Updates

July 2021

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We were very sorry to have to cancel our Anniversary Fete in late June at short notice, to comply with the latest government guidelines on social gatherings. Notices were posted on social media and our website but may not have reached everyone. We apologise for the disappointment and any inconvenience caused.

To make up for the cancelled events, we aim to make the Horticultural Show in September a bigger event than usual. We hope more people will enter this year. If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, arrange flowers, bake, make preserves, sew, knit, stitch, paint, sketch or take photos, then there is something for you to enter. Schedules are available from the Challis Garden or can be viewed on our website. We would love to see more entries from children and encourage them to enter. There are several activities to choose from, in two age groups – seven years and under and eight to twelve years old. Entry slips to be returned by Thursday 2nd September, please.

The Twelfth Night production on 20th June was a great success, a highly entertaining performance by very professional actors. We are delighted that Half Cut Theatre are returning on Sunday 15th August with Treasure Island. There will again be two performances, at 2pm and 5pm. Book online at www.halfcuttheatre.co.uk or call 07892 854658 to avoid disappointment. No pre-payment is needed, and you ‘Pay What You Decide’ after the performance. Gates open one hour before each performance to let you relax and enjoy a picnic or snacks beforehand. Please bring your own seats and blankets, if possible.

We are delighted that a start has been made on building the new Garden Museum. Footings have been dug and concrete foundations put in. Availability of building materials is an issue in the industry at present, but hopefully construction can progress smoothly during the summer months. The garden will open as usual, but for the foreseeable future, the main entrance to the garden is closed, so please use the side gate on the left-hand side of the car park.

Despite a very dry June, the earlier wet weather and rain in the first half of July has encouraged very vigorous growth. Many of the plants in the herbaceous borders are much larger than usual, with wonderful displays of flowers. The wildflower meadow in the centre of the main lawn is especially good this year, dominated now by scabious and knapweed giving mauve and purple hues. There seem to be fewer butterflies around this year – probably due to the cold, wet weather in late spring affecting the first generations – but lots of bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and ladybirds. Visitors have enjoyed these displays. Come and see for yourself!

Local artist Fran Godwood has produced a new garden design for our notelets and tea towels to augment our range of Challis gifts. Also available: honey from our hives, fresh garden produce, jams and preserves, house plants, garden plants and old bottles. Do have a look.

Two tiny ‘hoglets’ were seen by several people in the garden in early July, just 10cm long. Cute!

The archive remains closed to visitors, but work on cataloguing has continued and we hope to find some means of making an online catalogue available to the public. One of the features of the archive is that it holds complete sets of Sawston Scene and the Sawston Crier and a good selection of press cuttings about Sawston from the local newspapers since the 1980s. Anyone who would like to look at any items is welcome to make an appointment to do so. We also collect orders of service from the funerals of Sawston inhabitants to provide a permanent record of their lives in Sawston, and will be pleased to receive any of these, which can be posted in our post box.

We were recently very pleased to receive a generous donation from a member of the Challis family which includes books owned by Mary Challis and many other family artefacts and photographs, which we hope to display soon.
A recently catalogued file concerns the way the Festival of Britain was marked in Sawston, seventy years ago. There was a special week in July 1951, which included a concert, a tennis tournament, an exhibition and the Horticultural Show. There were also visits to factories at Thomas Evans, James Garnar. Eastern Counties Leather, Edward Towgood, the House of Spicer and Crampton’s. None of these enterprises now exists, illustrating how Sawston has changed in the interim. There is an archive photograph showing the opening of the Festival Week at the Village College.
Mike Redshaw & Mary Dicken
Published in the August–September 20221 Sawston Scene

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May 2021

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A busy month coming up in the garden with three events on successive Sundays in June. Please note that the normal opening times will not apply on these days. First up is the Open Garden event on Sunday 13th June in support of the wonderful National Garden Scheme (NGS), which has raised money for nursing and healthcare charities since 1927. The total to date has exceeded £60 million, with around £3 million donated annually in recent years – a fantastic achievement. Due to the pandemic, most private gardens could not open last year so we are very pleased to be able to continue our commitment to the scheme again in 2021. The garden will be open from 1pm to 5 pm. Admission is £3 per adult (free for children). Plants will be on sale on the day, with a proportion of the takings going to the NGS.

On Sunday 20th June, we are delighted to be hosting our first open-air theatre performance. This features Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by the Half Cut Theatre Company. This is a new theatre group, based in London, set up last year in response to the closure of theatres due to the Covid crisis. One of the founding members is a Duxford lad, James Camp, who attended SVC – hence the interest in bringing the play to Sawston. They will give two performances at 2pm and 5pm. Please book online at www.halfcuttheatre.co.uk or call 07892 854658. There is no pre-payment required but a ‘Pay What You Decide’ contribution after the performance.

