Publications about his Life and Work: an Annotated Bibliography
Commentary is by Greg Haynes. The opinions expressed are his own.
Lee, Paul A.. "There is a Garden in the Mind: Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California", North Atlantic Books. 2013
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
Alan Chadwick (his lectures) and Stephen J. Crimi (editor). Performance in the Garden. 2008. Logosophia. Ashville, NC.
Performance in the Garden: A Collection of Talks on Biodynamic French Intensive Horticulture
Author: Alan Chadwick, Editor: Stephen J. Crimi, Foreword: John Jeavons, Introduction: Stephen J. Crimi. Paperback: 344 pages
Publisher: Logosophia (23 May 2008). Price: $19
Steve Crimi, though never having met Alan Chadwick, was given approximately 250 tapes of Alan's lectures that had been collected by Craig Siska, of which many had been donated by Richard Wilson of Covelo, California. Crimi transcribed 16 of these lectures and published them in 2008 under the title, Performance in the Garden. The lecture titles are as follows:
Introduction to Biodynamic French Intensive Horticulture
The Cosmic, Four Seasons, Cycles
The Story of the Gazelle
Ritual and Festivalia
The Grand Herbaceous Perennial Border
Classic Herb Garden
Relationship and Disrelationship
Frageria: The Strawberry
Although the majority of these lectures were recorded at New Market, Virginia, in 1979, anyone who worked with Alan for any length of time has heard them in their earlier incarnations, since Alan often repeated himself. One difference that can be found in these later versions of his talks is that Alan begins to make use of a limited number of anthroposophical ideas. His incorporation of these concepts seems to have begun in the later years of the Covelo project, since a letter from Alan to the Board of Directors in Covelo dated 1977 makes use of this terminology. Such language was completely lacking in the presentations he gave at Santa Cruz, Green Gulch, Saratoga, and in the early days at Covelo.
The anthroposophical concepts that he incorporates into his lectures at these later periods of Covelo and Virginia are limited to two basic themes:
1. The duality between the Luciferic and the Ahrimanic. These are terms that Rudolf Steiner used to distinguish between a kind of imbalance resulting from being lost in the clouds, given to vague imaginings, or wild flights of fancy, on the one hand (the Luciferic), and the kind of imbalance resulting from being overly earth-bound and materialistic , on the other (the Ahrimanic). Alan also applies these ideas to plant growth in attributing the leaf growth to the Luciferic and root growth to the Ahrimanic.
2. The idea that the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, are expressions, manifestations, or under the control of the four archangels: Rafael, Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel respectively.
Aside from these two themes, Alan does not make use of anthroposophical terminology; his message is basically unchanged from the earlier periods of his work in the United States. Some commentators have suggested that he was a follower or disciple of Rudolf Steiner from the outset of his work in the U.S., but the utter lack of his use of these ideas in the earlier projects, coupled with the very limited number of anthroposophical concepts that he employed later, would argue strongly against this view.
It is more probable that Alan was exposed to these two anthroposophical ideas at some point during the Covelo project, and chose to adopt the terminology for his own use thereafter. Steiner's lectures published under the title, The Four Seasons and the Archangels, is very likely the source that Alan encountered, but there are many other possibilities as well. Over three hundred books of Steiner's writings and lectures have been published, and the number of concepts that he describes is truly vast. Alan's very late use of two of these is a miniscule proportion of the total. This hardly qualifies him as a serious student of Steiner.
Paul Lee has suggested that Alan was a follower of Steiner from the beginning of the Santa Cruz project, and that he hid or down played this fact so that the university faculty and administration would not immediately discredit his mission. But if this were the case, one would expect that Alan would have begun to deliver his true anthroposophical message as soon as he left Santa Cruz and arrived at Green Gulch, where no one would have cared at all about his philosophical influences. But this is not the case at all.
