Emmetts Garden in Kent was originally owned and created by Frederic Lubbock in the late nineteenth century.
Emmetts is well known locally for its bluebell wood full of native Hyacinthoides non scripta in blue, pink and white. The scent of these British native flowers delights the senses of both humans and their dogs as they walk through the wooded slope, refreshing themselves at the top of the hill at the National Trust café with the usual delicious selection of cakes.
Cakes do play a large part in the enjoyment of a garden, not merely for sustenance, but because sitting down and enjoying the view allows a different perspective of, in this instance, Emmetts. This is a trick to take home with you to use in your own garden. Make up a tray of tea and cake and sit down with a friend (or a notebook) and look at your garden with a stranger’s eye. Discuss which flowers and trees you like; the colour and shape combinations that work. We can spend too much time finding what is wrong with our gardens; too many weeds, paths that need cleaning and its good and useful to remind ourselves of the positive aspects of our outdoor space.
Back to Emmetts garden and Frederic Lubbock. The name ‘emmett’ is a local word for ‘ant’ and the story goes that Lubbock bought the land, then covered with anthills, as his elder brother, Baron Avebury was an expert on ants and ant behaviour and he liked the coincidence. Or it may be that, based on his brother’s expertise, Lubbock thought the farmland soil was likely to be good growing soil. Ants can affect the biological and physical properties of soil, especially when they are present in quantity. For example, when an ant hill has been established for some time they will have excavated corridors and tunnels which can help with the drainage of the soil. There will be food waste deposited in and around the ant hill which can lead to an increase in earthworm activity and population which improves the soil fertility.
Whatever his reasons for purchasing Emmetts, Lubbock proceeded to fill it with rare and unusual plants collected on trips abroad as well British native plants. Taking much of his inspiration from the writings and gardening principles of William Robinson, he created a ‘wild garden’ similar to Robinson’s own garden at Gravetye Manor.
Largely an arboretum, with trees, shrubs and rockery plants from around the world, the comparative smallness of the garden makes it easy to walk round at a leisurely pace. The balsam fir tree above is a Canadian native; a decorative, slow growing conifer.
Emmetts also has a formal rose garden near to the rockery garden. Centred around Cupid’s fountain, two large curved benches offer plenty of seating to encourage the enjoyment of scented roses.
The fairly recent planting of lavender (2012) to edge the rose borders gives both a longer season of interest and improves the health of the roses by increasing the health of the soil.
This addition of other plants to a rose border is one that is easily copied at home in your own garden. Adding any selection of plants is likely to improve the biodiversity, although some plants have a greater affinity with roses. Lavender is a good choice when you have red, pink and white shrub roses and have enough room in the border for both shrubs; whilst yellow roses could be paired with an under planting of golden leaved marjoram (Oregano).
The rockery has mixed plantings, including bulbs, shrubs and small perennial plants. Species tulips do well in this situation, being generally smaller than the tall tulips we tend to use in our spring bedding schemes. The rock garden shows some of the strong gardening influence that Robinson had on his friend’s layout of the garden. A firm believer in a more naturalistic style of gardens, Robinson even brought this style to rockery gardens, by planting alpines in more open ground than was found in more conventional Victorian rock gardens.
These photos of Emmetts Garden in Kent were taken during a spring visit, so azaleas, bluebells, anemones and tulips offered a tapestry of colour on a rather damp, overcast afternoon. Generally closed over the winter months, Emmetts offers a garden design inspiration from early spring snowdrops, through summer roses to lush autumn foliage colour.