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Hi, I'm Jon Fenlon.

I am the Head Gardener at Smiths Hall, and before that I worked at Sissinghurst Castle & Smallhythe Place. Smiths Hall has over 300 rose bushes but luckily roses are a favourite of mine! 

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30th June Date for the Diary

Posted on 20th May, 2019

Summer is fast approaching and at Smiths Hall we are in full bloom! The garden is bursting with colour from the alliums in the white border, to the lupins in the courtyard and also the thalictrum by the pool. Its that time of year when you have to keep on top of all of the regular routine maintenance of weeding, watering, mowing and dead heading. Keeping up to date with the routine maintenance ensures your garden looks wonderful at all times.

After your lilacs have flowered its a great time to prune them. You can prune them back quite a lot this time of year because they have all year to regrow.

We will be fertilising the lawns with a slow release fertilizer which contains lots of nitrogen for a lush green lawn, which should give the lawn a great boost. You can do the same in your garden, you just need to sprinkle on the lawn fertiliser evenly so it all grows at the same rate.

The garden is full of life, there seems to be a lot more bird activity this year and the bees are thriving, buzzing away in the orchard.

Smiths Halls open day is on the 30th June from 11am - 5pm. Please come along and support this good cause. It's a fantastic opportunity to have a look around the gardens, gain inspiration and enjoy the woodland walk. There will also be cakes and refreshments available to purchase.

 

Trouble with tulips and other thoughts

Posted on 24th April, 2019

Has you seen are new Narcissus display for the Village in Bloom at the front of Smiths Hall? It extends from the front drive through to the courtyard and consist of Actea, Jack Snipe, Bravoure, Surfside, Chinita, Green eye lady, Fortissimo and Jetfire types with over 4500 bulbs planted. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s worth a look!

 

The Narcissus have been chosen for a variety of reasons such as when they flower, height and colour. You never truly know how the combinations will play out until it all unfolds in front of your eyes.  

 

The Tulipa Merlot in the courtyard is just starting to flower alongside the narcissus.

 

This month I thought I would give a recap of the white border that was pictured in June’s blog last year. We planted all of the perennials and shrubs mainly in May 2018 and the bulbs in November 2018. So this is the first time the bulbs have flowered pictured below. All of the plants survived the winter with a couple getting slight frost damage on leaf tips, so this winter they will be fleeced to try and prevent it from happening again.  

 

The bulbs are Narcissi triandus petrel, Tulipa diana, Tulia hakuun, Hyacinth aiolos They have all performed well and have displayed a great contrast of shapes across the bed, the Hosta white feather has also started to appear and the new young white leaves are bright and eye catching, even the alliums multibulbosom nigrum which are yet to flower have a glaucous leaf which mutes the green and gives it a silver sheen.

 

When choosing plants for a monochrome display it is always hard to get the colour just right.  I have never personally designed a white border from scratch so this was no small challenge. A lot of research went in to finding the crisp white flowers and as you know you can never rely on a photo for a precise match. So you can imagine my relief when they all came up crisp white. I remember one time at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens when I walked in to the white garden and found the newly planted tulips that had been put in coming up with a hint of pink! Needless to say they were removed instantly. But it shows that even the professionals make mistakes.

 

Over February and March we have been bringing back another part on the garden which had been lost to the wilderness.  A lawn that was now just moss in complete shade surrounded by self-sown trees that had matured and at the same time been taken over by ivy. The ivy was covering an area of at least 22m x 5m. So we dug out and removed all of the ivy and cut it off of the surrounding trees, had a number of trees removed with the large stumps grinded out and the smaller ones dug out completely.

 So once the site was clear and levelled I marked out the new shape of the beds and added a new hedge line. The hedge line separates the 3 new beds whilst also creating a screen between areas, this gives visitors a chance to discover new areas of the garden around the corner rather than seeing everything at once. A section of the lawn has been turfed with a specific shade tolerant grass mix to help the lawn cope with the shaded conditions, a section has also been seeded with a shade tolerant mix. If you have problem areas in your garden with shaded lawns you might want to consider this option. I would recommend you make sure the mix has these four grasses- creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, smooth stalked meadow grass and poa supina.

