Horticulturist and former urator of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh;
Born: July 26, 1910; Died: July 7, 2012.
DR Eddie Kemp, who had died aged 101, was a visionary horticulturist, dedicated educationist and perpetual student. Indeed, it was because of his devotion to his profession – and its social and educational importance – that he gained a deserved reputation as a blunt man, of unswerving commitment, who was dedicated to horticulture in its broadest sense. In many regards ahead of his time, he challenged attitudes towards the role of botanic gardens.
As far back as the 1950s, he argued there was no room for the collection of plants for collection's sake. He contented that it was the responsibility of botanic gardens to make themselves available as living educational facilities for all.
Hailing from a farming family in Aberdeenshire, his early horticultural training was in the renowned Aberdeen Parks Department, later joining Lord Cowdray's equally well-respected Dunecht Estate garden. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and self-improvement, taking a correspondence course in surveying and also mastering German and Latin. Coupled with a phenomenal memory, this thirst for knowledge equipped him for success in the many demanding roles he was to fulfil throughout his working life and beyond retirement. In his 90s he would still happily quote Virgil or recite, in the vernacular, Tam o' Shanter.
His long association with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) began when he arrived as a student in 1932. So distinguished was this studentship, coupled with his deep interest in science-based plant propagation – much of it acquired through his access to the valuable German writings on plant physiology – that, in 1935, he was charged with responsibility for RBGE's new propagation department, established to co-ordinate the cultivation of an influx of recently introduced Asian species.
The Second Word War interrupted his career – he was awarded a commission in the Royal Artillery in 1943, his fluency in German resulting in him being seconded to Force 134, which led the immediate post-war Allied occupation of Norway. Following his return to civilian life, he was appointed curator of RBGE in 1950, a post he held until 1971. During that period his pioneering work on plant propagation reinforced Edinburgh's already considerable reputation as a centre of excellence in that field.
During his curatorship, he made a major contribution to education and, in particular, to the Diploma Course of Horticulture. Among the many specialist subjects he taught were plant propagation, arboriculture, landscape design, the landscape use of plants and glasshouse design and management. His lectures were renowned for not being the dry teaching of facts and techniques. Subjects were placed within their historical, cultural and sociological contexts, with the aim of rendering them more useful to students, many of whom later joined parks departments and authorities responsible for the design, use and efficient maintenance of public open spaces. Many of his RBGE students went on to assume the highest positions in public authorities, commercial horticulture and botanic gardens in Britain and overseas.
In his final decade in the RBGE, Dr Kemp persuaded the Department of the Environment to demolish the dilapidated, inadequate, public glasshouses and embark on the design and construction of the unique, externally-suspended modern range we know today. His role in the planning and construction of the glasshouses was crucial and enabled him to introduce his enlightened, naturalistic, layouts for educational plant displays within an airy structure, placing the Botanic Garden at the forefront of plant display in botanic gardens worldwide.
He left RBGE in 1971, at the age of 60, when the civil service imposed retirement on him, but his reputation, skills and experience were soon welcomed by Dundee University where, following the establishment of the Biological Sciences Department, there was a need for a botanic garden to service its teaching and research needs. Dr Kemp was invited to create this new garden and, within nine years, he shaped a facility which was admired, used and appreciated by all visitors. Unique among his developments was the British Plants Sociological Layout where the main native plant habitats of mountaintop, birchwood, pinewood, ash and oak forests and seashore were established.In 1970, Dr Kemp was invited to serve on the committee, formed by the Crown Estate Commissioners, to report on the future development and management policy for Windsor Great Park and Gardens. He later became a member of the consultative committee for these establishments.
By 1978 he was acting as consultant to the King Abdul Azzis University, Jeddah, concerning the establishment of a botanic garden. And, in 1982, he was consultant to the Saudi Arabian Commission on botanic garden design and municipal planting for the new towns of Jubail and Yanbu.
He retired from the University of Dundee in 1980, but continued to work on several important projects in Britain. He was arboricultural consultant for Liverpool International Garden Festival, the first of its kind in Britain, which occupied a challenging reclaimed site. He was also the chairman of the judging panel for the Glasgow Garden Festival, in 1988.
His contributions to botanic gardens, horticultural education, and the well-being of the cultivated landscape of Britain have been recognised locally and nationally.
For his work in Edinburgh he was awarded an MBE. He was awarded the Scottish Horticultural Medal by the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society for his outstanding services to Scottish horticulture. The Royal Horticultural Society awarded him the Victoria Medal of Honour. In 1980, his work in Dundee was recognised when the university conferred upon him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1982, for his contribution to landscape, theory and practice, Heriot-Watt University conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Letters. He was the first recipient of the Ken Martin Memorial Award, 1999, presented by the Scottish Branch of the Arboricultural Association for his outstanding and sustained contribution to arboriculture in Scotland.
In 2001, he was honoured at a civic reception by the City of Edinburgh for his arboricultural advice and contribution to the City's treescape, which Councillor Steven Cardownie referred to as Edinburgh's green inheritance.Two years ago, days after celebrating his centenary, he returned to RBGE to receive a new medal, in recognition of his contribution to the work of the "Botanics". RBGE Regius Keeper, Prof Stephen Blackmore, presented the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh medal. He said: "Eddie Kemp was Scotland's senior horticulturist. His life was full of achievement. As an outstanding and inspiring teacher, his students went on to success around the world. His passion for plants remained throughout his life".
In 1954, Dr Kemp married Helen, who died in 2008. They had one son, Alan, now a professor at Southampton University. He is also survived by three grandsons.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.