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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!

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Latest Posts

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.

October 2020

Posted on 21st September, 2020

Where has the rain gone? Once the rain returns, we are hoping it will soften up the ground enough for the lawn care maintenance program to be done whilst there is still some heat in the ground before the temperatures drop. Grass seed requires at least 5C to germinate so it needs to be done September / October, at this time the combined temperatures and rain give the grass everything it needs without having to give any additional help. The maintenance program will consist of weeding the lawn, scarification, seeding, top dressing the worst areas and low patches. Plus depending on the weather will try and get a slow release granular feed on once the grass has fully germinated, as this will help develop strong roots over autumn and quicker growth in spring.

It’s that time of year for dahlias again, it would be interesting to know how many people in the area lift their dahlias or leave them in, as the end result generally all depends on how bad the winter is and your soil type. If lifting Dahlias - 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 generally in a heated glasshouse that stays just above freezing.

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 wait 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 does 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.

It has been an odd year so far and it looks to be continuing. Flash floods to start with and now draught. The draught this year has been hard on a lot of plants, but it has also been great for others.  The fig pictured above has fruited a lot this year and the Perovskia blue spire below has flowered great. It has certainly highlighted the need for a more diverse planting and the need for more dry garden plants. So, it gives us food for thought going forward when re-designing gardens within the area for longevity and no reliance on irrigation systems.

 

August 2020

Posted on 20th July, 2020

Bees (Taken by Jon Fenlon)

Thank you to everybody who came to our local garden open day in June, we managed to raise some well needed funds for local charities.

It has been an odd year so far in more ways than one.  We had flooding in February, almost no rain and a heat wave in May, a couple of random flash floods in June, July has had the temperatures jump up and down. 

So I think it is fair to say the plants are all a bit out of sync this year. A lot of the veg is behind where it normally would be, I found narcissus still flowering in June! That’s a first for me. But with the randomness of it all the garden has still produced a lovely display and some new combinations of plants that wouldn’t normally be out together.

In August we will be cutting down the perennial meadow areas as well as any long grass areas. You will find when you strim/scythe long grass down to the base it will go yellow for about 2/3 weeks because of the stress of cutting it but it will turn green again . We do this every year around mid-August for a couple of reasons, it allows a lot of the seed to spread, give the grass the chance to recover before autumn, it is easy to do whilst it is dry and still standing up. In September it will also give us the opportunity to sow more wildflower seed if it’s needed in certain areas.

In the borders try to keep on top of the normal weeding and deadheading.  Seed pods will be ripening up and ready to pop so keep an eye out for any you want to keep and sow as well as the ones you want to nip out before they spread everywhere. The long wisteria tendrils can be cut back to keep paths/ windows clear but don’t give it any hard pruning until winter.

There has been some nice displays around the village this year, well done all! Good luck to the Village in Bloom team with this year’s judging, your efforts throughout this pandemic to brighten up the village with lovely flowers has put a smile on many faces.

 

June

Posted on 22nd May, 2020

The summer lock down is upon us! The Garden is in full swing with flowers popping up of all shape size and colour.

Its that time of year when regular routine maintenance of weeding, watering, mowing and dead heading will all come to the forefront. Keeping up to date with the routine maintenance ensures your garden will look at its best for longer. If you don't have acres to look after the method of a little but often can have an amazing effect. You will be surprised as to how long you can keep your roses flowering with regular dead heading.

If you have old lilacs that have gotten too large for there planting position now is the time to prune after flowering. You can prune them back quite a lot this time of year because they have all year to regrow. In the past I have removed half of the plant and they have been absolutely fine and come back amazingly. Just make sure you keep it watered for 2/3 weeks after pruning.

 

At the time of writing this we are desperate for rain as the lawn is already starting to go patchy! In June we will be fertilising the lawns with a slow release granular 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 the grows at the same rate. The photo is of the Main Lawn at Smiths Hall.

The garden is full of wildlife, there is constant bird song and activity, the whole garden seems to be buzzing away. Creating more wild areas around the estate looks to be paying off, whether that be wild flowers, allowing grass to grow longer, more native planting, opening up the canopy to allowing more light in to the woodland floor which allows plants to grow.

When out getting your daily exercise take a look at all the great work The Village in Bloom team have been up recently. The wild flowers areas are getting better and better and the planters are bringing a lovely plash of colour.

So when you have finished the gardening, it's time to get out the BBQ and enjoy it!

 

May (Lockdown)

Posted on 21st April, 2020

 

The garden is now romping away and full of life, the tree blossom is constantly buzzing with bees. In May the risk of frost will reduce and soon be over, so now is a great 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 at night. 

Clematis and sweet peas are growing like crazy. We get good results by tieing them in at least once a week because of there rapid growth. Another reason to tie them is you can form shapes on frame works that then become full of flower as the season progresses. If clematis are not tied in, the wind can easily snap the small stems, this also goes for some climbing rose's.

 

You might be tempted to clear all the foliage from your spring bulbs that have now finished, but try to resist until the foliage has gone over and turned yellow. This will allow the bulb to get the most energy stored up for next year.

 

Now the weather should be warming up, so make sure you water your pots and add a granular fertilizer or liquid feed depending on what is in your pots. All pots will require different amounts of watering each week depending on the plants you have in them. You can get water crystals that store water which should mean you can water them less. They are available at most garden centres or online if the shops are all still closed.

 

I would just like to say a BIG Thank you to everyone out there still hard at work during this pandemic and to all the volunteer helpers. Keep up the good work. Most importantly stay home, save lives and protect the NHS. 

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

 

Narcissus

 

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.