“The English Gardener Arrives” By Paul A. Lee An excerpt from the book There Is a Garden in the Mind: A Memoir of Alan Chadwick and the Organic Movement in California
Alan Chadwick arrived one day in 1967, some weeks after I had organized a walk with the chancellor and a group of interested people to look for a possible site for a garden project. It was an irresistible impulse, the source of which I did not know. I thought a garden on the campus would be a good idea, but I wasn’t clear about what prompted me to think so, or what I was supposed to do about it. Chadwick was coming, and I must have sensed it. I like thinking that now. It is one of the few experiences in my life in which, in retrospect, I have the feeling that I was guided.
I wasn’t interested in gardening; as a typical academic, I was interested in the idea of gardening. I thought it would be a good project for the students on the campus of a university that had been a great ranch landscape—the Cowell Ranch—with vistas looking out from redwood groves to Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The students could do the work. I would watch and oversee and enjoy the asters and the poppies when they bloomed. And, of course, in the mid-1960s, “flower power” was in the air, wafting down from the Haight-Ashbury on a cloud of smoke. We all got a whiff of that. I wanted to put flower power into practice.
George Hunston Williams had been my church history professor at Harvard, and I had helped him with a book he wrote, Wilderness and Paradise
, describing the history of these motifs in the Bible and throughout Western culture, transposed by analogy as desert and garden. The second half of his book is about the rise of higher education in America. Inspired by desert/wilderness and garden/paradise themes, pioneers from the east headed west to plant gardens in the wilderness, to start schools in accordance with the biblical directives, also reminiscent of the schools of Plato and Aristotle, which included gardens. It was the first time my name appeared in a book, in his list of acknowledgments. I like to think it was a sign of things to come, when I lived out those very motifs after relocating to Santa Cruz.
Before I assumed my Santa Cruz teaching duties at Crown College, I taught for a year at Cowell College, where Page Smith was the provost. My colleague and office partner, Donald Nicholl, a visiting professor of history, had given a speech that affected me deeply, “A Sense of Place,” referring to his British friend David Jones, the artist and poet, whose sense of place was acutely attuned to Wales. Donald bemoaned the difficulty of achieving such a sense at a state university, where students were mostly subjected to bureaucratic processing: a secular desert where the spirit was at stake. On one of his last days before returning to England, we had a long talk about his impressions, and he spoke about the “spiritual laceration” he had suffered as a result of his visit, a phrase he borrowed from Dostoyevsky. He also had in mind something like the need for roots at an institution where the life of the spirit and spiritual roots were the last things on anyone’s mind.
I had seen a plan for the campus that called for a projected fixed population figure of 27,500, somehow arrived at as the target for each of the campus sites in the system. This meant something like 15,000 parking lots, which conjured up a lot of asphalt. I groaned under this institutional imposition on a great ranch landscape and could hear the redwoods groaning with me.
I thought a student garden would help offset this institutional imposition.
Santa Cruz was supposed to be the new beacon of hope for higher education, a major departure from the established campuses of the University of California, but for the fixed figure of the eventual population. Following the model of British universities, Santa Cruz would be comprised of smaller colleges, each of which would have a theme, a representative faculty, a library, dormitories, all under the aegis of the university, but autonomous units unto themselves. Cowell College, the first to open, in 1965, was devoted to the humanities. Teaching would be honored over publishing, so the promotional propaganda read, a promise that was not kept under the pressure of “publish or perish,” the bugbear of academic advancement.
Some of us had the suspicion that the ulterior motive for a network of independent colleges was to disperse the students so they could not easily organize. Santa Cruz was a reaction to Berkeley and the mega-university of industrial technocracy, provocative of student unrest, which eventually erupted nationally in response to the Vietnam War. And erupt it did at Santa Cruz as well. Geographic distance between the colleges deterred no one in acting out their anguish over the war.
A British flavor was injected into the culture of the university by using British academic terminology: common rooms
, not lounges
, not deans
; boards of study
, not departments
; and a number of British professors were hired to carry through the influence, notable among them Jasper Rose, professor of art history, and Glenn Wilson in political science.
I didn’t have an English gardener in mind to further the theme, but I should have.
A few weeks after the walk with the chancellor, the English gardener arrived, as though on schedule. He was told about my interest in a garden project by his friend Freya von Moltke, who was visiting the campus for a quarter. He had stopped off to visit her, returning from a trip to New Zealand, where he had thought of resettling. She had told him he wouldn’t like it, and she was right. It was as though he wanted her to tell him what to do next. A week or two before, Freya and her companion, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a visiting professor at Cowell College, had come to our home for lunch, and she told me she had heard about my walk with the chancellor and that I wanted to start a garden. She had a friend coming who would do the garden for me. I said, “Okay, Countess.”