The plan is to leave the bed empty this year to combat any reoccurring ivy or other problem weeds so in the winter we can give the soil a good mulch knowing its weed free and plant it up in spring 2020.

Here is some photos of the tulips that are around the garden I especially like the yellow native British tulip – tulipa sylvestris. It is the only native tulip in Britain and you don’t see it around that often. If you have an orchard or wild area it will naturalise great in the lawn and spread over time.

 

Below, the native English tulip tulipa sylvestris

 

CHURCHYARD GUARDIANS

Posted on 19th March, 2019

Jon is on holiday this month so we included this special item about Martyn Jones and his terrific work at All Saints churchyard, especially coming up to Village in Bloom! 

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Keeping a churchyard tidy is hard work.  Think of the uneven ground, the gravestones and the trees.  And there are lots of corners. 

 

So next time you are passing, stop by All Saints churchyard and admire the work of Martyn Jones and his assistants.  The Village in Bloom committee was so impressed, they decided to have a go at the special “Churchyard of the Year” award this year.

I talked to Martyn as we walked round the other day.

 

Martyn Jones: teenage years in West Farleigh(Martyn Jones: teenage years here in West Farleigh)

 

Martyn’s roots here go back a long way – his parents moved here from Snodland when he was 11, and he lived in Chequers Cottage (as it then was), next door to the Tickled Trout.  He remembers as a boy sitting on John Day’s combine harvester, shooting at rabbits, pigeons and crows as the wheat was harvested. 

 

As a lad, he started work at Tesco in Tovil, and then joined with an engineering company down in Paddock Wood, machining brake disks and camshafts.  The auto industry is an uncertain employer (as we see today!).  15 years later, having survived 9 rounds of cutbacks, he decided to jump ship. 

 

Planting spring flowers by the entrance(Planting spring flowers by the front gate)

 

He used his redundancy money to get the qualifications he needed to work outdoors, doing landscaping, tree work and gardening.  Starting the business was hard.  He went door to door, dropping leaflets.  His first customer was Pip Wakefield on Lower Road (and she is still a customer today!) But he persisted, and he got work all round Maidstone. 

 

In March 2015, MJ Garden and Property Care won the tender to look after All Saints.  Since he took over, the grass has been cut, there are no brambles and nettles and the yew bushes look as tidy as guardsmen on parade (see below)

 

  (Yew bushes as tidy as guardsmen on parade)

 

With Village in Bloom in mind, work has accelerated.  Donating several days of labour, Martyn and his crew have cleared the spaces under the trees, planted meadow flowers by the gate, and removed piles of old tiles and debris.  Even the old bonfire site has been planted with wild flowers. The work has exposed graves and memorials that haven’t been seen for a generation (see Martyn and his assistant Stephen above)

 

 

 

Martyn and his assistant Stephen

(Memorials that haven't been seen for decades)

 

Landscape gardening is not Martyn’s only passion.  He is a historian, and fascinated by the marks that the Romans left on our landscape (quarries for example).  Recently he bought a metal detector and has been prospecting along the river banks (with the landowners permission!).  The very first object he found was a mediaeval purse bar.

 

(The last resting place of Prince Alexander Croy and his wife Princess Primrose, 

a generous donor to All Saints.  An article about them will be on the website shortly).

 

We owe MJ and his wife Teresa, (who is an enthusiastic supporter of all these initiatives), a big thank you for their efforts and feel confident that the Village in Bloom judges will be just as impressed.

 

Come and see the churchyard for yourself at the annual plant sale on Sunday, 12th May.  2019, 10am to 5pm.  This year, it’s a joint venture with the PCC and Village in Bloom.  You can enjoy Kentish Cream Tea and buy a wide variety bedding plants and more exotic things for your garden.  And bird boxes (which can be personalised to give as presents)! 

 

February

Posted on 20th January, 2019

It's that time of year to prune back the wisteria to 2 or 3 buds ready for the next flowering period.  Any strong growth can be trained on wires if required or simply pruned in the same way. This prune is different to the summer prune in which you only remove the long tendrils. The winter prune re establishes the frame work, so this is when you can also remove larger woody sections if needed.