Once, while still at Santa Cruz, Alan was invited to speak at a yearly meeting of the Anthroposophical Society in Los Angeles. Five or six of us apprentices went along for the ride, and this was the first most of us had ever heard of Rudolf Steiner or Anthroposophy. Alan felt no need to hide this journey from the university; he was quite open about it. His comments at the time were somewhat derogatory about the Anthroposophical Society. He said that it consisted of "a bunch of old ladies who spend all their time speaking of things that they know absolutely nothing about." The talk that he delivered there in L.A. completely mystified the Society members, as it really had nothing to do with biodynamics as that word is understood by the followers of Rudolf Steiner. In short, there was very little relation between the practices of Alan Chadwick and the concepts of biodynamics, as these have been developed by anthroposophists, other than the principles of good organic husbandry that Alan grew up with as a child and always practiced, and which Steiner also advocated. Alan did not learn any of this from Steiner.
As I have described above, Alan never used the so-called biodynamic preparations. When I asked him why, he told me that he did not want people to get the mistaken notion that his success in the garden was a result of the use of these products. His secrets, if you want to call them that, were two: classical technique, and a correct attitude of approach. By attitude of approach, Alan meant giving to the earth more than you take, not extracting everything you can from the soil in order to exploit it. You add sufficient organic fertilizations to the soil with each sowing or planting so that when the crop comes out, the soil is richer after the harvest than it was before the crop was planted. That way you get an ever-increasing fertility in your garden. A correct attitude of approach also meant respecting life in its totality, working within the sacred balance of nature, not killing off everything but your precious little garden crops. You respect nature, and she shares her abundance with you.
Many of the lectures transcribed in Performance in the Garden are classic Alan Chadwick. The "Cycles," as he called that talk, describe the relation between the sun's influence on seed germination and plant growth, contrasted with the influence of the moon. This was almost exactly the same talk that he gave to Allen Kalpin and myself in the garden chalet in 1971, after he fired the staff and closed the garden. I describe the events leading up to this experience in my audio recording entitled, "Alan Chadwick Gains Two New Apprentices, Part 2." "The Story of the Gazelle" and "Bees" are beautifully presented; Alan is masterful at creating a mood and delivering a strong moral message.
For me, in reading through these lectures, one theme returns again and again. Alan deplores the rise of abstract verbosity over first-hand and immediate experience of nature. He observes that the perverse need to reduce everything to shallow intellectual concepts actually cuts us off from the ability to see the reality that is right there in front of us. A few examples from Alan's lectures:
"You can't know it. You can't understand it, and you mustn't try. Because the moment you try you can't perceive it. When you stop trying to understand it in words, you will begin to perceive it. You do begin to perceive it."
"It can't be found in the education of today. It can't be found in the verbosity of the mind. And you can't think that you're going to lead the mind into spiritual living and activity and vision by thinking in words. This is the huge thing of all the gurus tearing about in airplanes screaming their heads off. It is there all the time. It's terribly simple and it's right in front of the nose."
"Now the principle influence that produces what you would call the same colour, the same forms, the same shapes — these are all verbosities which you are going to loose. You are never going to use these words again. You have been taught to use them and you can't use anything else. It is like a camera on a tourist. You just go on taking photographs all your life. It doesn't mean anything. To say that this is scabious [scabiosa, the scientific name of a flower] removes the comprehension; you have actually stopped the comprehension."
"You have to lose your verbosity and you have to become real, because you haven't got any false boots to stand in. You have to have bare feet."
I'm only going to be able to give you that secret by not using words in the ordinary sense. Words are the great illness and disease of today. We have turned everything into words. From the moment we wake up, from the moment we go to sleep, to even the time when we re-wake, we turn our dreams into words. We have no other way, indeed, of even accomplishing the memory of dreams, but that we turn them, suddenly, into words, upon memory. And all of this points to the enormous age of deceit, of synthetic, of entertainment.
Out of the performance in the garden, which we are studying and working at, which as you realize is also a relievement out of the world of verbosity into the world of deeper senses.
And our thoughts are given us from above. And they are not verbose; they are not words. Words are merely an American tourist's photograph of Niagara Falls. And to say that that is a poppy and that is a dahlia is unutterable drivel; it isn't, it's a foof-poff. And that's a wees-coos.
