Alan Chadwick

Overview

ChadwickLong.gif

The Ecology Hall of Fame was inspired by the life and work of Alan Chadwick, the famous proponent of organic gardening. In 1967, Dr. Paul Lee started the Student Garden Project at the University of California, Santa Cruz and hired Chadwick to develop the garden. This garden, now known as the Chadwick Garden, introduced the French Intensive and Biodynamic systems of food and flower production to America. From this garden, his students have spread across the country with Chadwick-inspired gardens and farms from California to Virgina — and even one in Kenya!

Chadwick restored what could be called the vital root of existence, a restoration and renewal of the integrity of organic nature. We were able to re-plant ourselves in nature by virtue of what he transmitted.

But more than that, for those who were touched by his genius, Chadwick was larger than life. He taught and inspired more by his manner and his behavior than by his words alone. He takes his place among all of those we wish to honor in the Hall of Fame, the favored ones, the transmitters of life.

Appreciation

An Appreciation

by Page Smith

Page Smith, one of America’s most distinguished historians, was a friend of Chadwick’s from the time Chadwick arrived at the University of California in 1967. He wrote this eulogy in 1980.

chadwick_sign2.jpg

Dylan Thomas wrote to his father: “Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Alan Chadwick went greatly into the good night at Green Gulch, surrounded by people who loved and cared for him in a beautiful setting where he had started one of his great gardens. The “dying of the light” that Alan raged against was the light of our twentieth century civilization so heedless of the rich bounty of the earth. More than an inspired horticulturalist, Alan was like a furious Old Testament prophet, warning of the wages of our sinful treatment of the land. A visionary, he looked at a barren plot of ground and saw it bloom; the herbaceous border would go just there, opening to an enchanting view of the mountains or the ocean. The herb garden, the garden’s soul, would be here, in inviting terraces. The arbor would be over there. And magically, and by incredible labors, they appeared in time, or at least anticipations of them–at Santa Cruz, in Saratoga, at Green Gulch, Covelo, New Market, Virginia, wherever he paused in his flight from the unendurable realities of our technological society, or simply the obtuseness of humankind.

Every garden contained a penance, concretelike hardplan, often the result of ceaseless tractor tracks, which had to be broken up so that the soul could breathe. This nourished that. That looked like a weed but drew necessary nutriments up from the deeper levels of the ground. Something rested in the shade of something else; and it in turn encouraged another flower or vegetable. It was all a marvelously intricate world of interdependent growing things: nature lovingly domesticated.

In an age of “collective leadership,” Alan Chadwick was as imperious as a king. In a day of carefully modulated tempers and self-conscious “interpersonal relations,” he stormed and raged not just at abstractions like laziness or indifference or inattention but at the poor frail flesh of those who were the destined instruments of his terrible, unflinching will. And then suddenly, being the consummate actor for whom all the world was a stage, he would be as sunny, as playful, as irresistable as the prince of a fairy tale. An exotic past lay dimly behind him–British naval officer, Shakespearean actor, painter of pale watercolors, the remnants of Puddleston china and silver brought out for state occasions, reassuring evidence that he had not, after all, come from outer space as one was sometimes inclined to suspect.

Everything about him was remarkable and distinctive. His physique, his height and angularity, his face, his hair, his walk. Those who fell under his spell had generally to put up with a good deal. That so many were willing to do so is the best possible testimony to the power of what he had to teach, which was inseparable from the way he taught it and the person he was. Mystic, seer, creator, lover of fine wines, coffees, caviar, and champagne, man of prodigious energy and prodigious fury–his life taught us that “nothing great is accomplished without passion.” We will find his spirit in the gardens he or his disciples built, exhorting us to do better, to care more, to work harder, to recklessly expend love on an intractable world, to make the world a garden. And we will find his spirit in his vision of gardens never built but only dreamed of.”

Page Smith

Archive

EcoTopia/USA, in conjunction with the UCSC McHenry Library Special Collections Department, is setting up a Chadwick Archive. This will comprise tapes and transcripts of Chadwick’s teachings, books and articles about him, and an extensive collection of information about the Biodynamic/French Intensive method of gardening. All materials will be freely available for viewing by the public. If you have or know of any material that should be included, please contact us at drpalee@aol.com

SantaCruzLogo.jpg

Biography

1909-1980

A Brief Biography

from Mother Earth News, December 1980​

Reprinted with Permission

chadwickBW.jpg

Most regular readers of this publication already know Alan Chadwick as the founder of the biodynamic/French intensive school of horticulture. Many, no doubt, can even name a few of the sites — the University of California at Santa Cruz, the Green Gulch retreat, Virginia’s Carmel in the Valley, and other s– whose soil has experienced his magic. It’s strange, then, that few people know much about his background … about the influences and forces that led this exceptional man to develop what could well be the most truly wholistic gardening method in existence.

So, since MOTHER has visited with Alan many times in the past, we’d like to present — by way of tribute — a brief biography of this extraordinary man … in both our words and his own.