February will be your last chance to cut the hedges as birds will be busy building nests ready for spring breeding. Help keep your birds strong for the season ahead by putting out good quality bird seed and the odd fat ball.

Ornamental grasses can now be cut down to just above ground level. Evergreen grasses should be checked over and any dead stalks removed.

Ivy can be a pain for a lot of people but it is a great habitat for many reasons. It can be used for roosting bats and birds, hibernating insects. The flowers are full of yellow pollen that the bees and butterflys love. Ivy is not a parasitic plant it dosent live off of a host, it simply uses other plants / buildings to climb up. I would suggest if you have ivy try and keep it in order by giving it a winter trim each year. Dont allow it on to any roofs or near any guttering or it will cause you issues in the long run.

 

Happy Christmas

Posted on 20th December, 2018

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.

 

Shrub rose prune before-

Shrub rose prune after-

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. In the photo above you can see this rose has be re-trained on to the wall with all new wires. Make sure young trees are checked as the growth rate can be quick and ties can easily cut in to the tree.

 

The fig tree photoed above was estimated 20ft High and 14ft deep (from the wall). It has had a major prune and all new wires put in to the wall. This took just over a day and was done with a hand saw as the new growth was very close to the old. Its now 7ft high and 2ft deep. The fig has been trained for foliage to cover the wall as much as possible. It will grow some fruit but not loads.

 

November 2018

Posted on 19th October, 2018

Throughout October the weather has hung on in which has aloud November autumn colour to be at its best. The leaves have stayed on longer and given a broad range of copper, yellow, amber and red colours. Now they have begun to drop, its time to collect those leaves for composting. Leaves can be collected off of lawns using a lawn mower which will also shred the leaves and speed up the composting procedure. Leaf compost generally takes about two years to become a useable product. Making sure it dose not dry out and turning it a couple times should insure you get the best possible outcome.

As the wind can sometimes picks up over November take a look at your roses. If there is long new growth on your roses that you are waiting to tie in, do this when you come to prune it. You may wish to temporary tie it now or give it a slight cut back. As the wind can snap this new growth or even rock the entire plant. We have had am amazingly long season of roses this year which are still flowering now as I write this.

Now is a good time to keep an eye out for birds. Give them a helping hand by keeping your bird feeders or table stocked up. Birds can be a great help in the garden with pest problems so its always good to keep them happy and keep them coming back.

As the colder weather sets in look after your tender plants and pots. Raise pots off of the ground especially if the area their in puddles. Some plants might require being taken indoors or into a greenhouse . There are a variety of options for winter protection for example, cloches, fleece, bubble wrap, heavy mulch layer.

 

October 2018

Posted on 20th September, 2018

October brings a mixture of shorter days and the start of overnight frosts. As the frosts begin keep an eye on your dahlias as the foliage will begin to blacken, when this begins they will need lifting and brining in.

To lift dahlias the stem needs to be cut down to around 3-4 inches and it is important to remove all the soil in order to check the tuber for signs of damage or disease which could cause issues with your other dahlias if not detected. After lifting the dahlias ensure that they are left to dry for a few days before placing them in pots with bark or woodchip and stored somewhere frost free over the winter.

 

Once the frosts have begun to ease and the spring arrives you can give your dahlias a small amount of water and bring them somewhere light and await for the new growth to appear. Continue to keep them stored and watered until the frosts have past and the new shoots appear then they can be replanted.

 

If your soil is very free draining and dose not sit wet over the winter you may be able to mulch your dahlias and avoid the need to lift and store them. Results vary with this method depending on soil conditions, weather and thickness of mulch applied.

Autumn vegetables such as garlic and onions are ready to be planed now, and hope for the best next year, 2018 crop photo above. Any potatoes or carrots that you have now need to be lifted and stored along with any beetroot. Make sure you leave a small amount of soil on to help to delay the risk of decay.

Before the Frosts start make sure you harvest pumpkins and squashes as they will quickly turn to mush if left for too long. We have had a brilliant crop of pumpkins this year.

