Alan Summersby Emmet, 94, author of numerous books and articles on historic gardens, as well as a novel and two memoirs, died of cancer at home in Westford, MA on October 9. Mrs. Emmet was best known for her book So Fine a Prospect – Historic New England Gardens (University Press of New England, 1996). That book was a 1996 New York Times Notable Book about major private gardens in New England.
Earlier, Mrs. Emmet published Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Changing of a Landscape (Harvard University, 1978), the result of a group project in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University. She also published scores of articles in House and Garden, Garden Design, Horticulture, Architectural Digest, Hortus, Journal of the New England Garden History Society, Old-Time New England, Harvard Magazine, Country Gardens, and other periodicals.
Alan Emmet was born in St. Paul, MN in 1927 and grew up in New Jersey. She graduated from Kent Place School in Summit, NJ and from Radcliffe College (1950.) Soon after their marriage in 1948, she and her late husband Richard Emmet moved into the early-nineteenth-century farmhouse in Westford where she gardened and wrote for the rest of her life. In 1987, she completed the Radcliffe Seminars Landscape Design Program. She then worked at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Mrs. Emmet completed detailed Historic Landscape Reports to guide organizations in their care for the gardens and grounds of many historic properties. These included the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (the Massachusetts State House), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Daniel Chester French home and garden in Stockbridge, MA), the Edith Wharton Restoration (Lenox, MA), and Historic New England (numerous historic properties throughout New England.)
Other books by Alan Emmet include a novel The Mr. and Mrs. Club (The Permanent Press, 2001), which takes place in a town with some similarities to the town of Westford. She also published Our Side of the River (White River Press, 2015) a family memoir focused on her childhood summers in Minnesota. She recently completed a second family memoir (not yet published) about the Emmets' experiences in Ireland, where she and her husband had strong family ties.
Mrs. Emmet is survived by three children: Caroline Emmet Heald [Seth G. Heald (Rixeyville, VA)], Henry T. Emmet [Erica L. Emmet (Groton, MA)] and William T. Emmet [Anne H. Emmet (Heath, MA)]. She leaves six grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and two step-great-grandchildren. She is also survived by her brother Edmund K. Summersby [Judith A. Summersby (Cambridge, MA)].
In addition to writing and gardening, Mrs. Emmet enjoyed teaching English in the 1960s to recent immigrants as a volunteer with the International Institute in Lowell. In the 1960s she volunteered in elementary school classrooms in Boston. In Westford, she served on the Police Fire Station Building Committee in the early 1970s, and was active in the League of Women Voters.
She was an ardent, lifelong Democrat, as anyone who drove past her house during election season could tell, and she supported Democratic candidates in races throughout the country. She was an ambitious cook and enjoyed entertaining. She faithfully attended concerts of the Boston Symphony and enjoyed swimming and walking. Mrs. Emmet and her husband donated most of their land to MassAudubon. That land now constitutes much of the Nashoba Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. They also placed conservation restrictions on properties they owned in South Carolina and on Martha's Vineyard. Mrs. Emmet was a corporator at Emerson Hospital in Concord and served on the Council of Visitors at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
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A memorial service for Mrs. Emmet will be held at 11:30 am on Monday, October 25, 2021 in the Story Chapel of Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge. Her ashes will be interred next to those of her husband Richard Emmet.
In the interest of protecting all mourners from Covid-19, the Emmet family requests that only fully vaccinated mourners attend the service and the reception to follow. Masks are required inside Story Chapel. The reception will be held indoors at Bigelow Chapel, but some chairs will be provided to those who prefer to sit outside the chapel, and the caterers will serve those people outdoors.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Alan Emmet's name to MassAudubon, 208 South Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773 or to Conservation Law Foundation, 62 Summer Street, Boston, MA 02110.
The International Institute of New England
101 Jackson Street, Suite 2
Lowell, MA 01852
Arrangements under the care of Badger Funeral Home, Littleton. To share a memory or offer a condolence, visit: www.badgerfuneral.com