Alan (Summersby) Emmet

  • Born: August 8, 1927
  • Died: October 9, 2021
  • Location: Westford, Massachusetts

Badger Funeral Homes, Inc.

347 King Street
Littleton, MA 01460
Tel. (978) 486-3709

Tribute & Message From The Family

Writer, Landscape Historian, and Conservationist

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.

* * *

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:


Condolence & Memory Journal

I just heard the news about Alan and was very upset. I drove Alan to her appointments and was sad to hear of her passing. We had many great stories in our car rides to her book club, doctors appointments, or concerts. She will be missed and her laughter will be missed. May you have beautiful gardens in heaven.

Posted by Joanne Cornetta - Westford, MA - Friend   December 02, 2021

Alan was a gracious, dear and bright light in my life. I met her when I was 25 at a writers' workshop and she eventually hired me to live in her house on Martha's Vineyard and cook for her and Dick for several Augusts. They treated me like one of the family and gave me the utmost respect. It was a pleasure to be part of their household, and to know the rest of the family. Alan and Dick were both an inspiration to me, in terms of their kindness, intelligence, and thoughtfulness about the environment. Alan remained a friend for 30 years. I will miss her greatly. Sending condolences to the Emmet and Heald families. xo Anna

Posted by Anna Kovel - Friend   November 12, 2021

Berkshire historian Cornelia Gilder introduced me to Ms. Emmet in 2003 as I was preparing a biography of George B. Dorr, the Father of Acadia National Park. Ms, Emmet's interest in his Mt. Desert Nurseries led to correspondence between us over the next six years.I have retained her lovely handwitten notes and typed letters from 224 Concord Rd., always containing gracious insights and helpful research suggestion. It was my good fortune to experience her enthusiasm for the Nashoba Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. The garden historians of the landscapes of New England morn her passing.

Posted by Ronald Epp - Farmington, CT - Acquaintance   November 06, 2021

My condolences to the family. I provided computer support for Alan and really enjoyed talking with her. A very interesting and enlightened person.

Posted by William Vales - MA - Acquaintance   October 25, 2021

I will miss my friend very much...we exchanged little notes all the time...used to meet in the Cameron Senior center as she worked that treadmill a lot faster than I could. always had a smile. May she rest in peace. God bless her....mickey crocker.

Posted by HELENA CROCKER - wESTFORD, MA - friend   October 18, 2021

I am heartbroken to hear of Alan's passing. My deepest condolences to all her loved ones. I had the distinct pleasure of hiking the trails behind our homes with Alan and Timmy for so many years and quieter gatherings in later years. We shared so many family stories, political discussions, and a love of gardening. She was brilliant and refined - always sending me beautiful handwritten notes. Such an absolutely amazing loving person. It is with deep regret I hadn't been in touch these last few months. I will miss her dearly.

Posted by Karen Hudson - Westford, MA - Friend   October 18, 2021

What a simply remarkable lady whom I was so fortunate to meet years and years ago in South Carolina. My deepest sympathy to her family and closest friends for the loss of such a vibrant, intelligent, and philanthropic woman.

Posted by Kathleen Rivers - Charleston, SC - friend   October 14, 2021

My Deepest condolences to the family

Posted by Helen Jeannette Hamilton - Green Pond, SC - friend   October 14, 2021

I feel so privileged to have known your mother/grandmother, Alan, and her husband, Dick. In her own quiet way she guided me through the "gardening process" of learning that "less is more" at Cheeha Combahee Plantation. She was truly a lovely lady who accomplished so much good in her extensive life experiences. I definitely feel privileged to have known her and wish that I had known more about her many accomplishments. At CCP she has left a legacy that will endure for multiple future generations. Please accept my sympathy, thoughts, and prayers for the family during this time of bereavement. As we did for her husband, Richard, I will encourage that we plant a tree at Cheeha Combahee. If I can do anything for the family, please feel free to call on me.


Posted by John M. Rivers, Jr. - Charleston, SC - friend   October 14, 2021

Remembering a very special woman, with admiration and fondness. A sad time...

Posted by Rose ODonnell - Westford, MA - Friend   October 12, 2021

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