Now that the birds have finished nesting, spend some time getting hedges cut before spring returns.

 

It is time to plant daffodil and tulip bulbs for the spring in flower beds or naturalising in grass.

 

If you still need to complete any lawn work such as re-seeding or laying turf this will be your last opportunity. The weather will help with this as the mixture of showers and sunshine and with the soil still being warm the seed or turf should take well. Before reseeding first the lawn should be scarified, hollow tined or solid tined and finally top dress unlevel or bad patches within the lawn. Finally it is important to select the correct seed mixtures for the type of lawn required such as hard wearing or fine lawn.

 

September - The Rain Returns

Posted on 17th August, 2018

September is that time of year when the days start to get noticeably shorter and the winds and rain will generally increase. With this in mind and with the soil still being warm from the summer its a great time to plant trees,perennials and bulbs. Trees will put down a better rooting system this time of year and a small amount of wind can actually make them stronger as it helps to get a better footing.

Keep up with the dead heading around the garden to prolong the flowering period. Don't forget hanging baskets and planters will carry on until the first frost if kept dead headed and well fed.

September to October is the best time I find to do lawn work such as scarifying, re-seeding, edge repairs or even laying a new lawn (more detail on this in last years blog post).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have added some photo's from around the vegetable garden of things that are looking good or might be of interest. We have grown melons for the first time and cucamelons (like a small grape sized cucumber). Also the chillies in the glass house are all doing pretty well. The zinnia from our picking garden are also looking great at the moment.

 

 

August - Sun, Sun and more Sun

Posted on 18th July, 2018

I imagine most of you will be watering your pots regularly to keep them going over this long dry spell we are having, don't forget to add some liquid feed in there as well to give your plants the nutrients to really perform. If you are watering plants in beds remember a short quick water is not that helpful. It will allow weeds to grow, make shallow roots, and evaporate on hot days before its had a chance. A long soak is needed for water to penetrate down through the soil to where the plant really needs it.

The lawns are looking a bit sorry for them selves at the moment but don't fear they will return with the rain. I would suggest you don't feed them in the drought. Raise the cutting height of your lawn mower to avoid over stressing the grass even more.

Dead heading will also be at the top of your list to keep your flowers going for longer. When dead heading also consider what you would like to collect seed from or would like to let spread naturally by self seeding where it is. Some plants also fruit have attractive seed pods that you can put in a display in the winter, for example rose hips, echinops. Some perennials will need cutting back to keep them tidy such as geraniums.

If you have a Wisteria in your garden that has now finished flowering you can cut off the long straggly growth back to five leaves. This is generally needed when a wisteria is near paths windows or doors. The main prune will not be done until later.

August is the time to cut down your long grass / perennial meadows. Cutting now will help disperse all of the seed that is currently in the flower pods. This is done by strimming it all down at the base then using a pitch fork to move and turn the cut long grass. I have had this method work well over a number of years especial helps getting yellow rattle to spread quicker.

Most importantly enjoy your garden how ever big or small, maintained or jungle. Sit outside and just take it all in.

 

July - Blooming Great

Posted on 19th June, 2018

As the garden is full of flowers the best thing to keep it this way for as long as possible is to dead head, dead head and then dead head some more. You can cut hardy geraniums and delphiniums back to encourage new growth. Sweet peas can go on for months if dead heading frequently, so plenty of cut flowers for your home.

 

 

Watering is a must this time of year, water your newly planted plants, pots, crops and lawns if needed. Small pots will dry out quickly so check them daily to be safe.

Keep on top of the tying in of climbers, sweet peas and clematis. You will want to check your climbing roses as the new young growth is easy broken in the wind.

Pests and diseases are on a war path to take over the garden. Everything from rabbits to lily beetles, aphids, rust and powdery mildew. Plans should be made for control measures to be put in. Try cultural and preventative measures first before turning to chemicals.

If your 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 damage. Once replanted in the chosen bed keep on top of the watering. Iris should be planted with only half the rhizome below the soil level.

 

Keep are NGS open day in your calendar Sunday 1st July 11am-5pm. See you then