I went to visit this monk, the other day, as you know, and this very matter was the one thing which he predominantly kind of held the key out and said, "You must tell them always that everybody has got to be a monk. Everybody has got to go and hide in the forest." As he did for two or three years. "And shut up. And discover."
But how can someone who has grown up in the morass of this intellectual delusion that is so pervasive in all aspects of life and education, free himself from it and return to a true vision of the world and nature? Alan gives a very succinct answer to someone who asks a question after a lecture. The question is:
"If I wanted to do what I must do in obedience to the cosmic law, if I wish to live and perceive as a peasant lived and perceived, how can I learn all this and undo all that I have lived and been trained and brought up in a world to think that I must know and search for knowledge and search for certainty and get to the bottom of the secret? How can I turn my back on the secret, it is so tantalizing? How can I live a simple peasant life when I have been baited all my life by knowledge, the possibility of knowing?"
Alan answers him that it has nothing to do with returning to the life of a peasant (Alan uses the French word paysan). Here he links the separation from nature that all this verbosity has produced, with the rise of electronically intermediated forms of communication that have further isolated us from reality. Just think of all the mindless drivel that is transmitted across the electrical wires of the world, and that passes for communication. But where in all of it are the heart-forces, the life-giving nuances of the glance and the flush of the skin and the knowing gestures that contribute so much to real communication. More and more, we are accepting the electronic simulation of speech for the reality, and loosing the ability to distinguish between the two. Alan's answer:
"Our approaches here are not talking about going back to be a paysan. I am not talking about going back to being a paysan. I am an incredible lunatic of the future. Oh Garden, that I see! It is the most incredible garden! A pomegranate, it's all made of emeralds and rubies. But that is a secret, you wouldn't understand it. It will reveal itself. I think that you have a momentary difficulty. I think that your momentary difficulty is still that you have chains of Basilisk with your parentage upbringing and your educative upbringing, which is one incredible mass of the telephone of verbosity. Do you follow?"
And now, Alan gives his prescription for the ennui of the modern alienated age.
"The moment that you are going to be loose in art— I mean painting, music, singing, movement, poise, breathing, the secrets and magic of the garden, the excitement of work, the operation of your muscles and glands and nerves, you are going to be so busy, so occupied, so full of color and light, that verbosity is going to gradually release. And you are not going to be worried about its extinguishing, its death, because it is going to be. I don't think that you have got anything to leap out of the window about. I think that secretly we have all got this same indigestion. Do you understand?"
Finally, Alan observes that the awakening that the garden can provide is in stark opposition to the mind-numbing lies, advertising, and propaganda that are spewed forth from out of the wealthy commercial interests and the political power that these interests buy with their millions. They have a vested interested in keeping people asleep and docile.
"I would trust that this poor little project, that is being run by such wonderful people here, leaving everything to it— I would trust that it would be the gateway into the garden for you. You can't expect to accomplish it overnight. I think you will find that we are going in the opposite, completely opposite direction to the White House I am afraid. Does it help you at all?"
Alan knows what he is talking about here, and he knew how to lead people out of the morass of verbosity back to an alignment with reality. He used the garden as a catalyst, but his true goal had very little to do with growing vegetables. He was a gardener of souls.
Johnson, Wendy. “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: at Work in the Wild and Cultivated World.” Bantam. New York. 2008
Wendy Johnson is a practitioner of Zen Buddhism who lived for twenty-five years at Green Gulch Farm, the San Francisco Zen Center’s property in Marin County, California. She first met Alan Chadwick briefly in about 1975, when he made a one-day visit to give a lecture. After that, she did not see him again until December of 1979 when, terminally ill with cancer, he returned to Green Gulch and stayed until his death in May of the following year. During those last six months of Alan’s life, Wendy, who by then had become the head gardener, and a small group of other Zen students met with Alan once a week for informal talks on various aspects of horticulture. She would sometimes bring questions about issues she was facing in the garden, and Alan, from his sick bed, would do his best to provide answers and to edify the group. It was an embarrassment for him to be unable to conduct these sessions in the garden, but the Zen students were respectful, and this helped to put Alan at his ease.