Alan Chadwick was born — on July 27, 1909 — into the “upper crust” of Edwardian England’s society. The family estate was enormous and dotted with formal gardens of varying themes and sizes. However, although the early exposure to such careful horticulture certainly inspired Alan, his mother was the major influence upon the young boy.

“She was extremely artistic,” he told us, “and gave me — at a terribly early age — an interest in all forms of creativity .. and particularly in horticulture and the mystery that is the garden.”

Chadwick’s mother was also responsible for introducing her son to another strong influence .. the mystic Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, whose theories about the interrelatedness of living things were later to contribute to the development of Alan’s own gardening methods. Steiner was, however, regarded as an “utter crank” by most of his peers, and Chadwick has explained that the attitude of house guests toward his tutor (“Very often, at tea or dinner, they would turn to me and say, with just the slightest curl of the lip, ‘Do you really study with that man, then?'”) served to further isolate the teenager who, from early youth, “never liked human beings .. always got on with them in the worst way.”

But, though Alan had very little use for social interaction, his incredible energies led him to excel in any number of pursuits. The young man was to become a gold medal skier and skater, a professional painter and violinist, and a Shakespearean actor (a career which he followed for 32 years) … studying gardening all the while. (It was, in Chadwick’s own words, “the one means of resuscitation, where the energy for all my other activities was generated.”)

All of the man’s pleasure’s, however, were brought to an abrupt halt by the beginning of the Second World War. It would be difficult to imagine anyone more poorly suited to military life than this artist/gardener. However, Britain — during World War II — demanded that many people ignore their true natures. As Alan explained it, “I’d been an objector, but I was soon running a mine sweeper .. and somehow I was made a commander and spent four years on the bridge.”

The war experience was a shattering one: “It absolutely capsized my attitude to civilization. I had nothing left that I could play, no cards left to play with humanity.” In order to get out of his native land, which was the focal point of the memories that haunted him, Alan accepted an offer to act in A Streetcar Named Desire … in a South African theater.

While there, Chadwick — who had already achieved the “huge marriage between vision and practicality” that was his synthesis of the biodynamic teachings of Steiner and the incredibly productive intensive gardening techniques that he’d studied in France — designed a 26-acre national display garden.

Still, though he was able to find joy in the stage and peace among his carefully tended raised planting beds, Alan’s dislike for humanity caused him more and more to shut himself off from others. And he might well have remained that way, might well have gone through life without sharing his great gift, had he not met Countess Freye von Moltke … the widow of the famous German general, Helmuth von Moltke.

This amazing woman, who had recently endured the death of her husband and the defeat of her country, had maintained a great love for humanity despite the burden of her personal sorrows.

The two became dear friends (“she provided me with a balance point”), and years later it was Freya who arranged that Chadwick be offered a position with the University of Santa Cruz . . . and then convinced the still-reluctent gardener to accept the job, as well as the challenge of spreading his method that it represented.

It’s interesting to note that — although some hundreds of students have learned facets of the biodynamic/French intensive method while working directly with Chadwick, and literally thousands of men and women have had their whole conception of horticulture shifted 180 degrees as a result of his work — Alan always denied (and sometimes did so emphatically) that he was a teacher. In speaking of the influence he had upon others, he chose to offer a different interpretation:

The reason for all of it is simply that I love beauty . . . I adore beauty and I absolutely detest

ugliness. There is also a factor beyond that, though. I’ve been very selfish for much of my life, you see. I have lived for nothing but art, I have lived for beauty. I have. And I haven’t wanted to teach anyone anything .. but the garden — and you must realize that I almost never speak of any one garden but of the concept itself — allowed me to see a way not to be a tutor but, instead, to expose a teaching.

“And I’ve found that the students, children and adults, who work with me can come to understand in that way. Instead of my telling them to do this and that — instead of my forcing them to learn names and procedures — I’ve been sometimes able to help them discover secrets, and I’ve been granted the chance to expose a few others to this incredible “thing” which, itself, is the teacher.

“It is, you see — though many people seem to find the idea amusing — the garden that makes the gardener.

Alan Chadwick passed away on May 25, 1980. On the wall to the left of his bed he had hung — just prior to his death — a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XV. It is as fitting a summary of the man’s life as anyone could ask for.

Sonnet XV

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check’d even by the self-same sky;
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconsistant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And, all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new

Links

There are, as yet, no other web sites directly devoted to Alan Chadwick. However, a number of sites contain information about the Biodynamic/French Intensive method of organic gardening he developed. There’s also a wonderful photo of Chadwick at Jim Hair’s website.

The following links will help you explore the Web and learn more about Chadwick’s legacy. If you find any other Web sites that you think should be included here, please e-mail us at drpalee@aol.com

  • A transcription of “Anemone,” a lecture by Chadwick from 1979.

  • Garden Song is a film made about Chadwick in 1981. The distributor, Bullfrog Films has a description of the film on their website.

  • The Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper archive includes a profile of Chadwick written by Christina Waters, published in 1997.

  • Seeds of Change, one of the main producers of organic seeds, had a tribute to Chadwick on their website. Here is an archive of the page from the WayBack Machine.