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Hi, I'm Sara Cushing!


Jon Fenlon was always busy with the gardens at Smiths Hall but now he has just become a father as well and he is super-busy!


So instead I shall be writing my thoughts and seasonal gardening advice in Lifeline and here on the Farleighs website.  Here goes...and please don't hesitate to write to me with any suggestions or queries at saracushing2002@yahoo.co.uk


Happy Gardening!   






Latest Posts


Posted on 21st March, 2022
IN THE GARDEN with Sara Cushing
 After the devastation left by the storms of February, including the sad demise of our much-loved Farleigh Green Oak, it's good to be seeing some positives in the garden! One of the first signs of winter coming to an end, for me, is seeing the crocus pop up around  the Green, planted by our dedicated, green-fingered villagers, and which have spread outbeautifully over the years!
Spring is the busiest time in the garden! Apart from all the winter detritus to clear, it's the time to be preparing for the next six months of growing. Sweet peas should be shooting up in the greenhouse (the tips can be pinched out to encourage bushier growth) and can be planted out once hardened off. If you haven't done this, the seeds can be directly sown outside.
Summer flowering bulbs, such as lily and gladioli can be planted in pots and borders. They love a well drained soil, so I always mix compost through the borders, and horticultural grit can be used if the ground is particularly claggy. Lilies are toxic to cats and dogs,so it's always worth putting them somewhere they won't be munched! Dahlia can be started in pots but need to be kept in until all risk of frost has passed. Again, pinching tips out will give a thicker growth, but if you wanted to get the huge flowers on the dinner-plate-sized varieties, side shoots/buds should be removed so that all the energy goes to the main flower. Hardy annuals - nasturtium and poppies can be sown outside.
March always brings a huge amount of pruning! Cornus and Cotinus can be taken down hard to the base to encourage strong new growth, and roses can be pruned to an outward-facing bud to promote good air flow through an open centre. Hedges should now be left until Autumn as birds will be nesting.Seedheads on daffodils should be removed, and it's essential to let the foliage die back naturally so energy goes back into the bulb to produce flowers for next year. Removing the leaves early can mean your daffodils come up 'blind', without flowering. I always use a general purpose feed around this time, not only to give the spring bulbs one last feed, but also to give the other plants in the garden a good start to the season.
This month is also the time to be keeping an eye out for pests and diseases. Box caterpillar was a real issue in our lovely part of the world last year, so it is worth starting treatment now. There are organic methods, pheromone traps or nematodes for example, if you prefer not to spray, but signs to look out for are eaten leaves and cobwebbing. Caterpillars can be picked off and disposed of in a permanent way..
The early potatoes that were chitted off last month should have developed some lovely strong shoots! These can be now planted out, either in barrels with a minimum 8" depth compost, or in the ground. If there is a risk of sub-zero temperatures, they can be covered with fleece. Parsnips and carrots, and hardy leafy veg, such as spinach can be sown, again I find protection given by fleece or cloches can really help, especially if there are late frosts. Annual herbs - coriander, dill and basil should be started indoors, and if you haven't started your tomatoes, peppers and chillies, now is the time!
Happy Gardening!


Posted on 5th November, 2021



We are well and truly into Autumn now! These dark mornings, the last end pickings of
the veg patch, the cutting down of all the summer perennials...

I must confess, I do love the calm of the Autumn months after the hectic pace of Summer
when the garden quietens down some, the weeds aren't constantly popping up and it gives
a bit of time to sort out the things that have been put aside, but as ever, there is still loads
to do!

If you haven't yet planted bulbs for Spring, this is our last chance. The Allium families of
garlics and onions should be planted this side of Christmas to ensure a crop for next
September. A good guide is to plant depth to three times the bulb size. Because squirrels
are a big issue, I have planted at least eight inches deep, so their little arms can't get that
far down. If these furry little sky rats are a problem in your garden, I've found old methods,
such as grating a soap bar over the surface are a really good, organic deterrent!
Bare roots such as hedging and roses are ideally planted before the soil gets too cold, and
the damp conditions give the roots a good start.

