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Hi, I'm Jon Fenlon.

I am the new Head Gardener at Smiths Hall, having previously worked at Sissinghurst Castle & Smallhythe Place. During my time at Smallhythe Place I undertook a rejuvenation project of the entire garden including designing a Rose Pergola, reinstating the Rose Garden and creating wild life habitats.


Latest Posts

Frosty December

Posted on 19th November, 2017

I hope everybody has had a good and productive year in the garden. From the Garden team at Smiths Hall we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

Now your wisteria should have dropped most of their leaves and are ready to prune. Cut back to two or three buds and prune out any large sections that have gotten out of control. Also, if you have climbing roses to prune and tie in to a frame work, check the temperature as you are much more likely to brake stems when bending them if it is too cold especially in the mornings.

Now is a great time of year to dig over empty beds as you will break up any pans and the frost will break up any large clods on the surface. Once dug over add compost to help keep the soil healthy with nutrients and mulch to help supress weeds.


It is also a good time of year to check all your plant supports and make sure plant tyres are all secure and still needed. Make sure young trees are checked as the growth rate can be quick and ties can easily cut in to the tree.

Clearing off beds and cutting back, so they are ready for mulching either now or in the spring, should be well underway. Make sure any tender plants have sufficient winter protection. Take care to protect cannas as they are tender and will not survive without help.  You could either treat them the same way as dahlias or give them a thick mulch to help protect the crown of the plant.


Posted on 20th October, 2017

November Blog

Now it’s that time of year when the leaves keep falling and you are constantly trying to keep clear and tidy your borders and lawns. But the one good thing is that leaf mould can be made from all of your hard efforts of collecting the leaves. Leaf mould is a great compost or mulch and doesn’t take too long to rot down. If you have a compost system in place you could just add it to that or make it on its own. There are many different ways people make leaf mould depending on the quantity you have do a search online to find out what option might work best for you.

For all the undesirable things in your garden such as perennial weeds, infected or diseased material its best to put it on the bonfire. So when you’re doing your pruning and leaf collecting if anything looks not quite right to you try to identify the issue and burn it. The ash can then be used in the garden or mixed in to the compost next time its turned over.


You can prune roses from now but I always wait until the leaves have dropped which makes it easier and quicker to prune. If you are not going to prune your roses until December its best to check them for any wind rock now and do a couple of snips or staking so nothing snaps off in any storms we might have. Also it is best to rake up the rose leaf to help prevent black spot from occuring. We always put rose leaves on the bonfire for this reason.

It’s not too late to plant your spring bulbs. Best to do it before the ground is frozen or too wet to work with. Tulips don’t like sitting in wet ground so if you have a particularly wet garden you might want to plant your tulips in pots and then plant out once they are more established.

It’s recommended that glue or grease bands are put around the trunks of fruit trees to help stop moths/caterpillars climbing up from the ground to mate and lay eggs. This should help prevent less damage to the trees next year.

Keep an eye on your holly if you want to make a wreath this year. Once its ready cut it off and place it in a bucket of water in the shade, somewhere cool and away from birds. It should be happy like this until you need to use it for wreath making.

Once your garden starts to look a little bare of seed and fruit it might be a good idea to put up some bird feeders to help the birds get through the winter months. Birds are also helpful when it comes to pest control so it doesn’t hurt to make sure they keep visiting your garden.

October- Dahlias

Posted on 20th September, 2017

I hope everybody has got their autumn onions, shallots and garlic ready to go in. Fingers crossed for a good crop next year.  I have chosen a mix of varieties this year so we can do a taste test and find out which ones we like most as well as which ones store well.

HarvestIt’s time to lift and store carrots, beetroot and any potatoes you have left.

Leaving a small amount of soil on can help delay the risk of decay.

Keep an eye on dahlias as when the frosts start, the foliage will turn black and they will need to be lifted and brought in.

When lifting your dahlias cut the stem down to 3 or 4 inches and remove all of the soil.

