From HILMAR MOORE (1992)
Thanks to Craig Siska
Reprinted from STELLA NATURA
When I think of the culture of agriculture in the United States, three names come to mind: Liberty Hyde Bailey, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, and Alan Chadwick. Bailey had a tremendous effect on the cultural life of rural America through his work at Cornell. His hundreds of bulletins and his characterizations of rural life brought self-respect to a generation of farmers. His 65 books, written between 1885 and 1953, are still standards of excellence for their clarity and usefulness as references, particularly when one needs practical information. The two books on nature study for children were decades ahead of their time. Pfeiffer was the great pioneer of biodynamics in this country. His innovations in scientific research, his ability to inspire quite diverse kinds of people, his leadership of the biodynamic movement for over twenty years, and his spiritual insights have left an indelible record of achievement.
Alan Chadwick’s contributions are more difficult to categorize. He was an artist, not a scientist like Pfeiffer or Bailey. He had no formal academic training, nor was he skilled at any form of management, yet a number of people are successfully pursuing agriculture professionally who were inspired by him. I do not believe he undertook any systematic form of spiritual development, although he spoke with devotion of Rudolf Steiner and considered himself a Roman Catholic, and yet he played a large role in the spiritual development of many people. Three of the five big gardens he began are still in production. He was one of the most enigmatic men I have encountered and certainly one of the most inwardly tortured.
He was born in England in 1909 to a wealthy family, and had private tutors for his education. He received a formal training as an actor, in the manner for which England is justifiably renowned. How he attained his horticultural training is the subject for some debate. Indeed, a journalist who tried to write a biography of Chadwick gave up after months of work. Nothing about Alan Chadwick’s life, his personal relationships, his biography, and even his legacy in horticulture is straightforward or conventional.
He came to California in 1967 from South Africa, after having worked some years as actor and restoring the Admiralty Gardens in Capetown. He was invited to establish a garden and a training program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, then one of the most innovative universities in the world. Soon his incredibly beautiful and productive garden, his inspirational lectures, and his magnetic personality had attracted a devoted group of gardeners. He inspired and helped to develop a garden at the Zen Center at Green Gulch, north of San Francisco, and another at Saratoga. He founded the Round Valley Garden Project in Covelo, where he worked and taught for over five years. Then he moved to Virginia, where his last project existed for several years. Finally, seriously ill he was invited back to the Zen Center, where he was cared for with real love until his death on Whitsunday, 1980.
I think that the source of Alan’s strength as a teacher and inspirer lies in his unique vision of what a garden can be. This vision is based on two pillars: a clear understanding of the rhythms of nature in creating an environment in which plants can thrive, and of the role of the garden in human culture.
The enthusiasm, delicacy, and accuracy of Alan’s presentation of the rhythms of nature are unforgettable. “Why do you water the soil?” he would ask. “So it will dry out!” came his answer, thus pointing to the rhythmic undulations between warmth and cold, wet and dry, that plants require and that must come from the environment skillfully managed by the gardener. His vividly pictorial lectures on the management of fertilization, propagation, irrigation, and cultivation within the cycle of the year, the breathing of the earth, will live as long as people remember his words.
He taught that the garden is both the epitome and the mother of all true culture. He foresaw a society that would become ever more decentralized and diverse, with its foundation an agriculture that would unite art, science, and religion. What religion? That service to the spirit of the earth without which we have no real inner life; that devotion which allows us to become creative collaborators in the future of earthly evolution. He showed how horticulture can bring about artistic creation in each household, religious devotion in the soul toward one’s environment; and how by understanding the requirements of building a living soil community, one receives the bounty of a renewed and enlivened earth.
Alan taught that the garden would become the center of a new kind of village life, modeled somewhat on an idealized medieval village or town. It would combine aspects of the old monastery, with its culinary, medical, vegetable, and meditation gardens, its orchards, animal husbandry, clinic and hospital, school, and small scale farming. This vision comes from the distant past, from the ancient temple cultures that flourished in Egypt and other places, and which had a last burst of glory in medieval Europe. There were also elements of the great 19th century English landscape gardens of Repton and Capability Brown in Alan’s picture, as well as of the “wild garden” of Robinson and the huge flower borders of Gertrude Jekyll.
It is easy to ridicule Alan’s vision. He related much more to the past than to the present which he hated. He had a relationship to ancient Greece which one could feel emanating from him at times as if part of his soul had never left it. But his vision was not based on a romantic view of human nature; far from it. He constantly inveighed against the inherent evil of human “disobedience” towards the laws of nature, to which he contrasted in powerful images the obedience of the plant kingdom. He was like an Old Testament prophet, railing against the people’s falling from the Way into sin and decadence.
That he never found an understanding for the mystery of the human spirit was one reason his projects fell apart after some time. In this he was certainly typical of our time. Community based on individuality and not on an older group consciousness is clearly one of our greatest challenges. One could say that what compassion he communicated was much more often for the soil, plants and animals than for the human condition. Yet I often wonder if his vision will not find its true place in the future and that time may be nearer than we think! We may find ourselves working much more closely to our home, as many futurists tell us; and if so, Alan’s vision of the “home in the garden” may prove to be much more prophetic than anachronistic.
When one speaks to a wide variety of his students, one hears comments which make clear the tortured nature of Alan’s destiny. He was through and through an artist, and one whose being looked with reverence to the past, to a society organized around the ancient mystery centers. He felt intimately connected to myth and fairy tales. The most peaceful moments for him seemed to be when he taught “voice, mime, deportment, and elocution” in preparation for drama work. Here he lauded the most minuscule attempts at creativity. By contrast, managing a large garden, the increasing teaching load, and the many people who looked to him as a spiritual guide caused him real pain. “I am not a maestro, ” he once said to me. He wished that we had such a spiritual teacher, and was aware that that person was not himself: He yearned to place his life in the service of the spirit and to found a community (actually, a village more than an intellectual community) based on his vision, yet he felt constantly pulled by the selfish individuality of his artistic temperament. Constantly he drew people to him through his charismatic personality, abilities, and insight, and just as constantly he drove them away.
For perspective, one must look to the many students who have already transcended those areas in which Alan’s vision was inadequate, and who have taken his inspiration into the most varied endeavors, by learning to work with appropriate machinery, creating new social forms, and working with disadvantaged people and communities This alone qualifies him as a significant figure in American agriculture. Most of the people who worked with him had a lasting experience of what can be accomplished through common work without machines. The combination of so much hand labor, such quantities of compost and manures, and of saving every scrap of refuse for the compost, can create a truly awesome transformation of the soil. This memory may become more helpful some day when the luxury of working like that becomes a necessity.
Another measure can be found in the emphasis he placed on flowers and fruit, on artistically designed borders and other landscaping for beauty and for feeding the birds and insects, whose presence in a living organism is essential for its health. He regarded beauty as just as important a “product” of a garden as vegetables and herbs. I think one will find elements of this concept in nearly every gardening book written after about 1975.
If, as Rudolf Steiner predicted, there will come a time when there will not be an atom of earthly substance that has not been transformed by human effort, then there will come a time when Alan Chadwick’s ideas will be applied over whole regions, where every aspect of the landscape will be consciously designed for scientific (ecological and agricultural), artistic (repose and beauty), and spiritual (for our meditative life) reasons. Then we will all live in the garden, our true home.