Mulching over the borderline hardy plants such as Agapanthus is essential. I use all the
fallen leaves I can find to put on the borders. They will break down over winter and
suppress annual weeds, as well as helping the clay soils we have here.
I still love the beautiful colours we are getting through from perennials such as
chrysanthemum at this time of year. Everything from deep, rich reds and oranges to vibrant
yellows, and these can be matched with low-lying Heuchera and hardy cyclamen to give
interest in the garden at this time of year.


Chrysanthemum                             Cyclamen                             Heuchera

Do insulate the large exotics that you have outdoors! We are so lucky in our patch that we
can grow these beautiful palms, but varieties such as Phoenix canariensis, chamaerops and trachycarpus may need additional protection, such as fleece or actual plant hoods if we
get a really cold spell.

I particularly love at this stage of the season having the time to sort out everything. The
greenhouses to house the tubers over winter, cleaning pots ready for next Spring and
especially I love the cold mornings turning over the compost heaps. There's always a robin
close by waiting to pick over the grubs!

Happy Autumn gardening!

Welcome Autumn

Posted on 28th September, 2021

This last month has really shown we're moving into Autumn now. Though we have some beautiful warm days still, the evenings and mornings are getting colder, and it seems to be a final push on getting the last flowers out of the Summer bedding while lovely Autumnal plants like Echinacea, Chrysanthemum and Aster are coming through, which will give zingy colours for the next few weeks.




These can be lifted and the clumps split, once they've flowered, and put in other parts of the garden.


Dahlia and Canna will still give flower and structure in a garden through to the first frosts, but I would recommend lifting the tubers once the frosts have hit, because you get a better start on them for next year. Once lifted, shake off as much soil as you can, then store upside down to dry. Pack in a box and cover with dry compost and store in a dry, frost-free space til March. Or you can cover with a thick layer of mulch and hope we don't get a very wet winter, in which case, they can rot in a poorly drained soil.
Which leads me nicely to mulch! At this time of year, the one thing we have huge amounts of are leaves. If these can be collected and bagged, and left for six months, the ensuing leaf mould makes a fab mulch. Applied as a thick layer to your borders, this will suppress annual weeds and breaks up awful soils when dug in.
Roses need to be cut back to half, and any shoots that are weak and spindly, or growing into the middle of the shrub need to be removed. Be brave! Autumn winds will unsettle roses, leading to Wind Rock which can destabilise the plant. If you continue spraying with an anti-fungicide treatment throughout winter, and clear any affected leaves, it should help any outbreaks of blackspot next year. I use Sulphur Rose, because it doesn't affect pollinators. And we love our bees!
This month is the month I plant tulips! My favourite last year was Yellow Valery, a frilled vibrant yellow and looking to pair this with a tangerine colour called Shogun this year. Looking forward to Spring already.
The last of the annual seeds can be collected and stored in envelopes. And labelled! My absolute downfall..
And in the veg patch, garlic and onion sets can be planted and you can get a great start on next year by planting broad beans, Aquadulce Claudia is a very reliable Autumn-sown variety which produces long pods of white beans. 
Clear any areas and sow green manures such as Alfalfa. These will grow over the next two-three months and can be dug into the soil to increase nitrogen in the soil, which is an essential for all plants!
Happy Autumn gardening!

July 2021

Posted on 21st June, 2021

I am writing this on a rainy day in June, the heavens have opened, the April showers have all arrived at once, the garden is very happy for it! Lots of flowers are behind this year as I am sure you will have noticed this from looking at your own gardens. This is mainly due to such late frosts up to the end of May and the lack of rain. I would estimate the garden is a good 3 weeks behind on a lot of plant growth and flowering times, but who knows maybe will get an extended season into October / November, we will have to wait and see.

The roses are blooming and to keep them coming it’s a good idea to deadhead your roses to extend their flowering season. Sweet peas are another favourite among cottage style gardens that will provide flowers for months on end if they are picked regularly.   


July = watering! and generally a lot of it depending how many pots and newly planted plants you have around the garden, so do keep an eye on all your new editions especially small pots.  