Check the tubers for signs of damage or diseases, if a tuber is soft I would suggest throwing it away as there is a good chance it will go bad and could interfere with your other dahlias.

Leave the dahlias out somewhere to dry for a couple of days and then pot them up in to bark/wood chip and store them somewhere frost free over winter.

In the spring give them a small amount of water and leave them somewhere there is light. When the new growth appears continue to water and plant them out once the frosts have past.Keep them in a frost free environment and replant in the spring once new shoots appear and frosts have past.

Wild tulipNow is a good time to plant bulbs for naturalizing in the lawn. I would suggest planting some tulipa sylvestris as it looks great and will spread by itself.

So now we are in to October this is the last chance to do any work to the lawn whether you need to re-seed or lay turf.

This is a good time to do it as the weather helps out with showers, a good amount of sun and the soil is still warm. Now is a great time to scarify, hollow tine or solid tine and top dress unlevel or bad patches in the lawn.

Choose a good seed mix that suits your needs whether that is hard wearing, for shady areas or a fine lawn. We are also cracking on with all of the hedge cutting.  Now there are no birds nesting, it's time to get it done before they return in the spring.


Posted on 22nd August, 2017

So now the days are shortening its time to start to split and divide herbaceous perennials that have finished for the year. Make sure the plants are replanted or potted up as quickly as possible and watered to help them recover from the shock of being split.


You can also check/start to cut of runners from plants such as strawberries as by now they will have rooted well and should be able to survive on their own. There are other methods of propagation which can be done this month such as hard wood cutting to increase your plant numbers for next year, Check the RHS website for advice on what plants can be propagated in this way.

Summer raspberries can be pruned back just leaving the new young growth which will become next years fruiting canes.

If you have fruit trees in your garden try to remove damaged / mouldy fruit when you see it as it can help spread disease to the rest of the crop. You can also cut any long grass at the base of the tree to help spot windfalls.

If you are lucky enough to have a glass house now is likely to be the best time to have a good clean and tidy before any plants starts to go back in for winter protection.

Keep an eye out for seed pods in the garden as these are a great resource for growing more plants next year and can be a great help if plants do die over a hard winter.



Posted on 23rd July, 2017

Hi everyone thank you all very much for coming to are NGS open day on the 16 July we had a great day and raised a lot of money for  charity.


We had over 300 visitors and sold a lot of tea, cakes and plants.


It’s that time of year when the dead heading and watering seems to take over the garden. With dead heading doing it a little and often can go a long way.



Keep on top of the faded perennials by cutting them down when ready to allow more space for other plants to grow. It’s a good time to cut lavender back once it’s finished flowering, this will keep it compact.


Some pruning can be done this month if you find the time such as summer flowering shrubs, whippy growth on wisteria and climbing roses (I don’t normally prune climbing roses until a lot later in the year personally October-December).


Don't forget to collect seed when it’s ripe ready for sowing next year. Also if you have tender perennials try taking cuttings and growing them on ready for planting out next year.


Wildflower 2017


If you have a perennial wildflower meadow in your garden now is the time to cut it down. This can be done with a strimmer or scythe. I would suggest leaving the grass on the ground for the seed to drop out, this can be aided by flicking the grass around using a hay rake or pitch fork.


If your meadow is lacking in fauna once it is cut you can open the soil up with a scarification, or you could turn over the turf in the worst areas and sow the seed directly over the area. Sowing yellow rattle will reduce the vigour of the grass over time which will in turn help the other flowers establish.

Purple Tomato


Keep on top of harvesting all of your fruit and veg as a lot will be ready by this point. You can cut down herbs to get a fresh crop before winter. The tomatoes will still need feeding and also remove the lower leaves to aid ventilation and help prevent diseases.


Now is also a good time to go through bulb catalogues and get some ideas for next year. You can also take a stroll around the garden see where you have gaps or plants that are not performing and get good ideas from catalogues.


Posted on 22nd June, 2017

Hi everyone, my name is Jon Fenlon, I recently took over from Lee as Head Gardener at Smith’s Hall. I have always had a passion for gardening from a young age and I am really excited for the opportunity to work at such a lovely place. Please come along and say hi at our NGS open day on July 16th.



