"The best-kept secret in Sawston – a walled garden with two acres of trees and flowers..."

Open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 9.30am to 12.30pm and Sunday 1pm to 3pm (winter) or 2pm to 4pm (summer)

January 2021

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Looking back to this time last year, volunteers were busy putting together the exhibition ‘Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice …’ on the co-operative movement and shopping in Sawston. Since then, of course, the exhibition had to close early due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the planned celebration of fifty years of Sawston Scene didn’t materialise and all our events except the Open Gardens were cancelled. It has truly been a very strange year for everyone.
We have now reluctantly had to take the decision to close the garden to visitors during this second national lockdown. Given the seriousness of the current situation, we had no alternative. This is very disappointing for all of us, but we trust you understand the reasons for this. We sincerely hope we will be able to re-open the garden in the near future, possibly some time in February, but who knows…?

On a positive note, however: once the garden re-opened in early June, we have never had so many visitors during the regular opening hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. It was hugely satisfying to see the garden used in this way as more people discovered our peaceful and safe haven in the centre of the village. Many groups took advantage to meet up with friends and family, including Pampisford WI, OWL, the Royal British Legion, Cambridge Art Circle, Wool’n’Tea, Sing to Remember, Cambridge Rare Disease Network and Dan’s tai chi class. We also welcomed others to the garden in the evenings for practical sessions – Sawston Steel Band, Pilates, Sawston WI and Sawston Boys and Girls Brigade among others. The garden is a versatile location, suitable for all sorts of activities and get-togethers. We thank the Sawston community for their support and patronage during this difficult period and we look forward to hosting more gatherings in 2021.
One thing we have all learnt in 2020 is the importance of nature and green spaces for our well-being and mental health. This is acknowledged and strongly supported by the Government and leading charities, such as the National Trust, the Royal Horticultural Society, National Garden Scheme and not least the medical profession, who all make strong cases for keeping parks, gardens and other green spaces open to the public for exercise and relaxation. Here at the Challis Trust, we are very pleased to be a part of this community and fully endorse the view that nature needs to be accessible and conserved.


Our team of volunteers has grown, as we’ve all found more time on our hands to take on other activities. Volunteer hours were at a record level, 30% higher than preceding years. This has enabled us to keep well on top of routine gardening jobs and to carry out some additional tasks. Thanks indeed to all our volunteers, the garden has never looked so good. And Mary Challis’s chickens have been given a new home!
Many of you will have seen the changes in the front garden of the Challis House on the High Street. It was due for a makeover! We don’t really know what the front garden looked like in Mary Challis’s time, but there are reports of lawn and bedding plants either side of the path, with climbers growing up the side wall. A pair of laburnum trees stood at the front, creating an ‘arch’ over the pathway. Only one remains now. The house was formally known as ‘The Laburnums’, its name etched on a glass panel above the front door. It is planned to reinstate the two laburnums when the second one dies and to install a new glass panel.
The new look is more modern and formal, with symmetry either side of the path. The two small paved areas on each side reflect the colours and dimensions of the front of the house. The main colour theme will be yellow, blue and grey-green, complementing the laburnum flowers when these are in full bloom. The evergreen Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ will be trained to cover the side wall. It is not yet fully planted as it proved difficult to source some key plants, due to disruption in the supply chain of planting material during the pandemic. Hopefully, these will be available in the spring. Do follow the progress in the coming months.
There are early signs of spring in the garden. Many snowdrops and a few aconites are already in flower and should be at their best in February and March, to be followed by crocuses and daffodils. In the winter/spring long border, the dogwoods (Cornus spp.) are looking really good this year, with solid stands of yellow, green and red stems. And many of the winter-flowering shrubs are starting to produce strongly perfumed flowers, notably shrub honeysuckles, winter box, Viburnum spp. and Mahonia. Hopefully you will be able to visit soon and not miss out on these winter displays.
Ever optimistic, we are planning to hold several events this year. The programme of Challis Trust events is:

Events planned for 2021

Anniversary Fete
Sunday 16th May

NGS Open Gardens
Sunday 13th June

Big Challis Family Picnic
Sunday 18th July

Challis Horticultural Show
Saturday 4th September

Spooky Saturday
Saturday 30th October

Sawston Winter Fair
to be confirmed

Hopefully, these will take place as planned in 2021! Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, February–March 2021

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