Climbing plants will now be coming into their own sprawling out and rambling in every direction. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on them and to tie them in to a structure if possible. This will keep them from swamping other plants and can also be used to create height or wonderful shapes on a framework.

Pests and diseases are on a war path to take over the garden. Aphids appear to be the main culprit this year! Plans should be made for control measures to be put in. Try cultural and preventative measures first before turning to chemicals. Try some horticultural soap (any plant-based oil mixed with water).


If your Bearded Irises are looking crowded, now is the time to split and divide them. Cut the leaves down to 2/3inches, dig them up and split them using a weeding knife and remove any dead or damaged material. Bearded Irises should be planted with only half the rhizome below the soil level, so the rest has access to be baked in the sun. Once replanted in the chosen bed keep on top of the watering.

Congested Bearded Irises

Keep our NGS open day in your calendar Sunday 27th June 11am-5pm. Looking forward to seeing you all there.

May 2021

Posted on 20th April, 2021
The garden is now in bloom, but I know what you’re thinking it could do with a good water! And I must agree, we could do with some more rain! Its still currently April as I am writing this and the ground is already cracking, plants are wilting, and seeds are not germinating. For me this means at least 2 full days of watering each week as a minimum just to keep plants alive, but it also gives you ideas. Should we be planting up are gardens with more drought tolerant plants? Maybe more Mediterranean or tropical in nature. We will revisit this later in anther blog post…  Because now It’s time to harden off your cannas and dahlias by leaving them out during the day and taking them in at night for a week or two. Just keep an eye on the weather and temperature as below 0 can still do damage to young plants.
Keep on top of your climbers like clematis and sweet peas, they will need to be tied into a framework weekly to keep them under control for at least the first 6 weeks of growth. To get the best display and to stop them from splaying out and smothering other plants.
Also look out for pests and diseases. Blackspot on roses can be sprayed with systemic fungicide. Make sure you read the label and spray at the correct time for the most affect. But there is another option! Just let it be, roses get black spot this is just part and parcel of owning roses. My suggestion would be to do more cultural control methods such as removing all waste material from the soil in winter, giving the bed a good mulch and the rose a hard prune. Try it this winter and you will be amazed at the difference it can have.
Try your best to keep on top of the weeding, as its currently so dry hoeing off will be the quickest choice just make sure you pick up anything that may re-root like grass for example. Having less weeds will mean less competition for water and nutrients for your other plants which in turn will make your plants develop and grow stronger.
Whilst weeding don't be tempted to clear the foliage from spring bulbs that have finished flowering until the foliage has faded. This will allow the bulb to get the most energy stores for next year.

April 2021 2

Posted on 5th April, 2021







Spring really is in the air!


The beautiful early displays of purple, white and yellow crocus encircling the Green are now dying back, giving way to the bright yellows and oranges of narcissus which were planted by some of the dedicated villagers a few years back, and with the displays of Spring flowers in boxes, it really is a lovely place to be.


With the weather getting warmer, and everything popping through, there is quite an amount to be doing to make sure you get the best from your Spring planting, to start thinking about Summer shows, and even to plan for next year. 


At this time, hellebores should be in full flower. These are an amazing splash of colour in an otherwise barren point in the seasons and there are so many different varieties to choose from these days, from pure whites through to deep purple/black shades. A couple of my favourites are the Ellen varieties, which are pinks, and the Slate varieties, deep purples, blues and blacks. The big leaves can be cut away, to maximise the appearance of the flower without detriment to the plant itself. These are clump-forming and should not be allowed to seed after flowering. Propagation is by division to stay true to the original.


By now, snowdrops will have stopped flowering, and this is the best time for lifting any clumps that could be thinned out and planting in any other areas. I'm putting some between hellebores, the contrast between the two work so well! You can buy snowdrops as bulbs and plant, but generally they are more successful if you dig them up 'green' (when they have finished flowering, but leaves are still there). The bulbs are generally quite shallow, so easily lifted, and should be replanted to a depth of approx 5mm.




