Emmets at Emmetts

Last updated on September 3rd, 2023 at 02:41 pm


You know you’re getting on in years when your kids suggest visiting a garden for pleasure.  It’s even worse when they know the names of the plants.  Anyway, after far too long apart, the Memsahib and I made the great trek in a south-easterly direction to meet the no longer nippers for a weekend.  The journey was made all the more exciting when, half-way along the M40, a myriad of pretty coloured lights suddenly appeared on the car’s dashboard.  There was no warning of the warning lights, I thought.  Do you sometimes hanker for simpler times, when the absence of automatic alerts meant there was nothing to worry about?  Until you broke down.  Still, I can’t remember feeling stressed, as a student, chugging along the motorway with a pair of tights replacing the fanbelt, an egg broken into the radiator, a coke can wired round the exhaust pipe and a tin of hydraulic fluid in the boot ready to top up the shock absorbers.  But then I cannot remember visiting Emmetts Garden either, which my offspring assured me I had.  Apparently, I have also forgotten turning back from Legoland with some unreasonable dad excuse.  How do youngsters remember – and know – so much?

Understandably, we had all been looking forward a great deal to seeing one another.  Because I am English, and therefore emotionally repressed, all I will say about that side of things is that it was absolutely splendid.  Visiting Emmetts Garden was also a jolly good idea.  The sun shone, we had an ice cream, a picnic, a very pleasant walk, nattered a lot in that companionable way you do with people you love, and enjoyed it very much indeed.  I must have been happy, because I even bought something from the National Trust shop, something I hardly ever do.

  • Rose covered walkway at Emmetts Garden
  • The rockery at Emmetts
  • Flower border at Emmetts
  • Rhododendron, Emmetts, Kent

Emmets is perched high on a sandstone ridge.  Whilst considerably larger than our own tiny patch of planet, relatively speaking, it is not an enormous estate garden and there is little formality to it.  To be sure, there is a wonderful rockery, a magnificently vibrant border and a charming, romantic, rose garden; but the highlights, for me, were the stunning vistas across the Weald of Kent, the trees, many of them rare, and the wildflower meadows.  Frankly, the meadows just made me want to lie down in them.  There was an appealing ‘discovery cabin’ too, which looked like something from a Grimm’s fairy tale.  Like all gardens, though, Emmetts offers a different experience through the seasons.  We visited in early June, but it is particularly known for its spring bluebells and tulips.

  • Rose covered walkway at Emmetts Garden
  • View over the Weald of Kent
  • Ram pump pond
  • Wildflower meadow

Apart from the views, which were someone else’s creation, Emmetts owes it all to a chap named Frederic Lubbock, a banker who bought the place in 1893.  Don’t hold his profession against him.  He was passionate about plants, was Fred, and imported rare species from all over the world. The rose garden was designed, in Italian style (apparently), for his wife, Catherine.  Why bother with a mere bouquet when you can give the good lady an entire garden, eh?

After Fred died in 1927, Emmetts was purchased by an American geologist, Charles Boise.  He made a few changes, including extending the rock garden (as you’d expect), and generously left the estate to the National Trust when he died in 1964.  It was interesting to read on the National Trust’s website that the next Big Occasion in Emmetts’ story seems to have been the Great Storm of October 1987 – an event I remember very well.  Nearby Sevenoaks had to change its name.  At Emmetts, the winds took out 95% of the woodland. A new gardener, turning up for his first day shortly afterwards, found the property hard to recognise from the place he had attended for his interview.

The house at Emmetts is not open to the public and seems to be one of those places divided into flats that no one should be able to afford.

The rose garden at Emmetts

We should explain the name.  ‘Emmet’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for ant, æmete.  Apparently, the place was once covered in large anthills.  Perhaps this refers to native southern wood ants, which are about 10mm long and build large, dome-like, nests that can grow to 2 metres above ground (and the same beneath).  ‘Emmet’ is also a term used in Cornwall to refer, usually (but not always) in a derogatory manner to tourists, or incomers.  Tourists are like ants, then.  Elsewhere, you may come across the label ‘grockle’ for ‘tourist’, which I have always thought was a reasonably affectionate expression.  Sometimes, tourists are called ‘tourists’, or ‘visitors’.  These words may be boring, but everyone knows where they stand.  In North Yorkshire, you may come across ‘offcumden’ – an incomer – a term that, for some reason, often strikes me as hinting at a degree of narrow-minded prejudice.

