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Hi, I'm Jon Fenlon.

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


Latest Posts

There's a silver lining...

Posted on 25th March, 2020

April looks to be like a COVID 19 shut down for most people but the silver lining is: you get more time to tend to your garden. This could make this, the best your garden has ever been. They say a one years worth of weed, is equal to seven years of weed seed!


So if you can hit the weeds hard this year it will do you a favour in the years to come. You can hoe, hand weed, or even buy hand torches that burn them off completely. This is the last chance to add a good layer of mulch around shrubs or entire beds if they are not yet growing, which will also help keep the weeds under control.


If the lawn if looking a bit ropey you can still scarify out the thatch, top dress and seed. The warming soil and April showers should help the seed on its way. Or if your lawn is looking full but needs a pick me up you can now give it a nitrogen based fertiliser to get it going.


There are lots of lovely bulbs and spring flowers around the garden including these:

Prunus 'Snow Showers'

Ipheion uniflorum




If you need to move any shrubs around this is your last chance until October/November depending on the weather.


At Smiths Hall we have recently planted some new hedgerows including Beech, Copper Beech and Hornbeam. These have all been giving a good amount of compost and fish blood and bone meal, to get they off to a good start. It was all mixed in the planting trench so that the roots have good loose soil to easily root in to and establish easier, plus the add nutrients should provide everting they need.

Copper Beech


Please remember to follow the government guidelines at this time, stay safe and enjoy this time getting some fresh air and exercise, while making your gardens look wonderful!


Spring is on its way

Posted on 23rd February, 2020

Winter is on its way out and spring is just around the corner, we have had Narcissus flowering since the beginning of February! Lets hope that the stormy weather and endless wet ground is over so we can start the year with a strong productive spring. Now we are in March it is a great time to plant your bare root roses and hedging, make sure you plant them to the correct depth and with a good mulching. An organic slow release fertilizer can be used to aid root establishment, you can look for a specialized rose fertilizer in the shops. Photo below is a hornbeam hedge we planted last March.

If you have any shrubs in the garden that need to be lifted and moved, now would be a good time to do so, just make sure the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. You can also still split and divide herbaceous perennials. This can actually improve your plants performance because you are removing the congested competition for space as well as the competition for nutrients. A general fertiliser like fish, blood and bone can be used on your shrubs or hedgerows to help improve their growth. Lightly fork the fertiliser in to the top of the soil, or sprinkle the fertiliser directly on the bed and mulch over the top.

Staking plants is essential for certain plants that can not support there own weight when they flower, or to get a better display over a larger area. There are a variety of ways to make your own supports in the garden by using hazel. You can make structures of all different shapes and sizes using solid stakes as main supports, or use multiple branches to create a web of support throughout the plant. There are also dozens of training and support systems on the market which can be used on walls or free standing, just be sure to buy solid metal items so they withstand the elements for a long time. The hollow tubed variety's do not last long in my experience.

For anybody wanting a nicer lawn this year now is the time to fix and repair the edges, use a sharp half moon edger to get a good line. If moss is present in the lawn use a moss killer and rake over once it has done the job on a small lawn or on larger lawns use a driven scarifier. Also remove any tap rooted weeds by using a dandelion puller or spray off with a selective weed killer which will not effect the lawn.

Don't forget to feed the birds throughout March as they are starting to build there nests.


Winter in the Garden

Posted on 25th January, 2020

Now that the Christmas period has passed it is time to start preparing our gardens for the new year. Firstly I would like to revisit the blog I wrote back in April 2019 mentioning a new area within the garden, that had previously been taken over by ivy. The area has now been cleared of ivy and new plants planted, we are awaiting a few more additions to finalise the area. The bed has been weeded throughout 2019 to reduce the weed seed bank and a thick layer of organic matter had been added to also assist in weed control and increase the fertility of the soil. The plants that we have chosen are a great mix of shrubs, perennials, evergreens and bulbs. The main season of display will be throughout the winter, where the garden currently does not have much representation. Photo from the day of planting.


Throughout the past month we have finished pruning all of roses. Roses make a great architectural element to the garden in winter. This time of year you can see the true bones of the garden. If you are going to fertilizer your roses, it is best to do it between February – March, a generous amount of organic matter can make a big difference to your roses over the next growing season. March is when we start to prune the more tender plants such as Penstemons, as well as those that we are trying to control the new growth of for example, Buddleia, Fig and Hydrangea. It is important to wait until March to allow for the lasts of the frosts to past and the weather to warm slightly to give the tender plants the best chance of survival.


It is important that all hedges that need to be cut are finished by the end of February to allow for the birds nesting period, it is essential that we do not disturb any nests or remove any material that may expose them. If you still have hedges to cut its time to get them done!


