Alan Comb, gardener at Emmetts Garden

Alan Comb, Gardener at Emmetts Garden

When gardener Alan Comb arrived for his first day of work at Emmetts Garden in October 1987, the historic 100-year-old gardens had been reduced to a battle zone.

" There were trees sticking up like totem poles. For the first few weeks we had two foresters from the Trust in the South West out with a chainsaw clearing the main drive all day long."
- Alan Comb

I started working at Emmetts Garden a week after the Great Storm hit. The whole area was unrecognisable from the day I attended my interview.

These are Edwardian gardens, laid out by banker and passionate plantsman Frederic Lubbock. They contained many exotic species that he collected on his travels.

We tried to save what we could. For example, a handkerchief tree was blown over and badly damaged, but it was winched upright and is still in situ today.

But with so many species lost, we knew it was going to be a long road to recovery.

Alan sitting on a tractor at Emmetts Garden in 1987 and present day
Alan sitting on a tractor at Emmetts Garden in 1987 and present day
Alan sitting on a tractor at Emmetts Garden in 1987 and present day

Opening up new views

Emmetts also lost 95 per cent of its surrounding woodland, which left the garden much more exposed. 

We spent years cleaning up the damage, trying to clear paths for walking and make Emmetts accessible once again.

But it wasn’t all bad. The storms had the effect of opening up views over the Weald of Kent that had become overgrown.

We were able to see some of the original panoramas that Lubbock would have enjoyed in his day.

Bluebell wood, sparse in the spring after the storm and the lush green trees of today
Bluebell wood, sparse in the spring after the storm and the lush green trees of today
Bluebell wood, sparse in the spring after the storm and the lush green trees of today

Work continues

Some of the follow-up work is still not finished. Many of the projects we undertake today have a link to the effects of the storm.

For example, we are currently restoring the South Garden, thinning out flower beds that were overplanted in the wake of the storm.

Everything was replanted in groups of three - as was the standard practice in those days. But nobody came after a few years to take out the weakest specimens.

We can now go back and pick the best specimen of the three, and return the garden to how it would have looked in its Edwardian heyday.

Future conservation

We want to be sure that the garden remains as Lubbock intended for years to come. To minimalise the risk of losing species like we did in the storm, our team is sending specimens to the National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre.

So far we’ve sent around 1,200 plant cuttings there. They will be cultivated and used in other gardens, or kept as security against whatever the weather might bring.

It’s the first time in twenty-four years anything’s gone from us to the centre. Should we lose a plant at Emmetts we’ll always have the original plant.