During July keep checking for dead heads on Penstemons, Lupins and foxgloves. Carefully check down the stem when dead heading to spot the next flush of flowers and cut down to this point


Some plants such as Hardy Geranium and Delphinium can be cut back fairly hard to get a second flush of young green growth and flowers. Make sure to water them well after cutting them back to give them the best start of bouncing back.


If you have any overcrowded Irises in the garden now is a great time to lift and divide them, do this with a border fork to prevent damage to the roots. Once lifted, cut off any parts of the rhizome that is damaged or soft. You will notice the rhizomes have a front and a back end so when replanting take note of which way round you are placing it.


Lilies at Smiths Hall


Lilies will now be flowering in the garden and smelling lovely but keep an eye out for the Lily beetle. It is bright red with a black head and legs so it’s very easy to spot, also keep an eye out for their larvae which just look like brown lumps.  If you only have a couple of lilies then remove by hand otherwise use an organic insecticide such as bug clear.


If you are growing cucumbers but wish so save space train them up a structure by tying them in. This will give you more space for other crops and also keep your cucumbers off of the floor.


By July your tomatoes will be cropping which will make them very hungry for extra nutrients; you can help them out by feeding them once a week with high potash feed. Make sure you water the top of the soil as this is the quickest way to the fibrous roots that run just under the top layer of soil.


Most people will have some herbs in the garden but not everybody is using them to their full potential. Herbs are best used when they are fresh young leaves, so keep on picking it. If it is currently rather large use the older growth in a cut flower arrangement. Once you get in the cycle of harvesting the young growth, you may well have an influx of herbs but don’t worry you can dry them or freeze them.


June has been fairly dry and if this continues in to July I would recommend cutting the lawn at a higher setting. The lower you mow the lawn the more stress you are putting it under which in turn may well make it go brown quicker.  Whilst the lawn is slightly longer you will also notice where all of the weeds are. This is a good time to spray them off with a selective lawn weed killer. Once the weeds are dying off, feed the lawn with a nitrogen based fertilise to bring back its lush green colour and strong new growth.  

I would recommend that everybody takes a look at autumn crocus as a new edition to their gardens. The autumn crocus is a very over looked plant, but it can add a splash of colour almost anywhere. So take a look in some bulb catalogues this month to find the right one for your garden.  

The one thing you must do this month is to just enjoy the garden. I look forward to seeing everybody on the open day.  

Blooming June

Posted on 21st May, 2017



The lovely month of June brings the glorious British summer and loads of exciting growth and colour to our gardens. The mad rush to get all things planted has passed and it’s time to enjoy all your garden has to offer.

Keeping on top of your garden is the order for June and with regular pruning, trimming, weeding and cutting you will ensure you will have a garden worth enjoying all summer long.




A question often asked is when should you clear away or cut down the old daffodil and tulip leaves. They do look unsightly after the flowers have faded and are often in front of borders and can be untidy as your summer borders start to take shape. Best to just wait until they die down naturally and start to go brown. The foliage just pulls away and can easily be cleared.

A lovely late spring/ early summer bulb which are flowering now are Alliums. So many different varieties to choose from and they have become very popular in recent years. I planted a new collection of purple varieties under a tree last autumn which are now flowering. ( see pic)





We have had a magnificent multicoloured display of bearded irises this year. They started mid May but hopefully will continue into June for our NGS garden open day!

After flowering you can split and divide over crowded clumps of irises. Choose the healthy new plants while discarding the old to the bonfire. Cut the leaves back to about 9 inches in length so as to avoid the roots been loosened by the wind.

Remember they like their rhizomes in the sun so don't plant them too deep.

This should generally be done every 3/4 years.





Your summer borders full of perennials will be in full flow by now. Some of these you can get to repeat flower, especially the early ones such as poppies, delphiniums and lupins. Cutting them back hard after flowering will result in a second wave of foliage and in some cases a second summer flush of flowers.