In the Garden we have four individual colour themed beds, White, Red, Blue and Yellow. This winter we have removed the red border that had lost its way. I have re-designed the Red border and will hopefully be planting the new design in spring 2021. We are leaving the bed clear for the year to help reduce the weed seed bank, we shall keep you posted of the upcoming progress of the bed throughout the year.


Leaves, Leaves everywhere

Posted on 20th October, 2019

It is the season of the leaf for most garden owners now. You go out in to the garden on Saturday morning and rake up all the leaves and look back at a job well done. Ten minutes later you look out the window and there all back...The best advice I can give you is to change your thinking process about this job, instead of simply tidying the garden, you are feeding the compost heap to create a better healthier garden over the years to come. There are many methods and processes that can be done to make a nice compost, its best to do an online search to see what method will suit your needs.

As the wind generally picks up over November its best to take a look at any plants that have stakes and make sure they are secure. Roses will also need to be looked over to make sure there is not too much wind rock. If you are pruning your roses over December it would be best to temporarily tie down the new growth now so it doesn't snap out in the wind, where the younger growth is yet to become woody it is easily broken if it is flexed too much in high winds.


Now is a good time to put out the bird feeders to help the birds. Get a good bird seed mix and place your feeders somewhere you can still see it from the house. This way you can see what birds are visiting your garden. Birds can be a great source of pest control keeping all manner of pests at bay.

As the weather is now changing and getting colder its best to protect your tender plants. A general rule I find myself, is once the temperature has dropped below 5°C more then twice its time to make sure everything that needs protection is ready. We use a variety of methods here consisting of greenhouse, cold frames, fleece, cloches, heavy mulch (over Dahlias). We have some banana trees we leave out all winter, these have the leaves cut off and laid at the base to channel water away whilst the stem is wrapped in bubble wrap and covered in hessian, simply because bubble wrap in unsightly in the garden.

For making your own Christmas wreaths this year keep an eye on your holly berries and rose hips, these combined with some nice red autumnal leaves can create a vary attractive wreath. Once you find your material you can store them somewhere cool and dry, apart from holly branches I would leave in a bucket of water which will keep the shine on the leaves longer.



Posted on 21st September, 2019

I have had lots of questions recently about wildflower meadows, so I thought I would use this month to try and help. The end of September to early October is a great time to start to implement a perennial meadow.


The two main types of meadow are annual (resown every year) and perennial (comes back year after year).Annual meadows are great for a bold mass of colour that will catch everybody's attention, whilst perennial meadows will contain more of a mix of flowers and grasses.

Annual mix

Annual Meadow

An annual meadow is sown on clear ground that has been prepared to a fine tilth similar to preparation work you would do to lay a new lawn. Its best to clear the area in September and then keep checking for weeds until you sow the seeds. The best time to sow the seed will be March - April, mix the seed with fine dry sand this will help to spread the seed more evenly. Walk over the prepared area and spread the seed by hand, first horizontally then vertically. This will give you the best chance of getting an even spread and not missing any areas. Once the seed is down you can lightly rake over the area and tread or roll the surface to firm the seeds in place.

From my own experience you want it to rain at least every four days over the first couple of weeks, but if this does not happen use a sprinkler to get it going. After the the first 2 weeks you will see germination, from this point on just keep a look out for weeds and remove them as much as possible, just be sure you don't walk on the meadow. Use a long hoe around the side as far as you can reach in. If there are weeds further in you may find a long arm pruner is helpful to cut the weeds back which will give the wild flowers time to take over and out grow the weeds.

Annual mix 16th June

Annual meadows generally start flowering from the end of May – early July and finish August – October depending on weather conditions.


Perennial Meadow

Perennial meadows can be started in a variety of different ways, the new recommended way to start a meadow from scratch on an area of land that was very weedy or a flower bed is to clear an area the same as the annual meadow but also add a layer of sterile mulch to help suppress the weeds. The best time to sow the seeds is late September to early October when the soil is easier to work.

The first year of establishment is the most important stage of creating a good strong healthy meadow. Keep the meadow at no more then 10cm in height and make sure the meadow is irrigated every four days if there is no rain from April to June. As you are keeping the meadow fairly low you can maintain the weeds by hand digging them out, its best try not to disturb any of the soil under the mulch as this will bring up more weed seeds. Cut the meadow down in August and remove the cuttings.

Perennial Meadow -  May

Year 2 you will start to get flower and see what all of your efforts have been for , will still require some irrigation early on like year one, but only cutting the meadow down in August and removing all of the cuttings. From now on the meadow should go from strength to strength just keep an eye on weeds creeping in, the quicker you get the weeds out the better it will be.

