Writer, spiritual teacher and co-founder of the Findhorn community

Born: January 7, 1920;

Died: March 12, 2020.

DOROTHY Maclean, who has died aged 100, was a writer and speaker on spirituality, famous for her belief that she could commune with the spirits of plants and vegetables.

When it was reported that her abilities produced extraordinarily bountiful crops at the Findhorn community in the north-east of Scotland, it helped make the retreat famous around the world.

Maclean, who was born in Canada, had helped found the community in the 1960s with her friends, Peter and Eileen Caddy, after the three of them were sacked from their jobs at a hotel. For a while, they lived in a tiny caravan in Findhorn and it was there that Maclean resolved to grow some crops in an unpromising, sandy spot.

She believed her spiritual connection with the plants guided her in their cultivation. Each plant, she said, has a spirit she called a deva; the devas would dictate what she needed to do to care for the crops – how much compost or water to use and so forth.

“I was told everything had an intelligence, even a vegetable, and I was to harmonise with the essence of that intelligence,” she said.

The concept of communing with plants attracted some ridicule, but many were inspired by the idea and it contributed to a rapid expansion at Findhorn, which is now the largest eco-village in the UK and a model for sustainable living.

As one of its founders and a believer in a close and caring relationship between humans and nature, Maclean can fairly be seen as a pioneer of the environmental movement that has gathered pace since the 1970s.

Maclean was born into a middle-class family in Ontario, where she studied for a business degree, and came to spirituality and environmentalism through the unlikely route of counter-espionage during the Second World War.

At first, she worked as a secretary in part of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in New York before being transferred to Panama and then London during the Blitz.

It was in Panama that she met her future husband, John Wood, who introduced her to Sufism, the mystical Islamic belief system that seeks a closer relationship with God. The couple travelled together and in the UK they grew close to Sheena Govan, a mystic and spiritual guru from Scotland who attracted followers to her flat in London where something of a cult grew up around her.

It was through Sheena Govan that Maclean first met the Caddys and for a while the three of them managed Cluny Hill Hotel in Forres.

They then moved to the Trossachs Hotel in Perthshire but their employment there was terminated, which is when they all moved into the caravan in Findhorn: Maclean, the Caddys and their three children.

It was not an easy life in the beginning - they were all living on unemployment benefit – but Maclean’s meditation seemed to point to a way forward.

“It was at Findhorn that I was told in meditation that I had this job to do with nature,” she said. “I suppose basically what the angels were saying is that there are presences on the planet which we are ignoring and that the Earth needs all beings to live in cooperation with each other.”

In time, the stories about exceptional vegetables, including gargantuan cabbages, spread and people with similar beliefs to Maclean and the Caddys started to move into the area.

The community was then featured in several BBC documentaries which spread its fame even wider: some people made fun of it, many wanted to move there, and decades later, some of the principles it espoused have become mainstream.

The eco-village now has some 60 buildings and is powered by wind turbines and solar panels. It has also attracted thousands of people to its lessons and workshops.

Maclean left the community in 1973 and went to the US, where she helped to found the Lorian Association spiritual education community in Washington state. She also travelled the world teaching and lecturing on divinity and her spiritual experiences.

She wrote several books about her experiences, including To Hear the Angels Sing, Call of the Trees, and Memoirs of an Ordinary Mystic, always centred on her central idea that people could work more closely with the natural world. “I’d like people to realise that they, too, can work cooperatively with nature’s intelligence,” she said. “Such co-operation is vital for the world.”

In 2009 she moved back to live at Findhorn and celebrated her 100th birthday there earlier this year. She was pre-deceased by the Caddys and as such was the last surviving founder of the Findhorn community.