Remember to keep staking and tying in the tall ones!




June is typically the month in which roses are at their peak, so ensure you stay on top of deadheading to keep your displays looking as stunning as possible. Watch out for black spot on leaves, simply remove these when you see them. Aphids will also attack fresh flower buds and growth on roses. Keeping them sprayed regularly with a rose spray will help.




I am sad to say unfortunately this will be my last article. I have decided that after gardening for 35 years, since I was 12, it is time to make a career change.

Gardening will always be my passion and I have loved every day of my career and especially working for the Norman family at Smiths Hall for the last 28 years.

The garden will be open on June 4th which will be my last day and I would love to see you all there.



Posted on 19th April, 2017


Spring has well and truly arrived, and the madness begins with jobs to do all over the garden.

The days are now longer and warmer,but worryingly, we still have had very little rain.  

The risk of frost is a lot less and should have passed by the end of the month, so now is the time to harden off any frost sensitive plants, and start sowing outdoors if you grow hardy annuals.

This  April and May is giving us a magnificent early show of colour from around Smiths Hall garden. The highlight for me has got to be the wisteria which never fails to amaze me with its beauty and heavenly evening scent.




















You can still plant any herbaceous plants you buy to fill gaps but remember they will need watering regularly until established, at least once a week.

This is your last chance to insert plant supports, stakes and string and netting in herbaceous borders, before tall plants flop during wind and rain. Delphiniums especially!

Don’t forget to keep tying in climbers, even if you did it at the beginning of of the season, they’ll get out of control if you don’t keep on top of it. Roses, sweet peas, and clematis are all usual suspects.


see below a pic of a beautiful flowering bulb we have around the garden called Camassia.





















Weeds are on the rampage, and must be kept at bay before they shed their cursed seed and run wild throughout the Summer. Good old-fashioned hoeing and hand-weeding are still the only way to get between plants in beds and borders and mulching is a good way to suppress the weeds from emerging as well as conserving moisture in the soil.

Larger areas like paths and drives I would use a glyphosate based weedkiller to save time. These can be bought ready mixed in garden centres and DIY stores.





Bedding plants for Summer displays should be planted out late May to get the absolute maximum pleasure from them. Plant up window boxes or pots, and be bold, there is so much on offer at this time of year. Geraniums, Pansies and Petunias are all good old favourites but why not try, Diascia, Dahliettas, Thunbergia (Black-eyed Susan), Lantana, Heliotrope. There are so many to choose from these days that flower continually all through the summer.

Just make sure your containers and hanging baskets are watered regularly. And after 6 weeks you should start feeding weekly.





Whatever work you do in the garden this May, don’t forget to take a little time out at the end of the day to relax and appreciate the fruits of your labour!


Posted on 19th March, 2017

Spring is here! Suddenly there is life all around. Leaves are returning to the trees and flowers are blooming everywhere.


Here are a few jobs to get you out in the garden.


If you only do one thing this month: weed. With increasing hours of daylight and warmer temperatures, the weeds are really going to race from now on. They say one year’s seeds means seven year’s weeds: so get rid of weeds before they flower. Hoe off on a sunny day and rake, or pull by hand.




Prune forsythia and Ribes (Flowering Currants) - after flowering. Both can be cut back as hard as you like, as long as you do it right after flowering. This gives them enough time to put on plenty of new growth for next years flowering.





If you haven't already done so, cut back Buddleias. They can be cut back quite hard to keep a neat and tidy bush with plenty of flower.

April is the latest you should be doing this.

Prune mophead hydrangeas by taking off last year's flowers and cutting about a third of the shoots back to two buds, remove any crossing or damaged stems.




Still time to plant herbaceous perennials - there are so many to choose from and they'll provide flowers and colour for months on end.

To get the best out of them, make sure you dig over the soil, remove any perennial weeds and then dig in plenty of organic matter, such as planting compost. Plant firmly and water in well afterwards.