The mood had changed significantly at Green Gulch by the time of Alan’s return. Earlier, his interest in growing flowers along with the vegetables in the garden had been a source of irritation for the Zen authorities. By the time of his return in 1979, a much more balanced approach had taken hold, and this was at least partially a result of Wendy Johnson’s influence. No longer was it taboo to speak about roses, iris, or other flowering plants; about ornamental gardens or cut flowers. Alan’s aesthetic was more or less accepted without criticism, and this somewhat redeemed the treatment that he had received from the Zen Center seven or eight years earlier when the leadership had been concerned with vegetable production exclusively.
This unfortunate legacy was largely redeemed by the Zen Center welcoming Alan as a guest when he became terminally ill, and Wendy Johnson’s graciousness and her respect for Alan made a huge difference. Her generosity of spirit went a long way toward cleaning up any lingering hard feelings.
The title of her book, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate, refers to the Japanese name for the Green Gulch Farm, which translates as, “Green Dragon Zen Temple.” The book is essentially a chronicle of her work at Green Gulch and the philosophical outlook that she brought to the discipline. Following a brief overview of Alan Chadwick’s life, she makes reference to Alan here and there, relating anecdotes and phrases that he had used during their weekly conversations. But this book is only peripherally about Alan. Mostly it is about Wendy’s personal attitudes toward nature, horticulture, and life: a view strongly influenced by Zen, but ultimately one that is uniquely her own.
She tackles some of the more difficult issues faced by philosophically-oriented gardeners: for example, how to reconcile an attitude that holds as sacred all forms of sentient life, but that also needs to eat. She correctly observes that the garden is a constant battle-ground between all the critters that want to use the garden as a source of food, and the gardener who wants the same. Gophers, cucumber beetles, sparrows—you name it—they must be promptly dealt with or you can forget your hopes of harvesting anything other than a few measly remnants. Wendy very honestly remarks:
“I wish that there were some way to garden without harming and taking life, but I do not believe that there is.”
Like Alan Chadwick, she advocates a balanced approach to pest management, including adequate fencing, building strong plant resistance through the development of healthy soils, encouragement of natural predators, and a willingness to share a portion of the crop with the natural world. Typically, organic gardeners find that these measures handle most of the problems. As for the rest, you just have to do battle.
The description that she gives of her work in various school-garden projects, and the healing effect that gardening brings to education, are insightful and inspiring. In recent years there has been a growing recognition of children who suffer from NDD, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a malady that results from spending too much time inside buildings, on asphalt and concrete, or exposed to electronic media. We are children of nature and of life, and separation from the natural world—from running water, trees, grass, wild flowers, insects, soil, birds, animals—leads to a sense of isolation, depression, apathy, and anger. Gardening brings a strong healing effect to education, and deserves a place in the curriculum of every school.
The strength of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate is that it is rooted in the direct personal observations and practice of the author. She speaks with the authority that comes with years of experience, wide study, good teachers, and deep thinking. Like all good students of Zen, Wendy spices her narratives with aphorisms quoted from famous Zen masters, and these often add a delightful levity to her writing. “Don’t say good; don’t say bad,” is one of the wisest, while “Life is one continuous mistake,” quoted from Suzuki Roshi, can remind us to forgive ourselves our many failures.
If this book falters at all, it would be in the one or two instances where the author departs from speaking out of her direct experience and falls into abstractions, as for example, in her discussion of fertilizers and chemicals. As Alan Chadwick pointed out many times, to put a name on something is not the same as to understand its essence. Scientific pedants, he said, pronounce the word “nitrogen,” and think they have said something intelligent. The truth is that none of them have the least idea of what they are talking about. If you want to form a meaningful concept of nitrogen, he once told me, imagine that you are walking in a lush green forest. Suddenly you come upon a clear mountain stream, sparkling in the sunlight. You then follow the little stream to its source and find that it flows out of a cave filled with crystalline rocks that shimmer like moonlight in the darkness. Entering the cave and following the luminous stream, you finally come to the source, a pool of water bubbling to the surface, tinged with a blue-green phosphorescence like that sometimes seen in sea water, shining and sparkling with the burst of every bubble. “That image, my dear boy, is as close as you will ever get to the essence of nitrogen,” he said.
