It is time for a change of tack this week. Time to reminisce for I cannae get onything deen outside.
I received news a week ago of the passing of one of Scotland’s unsung horticultural heroes – Dr Edward Kemp passed away just short of his 102nd birthday. We mourn but we can celebrate the contribution he made to horticulture?
In our world he was a superstar. He trained at Dunecht Estate and with Aberdeen Parks Dept. He would have been a contemporary of the late Ronald Smith, another great horticulturist of his time.
Eddie Kemp, joined the staff of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1932 as a student and became it’s curator in 1950. Many of my contemporaries were taught and influenced by him.
He served in the Army from 1940 to 1946.
During his time at the Edinburgh Botanics, he developed two specialisms – the integration of trees etc into urban environments and plant propagation. He became a renowned authority in both spheres.
Now, there must have been something really special about the guys of that era. Another contemporary, a certain George Barron, retired from his post as head gardener at Pitmedden and then took on a new and pretty daunting task – creating and participating in the Beechgrove Garden.
Eddie Kemp retired from the RBGE circa 1970 and became the first curator of a brand new botanic garden for Dundee University in 1971 where he remained until 1980.
The bones of what you see today and the ethos on which it is based were created by E kemp Esq.
(It’s still peltin’ doon, so I will continue in this vein)
Some of us earn the dubious honour of being referred to as a “weil kent face” because much of what we do is in the public eye – while others with huge skills and incredible talents who beaver away, most of the time behind the scenes, are unsung heroes. That does not lessen the impact they have on our daily lives.
In the case of Eddie Kemp, regarding the lives of the people he worked with and trained, his living legacy is ginormous. His energy and enthusiasm were contagious. You can tell I am a fan though I only met the man twice.
He was a master of his craft and by all accounts a hard taskmaster too.
The last time I met him was in the 1980s. I was drawn to judge with him at a major European Horticultural Show in the Glasgow Exhibition Centre. We had to judge the municipal exhibits and for me it turned out to be like a master class. Despite his much superior knowledge of the plants in the displays and how to judge such exhibits, he never once talked down to his less experienced partner. That meant a great deal to me and needless to say, I learned a lot.
Our first meeting was at Dundee Botanics in the late 70s. I arranged for a party from Kemnay Gardening Club to visit. Dr Kemp would show us round.
His reputation went before him: he didn’t waste time or suffer fools gladly. Before letting my colleagues off the bus when we arrived, I explained that, if they wanted to get the maximum benefit from what he had to say, they would have to “keep up”.
Nae chance! He covered so much ground physically and in covering the history and ethos of the garden and the plants he went at such a rate of knots I’m sure half the company didn’t keep up with half of it.
For them, it was a fine walk in beautiful surroundings. That was another master class. It was how he always worked.
The Royal Horticultural Society awarded him a Victoria Medal of Honour (the gardener’s VC) and at his 100th birthday party a specially commissioned Gold Medal Award for Achievement was presented to him by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
One of Scotland’s unsung heroes. I wish I had been able to spend more time under his spell.
It is brightening up and as I look outside I can enjoy a couple of nice climbing shrubs planted quite close together. Flowering their heads off despite the weather are the gorgeous scented honeysuckle Sweet Sue and clematis ‘Niobe’. If I were anything of a designer, I would have planted them in the same hole. What a combination, eh?