Alan Chadwick Is Gone

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Alan Chadwick performing the spade work he most loved.

The smoking stars gather against it … the one who
cares for flowers is leaving us.
(from an Aztec song)

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

So, since MOTHER EARTH NEWS 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

Chadwick’s mother was also responsible for introducing her
son to another strong influence: the mystic Austrian
philosopher, Rudolf 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 became 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 my other activities was

All of the man’s pleasures, 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 … 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.”
And 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

Still, though he was able to find joy on 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
Freya 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-reluctant gardener to accept the job, as well as
the challenge of spreading his method that it presented.

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° 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

“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 the garden is all secrets,
the whole miracle of the garden is made up of 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 file as anyone could ask