Dahlia tubers and gladioli corms can start to be potted up, and kept in a frost-free space, as can Tuberose, Canna etc to push through for an early, longer display. These all prefer a light compost, I mix sand in with a good multi-purpose such as John Innes, and watered sparingly. If overwatered, they will rot.



This month, you can also start off any annuals to seed such as Cosmos, nasturtium, etc as long as they are kept above 12⁰ for effective germination, the days are getting longer and we now have enough light to start these things! Sweet peas can be planted, if you haven't done these in January. I love sweet peas! This year I am going old school and growing the Old Fashioned Mix, Lathyrus odoratus, which was so popular in Victorian times and I remember my grandma growing. Though the flowers are a little smaller than some modern varieties, the scent is fantastic!


Any pelargonium that you've saved over winter can be repotted to bring on for Summer and clematis, as a general rule, can be cut to the low new formation of buds if this hasn't been done already.


And..if you love your home grown veg!


Any tomatoes, pepper and chilli seeds should be sown by the end of this month at the latest! Herbs can be sown now, as can cucumbers, all in a warm place. Mine are currently laid out in top of the boiler. It's times like these I feel very lucky to have an understanding OH, they're all coming on beautifully!


The end of March is also the latest you can plant any onion or garlic sets. Ideally these should have been in before Christmas but I must confess I still have some that need putting in!


I am waiting a couple of weeks to put the seeds for an inside germination for courgette, beans, squash...really the rest of the above ground veg, the nights are still a bit cold and April is really the best time to be starting these things.


But brassicas, broccoli, cauliflower, Romanesque and cabbages can also be started outside if you have space…these need a firm and well watered soil and will need protection from all the things that munch a bit later in the year.


Wishing you all a happy gardening!




April 2021

Posted on 17th March, 2021

It’s time to get your Village in Bloom on, its sunflower season. It’s that time of year when you need to start thinking about sowing your sunflower seeds. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and add plenty of compost or rotted manure. Sunflowers take on average 11-18 weeks from seed to flower depending on the variety and conditions. When your sunflowers are still small do keep an eye on them, as slugs and snails have a taste for them.


One plant I feel that is majorly overlooked but is great is Eucomis. If you are looking for a lovely summer flowering plant for indoors or outdoors in a pot or flower bed this could be the one to try this year. Eucomis is known as the pineapple flower as it takes the shape of one, it is a very tropical looking flower, but it does very well in this part of the UK. It will survive the cold winter if it is kept dry. We do this by cutting down other perennial plants in the bed in winter then laying the material over where the bulbs are planted. This alone does the trick. We have had snow and low minus temperatures this winter and the bulbs have survived just fine in a pot left under a sheet.

You still have time to move and split perennials in the next couple of weeks but try to avoid splitting any spring flowering plants until they have finished flowering.


If your lawn is looking a little dishevelled, try doing the following

- Rake or scarify out the moss

- Heavily used areas should be forked over or hollow tined to relieve compaction and allow air into the soil

- Use a selective weed killer or hand weed

- Re-seed bare patches and top dress

- Add a slow release granular fertilizer

If you would like to have a meadow area in your garden, you just have enough time if you start now. There are a variety of different types of meadows and methods of creation is different for each.

Annual meadow – This is best done on empty ground that is generally nutrient poor. This method takes more prep but will have a huge impact in the same year, however this will need to be done every year.

Perennial meadow – This can be done on bare ground or where you currently have lawn. I find best to add some yellow rattle.

The Wildlifetrusts.org says

“When the flowers of yellow-rattle fade, the brown calyxes (containing the sepals) in which the tiny seeds ripen can be seen and heard – they give a distinctive ‘rattle’, hence the common name. Yellow rattle is an annual that thrives in grasslands, living a semi-parasitic life by feeding off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses. For this reason, it was once seen as an indicator of poor grassland by farmers, but is now often used to turn improved grassland back to meadow – by feeding off the vigorous grasses, it eventually allows more delicate, traditional species to push their way through.”