Perennial Meadow

Another method of creating a perennial meadow is to establish one in already established grassland. I have done this for many years now re-introducing British native species in orchards and wild meadow areas. This is done with the same routine as above apart from the initial preparation work is different. First you cut the grass as short as possible it doesn't matter if you scalp the ground in places. Then using a motorised scarifier, scarify the entire area over and over until you can see roughly about 50% bare soil. Make sure all off the grass debris is taken off of the area and try feel in any major holes to stop puddling points. By doing this you will open up the soil for the seed to be sown in to and weaken the grass. In your seed mix you will also want to add yellow rattle as this will help reduce the grass in vigour over the coming years, the more the grass is kept at bay the less competition there is for the flowers to thrive.

Perennial mix - yellow rattle seed

I hope this helps everybody with there future meadow ideas, I am sure the Village in Bloom group would love to hear about any wildflower plans you might have for your front gardens.



Summer is going quick

Posted on 20th August, 2019

With the days becoming shorter and the winds and rains increasing, September definitely reminds us of the transition between summer and autumn. That being said, the soil remains warm from the summer and offers the perfect opportunity to plant perennials and trees in preparation for next year. It is important to plan ahead to how you would like your garden to look next year as most of the preparation will need to start now in order to achieve this vision.

September is the perfect time to collect seeds from perennials and hardy annuals for use in the next year, most seeds can be collected roughly 2 months after flowering. Ensure your seeds come from plants without any disease to ensure the seeds are healthy. Make sure to store the seeds you collect away from any excess heat or moisture to prevent the seeds from rotting or dying of fungal diseases. Paper bags work well for this.

To keep your garden flowering for as long as possible, keep up to date with the dead heading until at least the first frost. If you have any vegetables in your garden continue to harvest. Harvesting tomatoes will be starting to slow down. If you grow potatoes its time to prepare the soil for next years crop, digging over the soil and mixing in manure can help next years crop.

Its the perfect time of year to clean out and re-organise your greenhouse, removing any dirt, moss or algae can prevent pests and disease from spreading and also allows more light in. It is also a good time to clean out your garden water butts and guttering before winter hits.


September is a great opportunity to work on your lawns, scarifying, edge repairs, re-seeding or laying new lawn. Throughout my time here at Smith's Hall I have spent a significant amount of time trying to improve our lawn's within the garden, below is a picture of the lawns in June when I started and exactly 2 years later.

The cut flower garden has survived the recent rains and winds and the dahlias in particular look perfect and ready for picking. Its always nice to grow flowers for use within the house, everyone loves fresh flowers!


August- Enjoy the Summer

Posted on 20th July, 2019

Hi everyone thank you all very much for coming to our NGS open day on the 30 June, we had a record breaking day and raised a lot of money for charity.


We had over 400 visitors!!!

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. Dead heading will 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 have attractive seed pods that you can leave as a display in the winter, for example rose hips and echinops.

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.

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 in the year.

If you have tender plants in your garden don't forget to collect the seed or take cuttings to start growing from . So if the winter is harsh you have a backup waiting to go.

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 it around. I have used this method and has work well over a number of years especially helps getting yellow rattle to spread quicker.


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. I have found over the 2 years I have been at Smiths Hall it has established well and has now weakened the grass a sufficient amount to allow other wild flowers to appear this year.

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


July/ early August I find is the best time to make future garden plans. So take a walk around your garden stop and just take in each area. If you see issues or have any ideas take a note or a photo, then start to find a solution to the issues or find the plants that will bring your ideas to life.


The lawns are looking a bit sorry for themselves at the moment but do not 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.

Most importantly enjoy your garden how ever big or small, maintained or jungle.


July in the Garden

Posted on 19th June, 2019

During July keep checking your flowers to see if they require dead heading to prolong the season. Check Roses, Penstemons, Lupins and Foxgloves. Carefully check down the stem when dead heading to spot the next flush of flowers or leaf and cut down to this point

You can cut hardy geraniums and delphiniums back to encourage new growth. Make sure to water them well after cutting them back to give them the best start of bouncing back. Sweet peas can go on for months if dead heading is done frequently, so you will also get lots of cut flowers for your home.

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 are damaged or soft. Cut the leaves down to 2/3inches, once replanted in the chosen bed keep on top of the watering. Irises should be planted with only half the rhizome below the soil level. 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 will now be flowering in the garden and smelling lovely. 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 removing by hand is best.

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

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 soil well as the fibrous roots run just under the top soil.

This is a good time to spray the lawn with a selective 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. A liquid seaweed feed will do the trick nicely.

The one thing you must do this month is to just enjoy your garden. I look forward to seeing everybody on the 30th June NGS open day.


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.