Alan considered all glib talk of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) as mere pedantry and verbosity—empty abstractions that kill any possibility of arriving at an in-depth understanding of the essence of healthy soil fertility. He once said,
"You can't know it. You can't understand it, and you mustn't try. Because the moment you try you can't perceive it. When you stop trying to understand it in words, you will begin to perceive it. You do begin to perceive it."
There is another way of knowing, but it is more visceral. By quietly observing the soil, feeling it, smelling it, noticing how various plants grow in it, deeply sensing the quality and quantity of microbial life, it is possible to gain an understanding of that soil’s fertility at an intimate level. Soil testing for NPK is just not necessary for organic gardeners.
One other issue is that Wendy Johnson seems to be unaware of the conflict that arose at Green Gulch back in 1972 and 1973 over the issue of flower cultivation in the garden. She attributes Alan's departure from the Zen Center as caused by Alan's complaints about the Zen students' meditation practices depriving him of garden workers, and repeats a story about how Alan throttled a blue jay that had torn up a seed flat. Those of us Chadwickians who worked at Green Gulch never observed either of those actions on the part of Alan. Attempts to contact Wendy to find out her source for those stories (she was not at Green Gulch at that time) have not yet been successful. Until we can discover her sources and verify the information, we remain somewhat dubious about these episodes.
Otherwise, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate is an informative look at life from the point of view of a gardener who is also a deep thinker and devout Zen practitioner. Although the garden is a source of food, it can also be a profound teacher for the student who is sensitive to its subtle mysteries. In this sense, Wendy Johnson faithfully follows in the Chadwick tradition.
A view of the formal garden at Green Gulch designed by Skip Kimura, a former Chadwick apprentice.. (Photo by Will Haynes, 2012)
Howard, Robert, with Eric Skjei. What Makes the Crops Rejoice: An Introduction to Gardening. 1986. Boston. Little, Brown.
The book title is taken from the first lines of Virgil’s Georgics, a poetic compendium of agricultural lore written in 36 BC.
What makes the crops rejoice, beneath what star
To plough, and when to wed the vines to elms,
The care of cattle, how to rear a flock,
How much experience thrifty bees require,
Of these, Maecenas, I begin to sing.
Virgil, Georgics, Book I, 1–5
Bob Howard first found his way into Chadwick’s garden at Santa Cruz in the summer of 1971. Quiet and unassuming, he went about his work in a careful and methodical way. When we unexpectedly met him again, some twenty-five years later, we were astonished to learn that he had written a book about gardening that included an extensive biography of Alan. What is particularly of note is that, in every case where he was able to obtain information about Alan Chadwick from outside sources, this information corroborated the accounts given by Alan himself over the years. This fact lends credence to the other stories that Alan occasionally told about his life.
Research on this book led him to contact Alan’s brother in England, from whom he received information about Alan’s early life. He also was able to track down a former roommate of Alan’s at the theatrical academy of Madam Elsie Fogerty in London. This gentleman remembered Alan well, relating a number of amusing stories that Bob Howard includes in his biography. He also communicated with the Countess Freya von Moltke, who described her friendship with Alan in South Africa, and again, later, when she was instrumental in bringing him to Santa Cruz in 1967.
The introductory chapter of What Makes the Crops Rejoice describes Bob Howard’s initial impressions of Alan, and provides an accurate account of a typical day in the Santa Cruz garden. His daily confrontation with an overly-protective rooster was one that many of us faced in those early mornings. Flower cutting, vegetable harvesting, morning watering, compost collection, and many other tasks are faithfully described, and these do capture the flavor of the life of those times.