A 2-3in thick mulch of planting compost placed around the plants afterwards will ensure they get off to the best possible start and will help keep weeds down.

Tall and floppy herbaceous plants, especially those in windy and exposed gardens will need some form of support such as twiggy shoots or metal supports.

Putting plant supports in place now will help prevent problems later on when it's difficult or impossible to do anything about it and the plants will grow up through them, covering them discreetly.

Then carefully tie in the stems as they develop with soft string or similar, criss-crossing the strings between the supports

Hopefully all the pruning is out of the way by now, so your next step is feeding and mulching climbers, roses and other shrubs and perennial plants. This is vital if you want them to perform well this year. Slow release feeds are best, and the magic mulch can be anything from well-rotted garden compost or manure, to bought in compost or bark chippings.




We didn’t get much in the way of deep penetrating frost this winter so this could mean that slugs could be a real challenge this year, and your precious seedlings could soon disappear. They will also feed on new growth of dahlias, delphiniums or of course their favourite hostas! So get some slug pellets around early.

Another problem to watch out for is the scarlet Lilly beetle mentioned in my article last year which will strip all the leaves before they even flower. I spray mine with provado bug killer every 6 weeks for protection.They will also eat one of my favourite flowering bulbs which are Frittilaria imperialis( pictured below)




So with lots to do again this month, let's hope we get plenty of lovely warm spring days to get out in the garden.


March Madness

Posted on 20th February, 2017



Spring is almost here! The days are getting longer, the ground is getting warmer and bulbs are starting to come up. It's time for the busy gardening season to begin.


There are so many jobs to do right now and I will talk about just a few of the main ones.





Fork over the soil in the borders, weed and remove any roots of perennial weeds such as nettles, docks or brambles (now you can see where the plants are!). There is still time to dig up and divide any overcrowded perennials too. I also give a good mulch and my preference is mushroom compost but some prefer bark. This helps retain moisture in the summer and supress weeds.




I have started cutting my lawns now but only on a high setting and on a day where frosts are not expected.

If the moss has got hold after the winter then now is the time to scarify the lawn. On a small lawn I would use a scarifying rake and do it by hand. On larger lawns I would use a petrol machine which can be hired or better still get a professional lawn treatment company to quote which you will probably find to be quite reasonably priced.

This not only removes all the moss but also removes dead grass and thatch.

A good spring treatment of moss weed killer and fertiliser will set your lawn up for a healthier green lawn this summer.




Remember if you have hedges to cut then get them done as soon as possible before the birds start to nest.




Prune overwinted hardy fushias back to one or two buds on each shoot.


Prune winter flowering jasmine after flowering to encourage new growth for next years flowers. Easiest way is to lightly go over it with a pair of sharp shears.(Pic below)



Dead head hydrangeas before new growth appears. Cut back to the nearest strong buds and remember to keep an all over good shape.




There are many different types of roses in our gardens and here is how you prune the 3 most common ones.


Bush Roses ( Hybrid teas,Floribundas and English roses)

After removing dead, diseased and damaged wood, prune Hybrid tea stems back to three or four buds above last years cut, just above an outward facing bud at a slanted angle.



Floribundas and English Roses can be cut back a little less hard to four or six buds above last years cuts.



Modern shrub roses you need to aim for an open centre and build up a branching framework with sideshoots that produce flowering spurs which are just lightly pruned




Late March I will apply a good rose fertiliser.

As they start to shoot remember to start spraying for aphids and fungus to prevent problems. The worst thing to do is start spraying when you first start to see blackspot or rust which spoil roses in the summer. I start my spraying now and every 10 to 14 days right through until August/September.


Flowering meadow


Many of you may of seen my annual flowerimg meadow and i'm often asked where I get the seed and how to do it.

It comes fom a company called 'Pictorial meadows' who can be found online.I buy the classic annual mix. 

The ground gets a light turn over and rake. Remove and perrenial weeds and stones. Sow the seed mid-March and then let nature take it's course.


So as I said at the beginning of this article, plenty to do this month, lets hope for a warm and sunny Spring!