March 2021

Posted on 16th February, 2021



So, as I write this the ground is covered in snow, the temperature is -2 and the wind is howling. Yet the garden persists it doesn’t faulter it just keeps on going, the  eranthis and hellebores are all flowering. The tulips are already on their way!


If like a lot of people in lockdown you find yourself gazing out of the window at the garden, now is your time to shine take some of this time to look at your garden and decide what you really want from it. Your garden is full of endless possibility whether that be an outdoor entertaining area, wildflower meadow, tropical paradise or even an outdoor gym. Take the time to really consider your gardens variety of uses for the entire family and come up with a plan, if you struggle with inspiration there is plenty of information online or consider hiring a local qualified gardener/ designer. Chances are most of us are unlikely to be going away on a summer holiday, so are gardens this year could be getting a lot of use. Make it the best it can be for you and your family!



In the garden at Smiths Hall we have been busy finishing off the winter rounds consisting of weeding, pruning, training climbers and clearing off every bed. We have planted some new climbing roses that will come into there own in the next 3 years. We plant our roses with mycorrhizal fungi on the root system in a well composted hole. The RHS say Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots and exist by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas greatly increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system.” Next time your planting roses or shrubs give it ago you might find your plants establish quicker than without it. 



During March we will finish off the pruning of shrubs such as buddleja, wisteria and hydrangea. All these plants have a woody framework so depending on how you wish to have the plant will depend on how you prune it. Our buddleja for example have a good framework so will be cutting them down to 2 or 3 buds per structural stem. 

Hope everyone continues to stay safe and happy planning!


December 2020

Posted on 21st November, 2020

Its that time of year when its good to sort out any empty beds you have by either giving them a good dig over to break up heavily compacted areas that are causing you problems or to give the beds a good dose of nutrients by applying compost or a mulch.

Above photo - Skimmia is a great plant for the winter even in pots, it has got lovely shiny red berries that are very long lasting and look nice whether the sun is shining, or they are covered in frost. They are evergreen and do well in partial shade.

Cornus is another great plant for the winter, it comes in a variety of colours so there is plenty of choice out there. The trick with most Cornus is once they are established, cut them back very hard. By cutting them back hard you get the most vibrant colours from the new growth.  You can see in the photo above the difference between the new and old stems, its quite an amazing contrast.

We have been doing some restoration pruning to are Portuguese Laurel hedge, the hedge had outgrown itself and started to die off in areas as well as re rooting at the ends of the lower branches. The hedge at it widest point was estimated at 4m. We have pruned all the outer branches back to the main trunk and transplanted all the younger plants back in line with the hedge. The hedge will be receiving a good heavy mulch with some organic fertiliser over winter. Next year we will keep an eye on the hedge during dry periods as it may need some watering to help it bounce back quickly.


I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas from the team at Smiths Hall.

November 2020

Posted on 21st October, 2020

So, November is nearly upon us the trees are changing colour and dropping their leaves, the flowers are fading away as well as the day light hours. The rain keeps on coming and going whilst the mornings are getting colder and colder.  So that can only mean one thing I hear you cry, it is time to get in the garden. This is the hardest and one of the busiest times of the year for the garden at Smiths Hall. You would not believe the amount of plant material that we prune and remove from the garden daily over this period.

Here we have our pumpkin’s and squashes that are grown for decoration over the Halloween period. There is a variety of shapes, colour and sizes. These can be painted in lacquer to last longer in the home.

The banana tree I planted about 3 years ago is still going strong and has enjoyed the warm summer. Its trunk is now estimated 8ft and to the top of the leaves 15ft. It is that time of the year where I will be watching the weather and deciding when to wrap it up for the winter. I use a mixture of materials from bubble wrap to straw all depending on what we have around, if the stem is protected from excessive water and frost it will be fine.

Keep an eye on any tender plants you need to collect seed from to start the growing process again next year, these Ricinus plants can reseed themselves but we find we have much better results collecting the seed and starting them early in the glasshouse.

Do not forget to keep feeding your compost heaps all the leaves you collect up! The lawn will thank you for it and so will the flower beds when you make good compost from them.