Freya was the widow of Count Helmuth von Moltke, one of the great figures in the resistance against Hitler. He was the leader of the Kreisau Circle, named after the estate he inherited as the grandnephew of the famous German General von Moltke, the founder of the modern German army under Bismarck, who was buried at Kreisau, making it a national shrine. For thinking about the future of Germany after Hitler, and holding secret planning sessions at Kreisau, Helmuth was accused of treason and was hanged from a meat hook with piano wire. There is a national memorial devoted to him and others at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. He was caught up in the net of the Officers’ Bomb Plot, an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life, and even though he had been against assassination, he was executed for his ideas about the future of Germany.
A woman of luminous beauty, with a voice to match, Freya had become the companion of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, the great polymath, who fled Germany when Hitler came to power and who had worked with von Moltke in youth work service camps until Hitler nationalized them. Eugen had been Page Smith’s professor at Dartmouth, where, in 1940, they had started Camp William James, a leadership training camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps. They wanted to bring the spirit of William James and the vision of his famous talk at Stanford in 1906, “A Moral Equivalent of War,” into what had become a kind of holding tank for welfare youth, due to the so-called means test one had to sign, indicating poverty, in order to be eligible for the corps. They had the blessing of Mrs. Roosevelt and Dorothy Thompson, the famous journalist, to open up the corps to the middle class, and so they started a camp for that purpose at Tunbridge, Vermont. It was short lived, and within months the adventure was over. The war had begun.
Page had invited Rosenstock-Huessy to Santa Cruz to teach at Cowell College as a visiting professor after his retirement, and Freya accompanied him.
I later came to realize that the short-lived effort on a farm in Vermont—Camp William James—was to be reborn in our Chadwick Garden in California, once the confluence of historical forces unfolded. It became clear to me only years later, after Page Smith and I teamed up to start the William James Association, in 1972, and later helped Jerry Brown, when governor of California, inaugurate the California Conservation Corps, with the hope of carrying through the Chadwick legacy.
Freya was Chadwick’s muse—everyone could see why—and the love of his life. They met and became friends in South Africa, where Chadwick had gone to act in a traveling theater company and eventually shifted to gardening at the Admiralty Gardens in Capetown.
After the defeat of Germany and the loss of her estate—Kreisau—to the Russians, Freya had fled to Capetown with her sons to join family who had settled there. She met Alan in Capetown. After becoming friends, she told me how Alan had come to see her in her cottage. They had an argument, and Alan had displayed his famous temper and rode off on his bike, and as she was about to jump on her bike and chase after him, she knew that that would be it. It would be construed as a declaration of love with the implication of a possible marriage. Either/or. She stayed home.
I remember Alan talking about the wildlife of Africa and his joy romping with the lions and tigers and the gazelles and whatnot as if he were one of them in his element. Freya’s sons have fond memories of Alan and their friendship with Alan, acting as a substitute father and introducing them to nature’s mysteries as only he could do.
Who was Alan Chadwick? What were his roots? What was his background? Born on July 27, 1909, he was from landed gentry of considerable means and a family history of distinction going back generations. He often referred to Pudleston Court, the family estate after Swinton Hall, as if he had been brought up there in the lap of luxury, but Pudleston was sold about thirty years before Alan was born, although his grandfather retained the farms for the rental income. These lands could have been Alan’s reference. He had china and silverware with the Chadwick crest, which I was led to believe were artifacts from Pudleston. He and his brother, Seddon, were brought up at “Long Coppice,” Bournemouth, where there is a stained-glass window bearing the Chadwick arms, so we are clear about his actual home and its location, not to be confused with one of the ancestral homes.
Alan’s father, Harry Chadwick, born in 1849, was a graduate of Oxford and a lawyer by profession. He met his second wife, Elizabeth Rarp, Alan’s mother, at a hotel near Henley, where he attended the famous rowing races. His first wife, Jane Lane Boxall, was from famous stock; an ancestor, Jane Lane, saved the life of the king of England—Charles II—in an episode that was considered one of the great events of English history. It is one of eight historic incidents commemorated by eight-by-ten-foot frescoes in the Houses of Parliament. The king decreed that the first-born female in the line from then on should bear the name “Jane Lane.” […] From There Is a Garden in the Mind: A Memoir of Alan Chadwick and the Organic Movement in California by Paul A. Lee, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2013 by Paul A. Lee. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Excerpted from There Is a Garden in the Mind by Paul A. Lee. Copyright © 2013 by Paul A. Lee. Excerpted by permission of North Atlantic Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.