginia community. Alan's focus on the development of his students as individuals. Some people weren't ready for that and so felt antipathy for him. A lack of connection to nature in general society. Social interaction between farmers and consumers within the C.S.A. format. Learning from other farmers. (4:38)