The rest of the book treats gardening in more general terms, but always with reference to the techniques employed by Alan Chadwick. Various chapters treat other famous gardeners, bringing a personal flavor to this broad introduction to backyard gardening. Howard also describes his own foray into the world of homesteading: For three years or so, he farmed 40 acres in the mountains of Missouri, and emerged much the wiser for the experience. He includes chapters on planning the garden, obtaining plants and seeds, cultivation, compost making, fertilizers, and other topics which would be helpful for a first-time attempt at raising vegetables for the novice. He concludes with a narrated tour of an idealized farm from his own imagination, describing the many interrelationships that exist between the plants, animals, and human beings in such an integrated and diverse project.
The biographical chapter of Alan Chadwick is the most extensive and well-researched that has been done to date. It has been the primary source for the majority of the other accounts of Alan’s life written since 1986 when Bob Howard first published this book. It is an outstanding contribution to our knowledge of the life of this remarkable man.
Alan Chadwick’s Enchanted Garden
By Tom Cuthbertson; E. P. Dutton, New York, 1978
This is a book about Alan Chadwick’s gardening techniques. But more than a mere “how to do it” book, Cuthbertson tries to explain the “why to do it” aspect of the art. And because a comprehensive treatment of the entire French Intensive Biodynamic System would run to dozens of volumes, this book narrows the focus to three particular crops: lettuce, comfrey, and sweet peas.
Why acquire a gardening book that treats the culture of these three plants only? Well, for one thing, the basic techniques required for these three crops are applicable in hundreds of other situations. And for another, the philosophical approach (which this book takes very seriously) is universal and applies to the whole garden.
A large part of this volume consists in observations of garden techniques as seen through the eyes of a rabbit that has its burrow just outside the Chadwick garden in Covelo, California. He is almost always mystified by the goings on in the garden, but the narrator then promptly jumps in and explains the underlying reasons.
Alan Chadwick appears only once in the entire book, and then only to yell at an unsuspecting apprentice for almost cutting a sweet pea bloom that Alan had intended to save for seed. The narrator depicts the incident as an example of Alan’s pedagogical methodology, which—to be fair—it mostly was. Although, only one blow-up by Alan in over two hundred pages of narrative about the Covelo garden is being very generous. These were common occurrences.
The introduction to this book was contributed by Page Smith, Alan’s long time ally at the University of California at Santa Cruz where Alan built his first teaching garden in the United States. Page writes, “This is a book, then, about procedures for planting a garden, about how the various things in the garden—including the people—are related, and thus inevitably about what it is to live in such a garden.” In describing Alan’s personality Page says, “In a period that all but deified collective decision-making, Chadwick was dictatorial, mercilessly demanding, given to sudden and unpredictable rages, alternately charming and terrible. Looming up in the garden he had created, he cast spells and hurled imprecations.”
At another point in the introduction, Page quotes a statement that every former apprentice will instantly recognize: “In our garden,” Alan Chadwick explains, “we are trying to re-invest in simple tasks a sense of their true significance.” Although Page does not further elaborate on this concept, I would venture to say that this one little pearl of wisdom was almost worth the price of contending with a whole year of Alan’s tirades. It is unfathomably profound.
Sure, you can buy your bread in a supermarket, for example, organic or otherwise. Sure you can buy vegetables anywhere, buy your honey, your milk, your grains. Sure you can buy a house that has been built by others, have your car serviced by experts, and listen to the best of recorded music. But what an impoverished existence you will lead as a result. How many missed opportunities have passed you by while you allowed others to live your life for you? The sacred mystery of tending your own bees, for example, could have taken you to a level of personal spiritual development that would have created the beginnings of wisdom in your life. Building your own house, baking your own bread, fixing your own car, growing your own vegetables…, would have made you whole and real, instead of the shallow imposter that many of us really are.
This is an unutterable mystery; you can’t explain why it should be so. But true it is, like the flight of a butterfly or the hardness of a diamond. A human being cut off from life’s simple tasks pays a very high price; he forfeits contact with the sacred source that could have given his life meaning and joy. Instead he lives in the vacuum of empty words, entertainment, and depression.
And here we come to another part of this mystery, one that Alan set as an example for us in his own personal life. Once you have come to “re-invest in simple tasks a sense of their true significance,” little by little, you come to appreciate simplicity itself. And the measure of what is simple is just the ability to comprehend and tackle the task in human or natural terms.