In any event, we were emmets at Emmetts in Kent – and, I suggest, happy to be so.

Discovery cabin, Emmetts

Here is more information about Emmetts Garden from the National Trust.  And they should know.

66 thoughts on “Emmets at Emmetts”

    1. Thanks, Robbie. Britain as a whole has a passion for gardens, i think. I used to live in Kent and i can’t recall Pashley Gardens. Another one for the ‘to visit’ list – though no doubt one of my offspring will tell me that I have already been there!

  1. Colin Harrison

    Lovely, serene prose that flows effortlessly over the reader like a refreshing mountain stream. Most enjoyable, Mike. Thanks for what you do.

  2. That phenomenon of our now adult offspring clearly remembering things we did with them and have completely forgotten is indeed a sign of advancing years. Funny you should mention Legoland. I planned a trip to Legoland with my second child, who is admittedly 27 years younger than my first, from many thousands of miles away and it wasn’t until we actually walked through the entrance and around a bit before I remembered I had indeed been their with offspring number one about 27 years earlier.
    So it goes.
    Looks like a nice place. Pretty flowers n’ all.

    1. It does make you wonder – and occasionally shudder – at the thought of the things you have forgotten. Imagine how upsetting it could be if they all came out on your deathbed.

  3. I loved reading the differing memories of you and your children 🙂

    The garden looks fabulous, it is somewhere I haven’t visited yet…

  4. Hi Mike – I really should get over there … it looks gorgeous (not today, as it’s raining!). It’s interesting as I’d only really heard about Emmets – from the Cornish language … so thank you for another explanation: especially in reference to this house and garden. Cheers and glad you had a happy day with those kids! Hilary

  5. A thoroughly enjoyable and humorous post Mike. I wondered what it was like there, and now I know. Hope you’re keeping well by the way.

  6. John @ Stargoose

    A friend from Devon tells me that “grockle” is just the Devonian pronunciation of “grackle”, the old name for Starling. Tourists come in large noisy flocks and leave a lot of mess behind apparently. I once knew an American man whose first name was Emmet, whatever were his parents thinking about. I had the strange experience a few years ago of meeting another friend’s Australian offspring, although they’d never met me they knew an unnerving amount about my teenage years when their father and I got up to all sorts of mischief that I’d forgotten all about.

  7. Michael Graeme

    Sounds like a good day out was had by all. I too remember fondly the days when you didn’t worry about a car until it broke down, when you went by the rattles, the judders and squeals. Now the light comes on, and the heart sinks, though the car seems to rumble along just the same. Expensive investigation reveals a faulty sensor.

    1. I was panicking all weekend, took the thing to a garage first thing Monday and was told, “Nah, mate. That’s just your offside doppleflangemeter dexteritor unit. 400 miles? Gorblimey, it’ll be fine for twice that! Let me just knock off he fault for you…. Nah, nah, thanks, but don’t worry, nothing to pay.”

  8. You have chosen a favourite NT garden of mine. There is nothing to compare when the ground is covered in bluebells in the Spring.

  9. Thanks for another uplifting blog post, Mike! I, too, especially love wildflower meadows. I was admiring one in upstate NY a few days ago which also included a lovely vista down a small valley…

    1. Thanks, Will. I don’t know what wild flowers in general have been up to this year – they have seemed prolific wherever we’ve been. But the UK has lost a horrendous % of its wildflower meadows in the last 80 or so years.

  10. A lovely looking garden Mike, much too far for me to visit so thanks for the tour. As for various nicknames for tourists I find all of them insulting, and ‘grockle’ sounds like something out of Harry Potter.

    1. I can’t get too upset with the term ‘grockle’ – it’s kind of cute. How come too far to visit, Eunice? I think I’ll make it my mission to get you to do a tour of the soft south! 🙂

  11. Another lovely outing. Thank you. And I chuckled at your student-days repairs. But you left out the chewing-gum stopper for holes in the fuel tank. (A task usually delegated to us youngsters, as dentures, apparently, weren’t really up to gum chewing!)

  12. The gardens look lovely.
    I’m not sure whether I’ve forgotten things or whether my kids are making things up… or maybe it’s a case of recollections may differ!

  13. This is a lovely place regardless of its small size. Children can be amazing, mine are now 29 and 31 years young. Where have the years gone, Mike? I’m 62 years young but still feel 21!

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