For example: Human beings have evolved along with fire for hundreds of thousands of years. It has become part of our nature to sit around a fire at night, to watch the flickering lights with our eyes, and at the same time to listen to stories told by our parents and grandparents about their lives, the history of the tribe, the day’s hunt, the problems facing the family-unit in the immediate future, hearing the traditional songs, watching re-enactments of dramatic events, and much more. We are, after so many millennia, “programmed” to crave this type of experience.
And how does this play out today? By watching television! It’s all there: the flickering lights, the stories, the narration, the jokes, the surprises, the violence… But is this modern artifice a human, soul-enriching experience? Or is it an isolating, alienating, deadening, and ultimately unsatisfying substitute for real life. Virtual reality is what we have accepted in place of the real thing, and this cuts us off from our true spiritual foundations. Thus through the simple act of kindling a fire we re-link our souls to our true humanity.
Or, as another example, take the case of the person who buys carrots as opposed to growing them in a backyard garden. Nutritionally, they may be similar, but what must the gardener be attuned to that the purchaser is not? Intricacies of the weather, the fertility of soil, the patience of waiting for the harvest, the infinite fragrances of the garden, the colors of the foliage, the care of living plant-beings with all the sensitivities and sympathies required in doing that, the cycle of moisture in its relation to healthy plant growth, the planning and design of the garden-layout and planting schedule, the fraternity of other gardeners who always share a special regard for one of their own, learning to contend with crop failures and being viscerally affected by what is available to eat—or not, exposure to the birds and their songs and their cries, gaining a respect for the world of the insects as they pollinate our crops, the satisfaction of having entered into relationship with the natural world and successfully harvested an edible crop as a result, and many other benefits too numerous to mention.
Just observe children who have worked in a garden, who can knit simple clothing, who can build things out of wood, who can play a musical instrument, sing in three or four part harmony, confidently act in dramatic productions, draw a fair likeness of a subject, cook food, bake bread, etc, and you will see human beings who are really alive, who have a spark of fire in their eyes, who will go on to accomplish important things in the world. Alan had it all right is that respect. He lived in a simple manner by his own choice, rode a bicycle, baked his own blackberry tarts, grew his vegetables, raised his chickens, taught what he knew to his apprentices. In short, he spent his life in creative pursuits rather than passively entertaining himself with outside stimulus. The man ...“truly lived where others haven’t even been born,” as John Cage once said of him.
This book goes on to describe the many procedures necessary for building and maintaining a garden: compost preparation, collecting seed, soil cultivation, planting out seedlings, fertilizations and their proper stratifications in the garden beds, cultivation of lay crops, harvesting techniques, the positive use of weeds, cycles of the sun and moon and their effects on plant growth, irrigation methods, plant propagation, and much more.
But beyond all of the above, an unintentional sub-text strikes you as you read about this garden of Alan’s in Covelo. Many of the descriptions of the garden, and the techniques used to sustain it, revolve around the incredibly harsh climate that had to be contended with there in Covelo. There is even a chapter called, “Late Frosts and Early Scorches” that outlines the extreme measures taken to offset the impossible climate of that place. With summer temperatures well over 100 degrees day after day, in addition to heavy frosts, even snows, well into spring, gardening in Round Valley was grueling.
All of that simply wore Alan down. Here he was, in a foreign country without family support, utterly dependent financially on his patrons, emotionally isolated from having invested deeply in so many students—only to have them abandon him later, in constant pain from the triple spinal injury that he suffered during World War II, and finally developing cancer and seeing his strength and life forces dwindling away. Who could blame him for his short temper and his intolerance of people who betrayed their indifference to the mysteries of life that he had worked so hard to manifest. I defy anyone who dares criticize Alan Chadwick to measure their own personal sacrifices for humanity and the environment against his lifetime of devotion and care to those causes. As Rudolf Steiner once said, "Easy to criticize; hard to make a creative contribution of your own to the world."
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.
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.