Gates will open one hour before each performance so there is time to relax and have a picnic or snacks before the play starts, and you can visit our Pimm’s tent for a selection of refreshing drinks. It promises to be an entertaining afternoon. If possible, please bring your own seats and blankets as there are a limited number available on site. There is a lot of interest in this event, so do book your place early!

The company is returning in August to perform Treasure Island – more details about this in the next issue.
Our postponed Anniversary Fete will be held on Sunday 27th June from 2pm to 4.30pm. It is hoped all our usual groups and attractions can attend to entertain and educate us. This year we propose to have a Kid’s Zone hosting a range of activities, which we hope makes up partly for the cancelled children’s events over the past year. Look out for posters in the village and on our Facebook page. As usual, M C Teas will serve tea and cakes from the house.
Passers-by will have noticed scaffolding at the front of the house at 68 High Street in recent weeks. This is for essential maintenance work on guttering, fascias and soffits, re-pointing brickwork and re-coating the external walls. The opportunity will also be taken to install a swift nestbox at the front. Apparently, swifts used to nest at the front but nesting sites were blocked off during renovation work. Two tubular nestboxes were fitted to the south-facing wall as replacements but they do not appear to have been used regularly. In recent years, the swifts have been nesting at the rear of the properties. It will be interesting to see how soon the new boxes are occupied. Swifts return here in mid-May and quickly start to seek out nest sites. Hopefully the new boxes will be in place in good time. Like most wildlife nowadays, swifts need as much help as we can give them. Let’s wait and see!

Despite inclement weather – cold spells, a very dry April and late frosts – the garden volunteers have been busy preparing the herbaceous beds for the summer, tidying up the winter/spring border, raising bedding plants, trimming and mowing. If the weather – finally – comes good in the coming weeks, we can look forward to lots of colourful displays through to autumn. Look out for the stunning displays on false acacia and golden rain trees from late June to early July.

We have re-organised the plant nursery area and gift stand, putting material for sale on stands, with clear labelling and pricing. This is a much-needed improvement. We hope you like it.

Are you aware there is a unique apple variety in our garden? The large tree at the main entrance has been identified as a cross between Dr Harvey (one of the earliest English culinary apple varieties) and Cox’s Orange Pippin. This cross is not on the national register of English apples and hence has been accepted as a new variety ‘Mary Challis’ and listed in the Register of Local Cultivars. We have raised new trees by grafting, which are now available as two-year old semi-standard trees. If you are interested in planting a Mary Challis apple, please talk to one of the garden team. It produces medium-large apples, with good cooking and eating properties that store well through to Christmas time.

Mike Redshaw

Printed in the June–July 2021 issue of Sawston Scene

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March 2021

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In view of the ongoing pandemic and the Government’s latest roadmap out of lockdown, we have had to cancel our popular Easter children’s event and defer our Anniversary Fete to a later date. As it stands, we plan to hold the Fete on Sunday 27th June, which is after the 21st June tentative deadline when all restrictions on social mixing will be lifted. However, we are all aware that the situation can change quickly, so please look out for further announcements nearer the time.

We were very pleased to re-open the Garden to visitors in February. Current rules allow for households and support ‘bubbles’, and for two people from different households to meet outdoors for recreation and exercise. From 29th March, the ‘rule of six’ will apply again, allowing more people to meet up outdoors, with further restrictions easing after 12th April and again from 17th May. Confused? If so, go to the Government’s website to see exactly what is and isn’t allowed.

Back in the garden there are lots of signs of spring. Yellow brimstone butterflies and early bumblebees are active on warm days. Snowdrops and aconites have gone over but the crocuses are hanging on and open up fully when the sun shines. Early daffodils started to flower in March and will be at their peak in April, and later on early tulips and crown imperial lilies will appear. There is still a surprising amount of spring blossom to appreciate – and for our honey bees and other pollinators to feed on – including Cornus mas, shrub honeysuckles and Mahonias. Damson trees and ornamental cherries are starting to show their pink and white flowers, giving a tantalising glimpse of the ‘main event’ when the apple blossom comes out in April and May. Can’t wait!

We’ve noticed a lot of ladybirds emerging from their winter hibernation in recent days – mostly seven-spotted ones. Are we in for a significant ‘ladybird year’ in 2021? The last was in 2018 when huge numbers were seen pupating on tree trunks in the garden during very hot summer weather. Another interesting insect to look out for now is the hairy-footed flower-bee. This species emerges very early in the year, flying low over the ground to feed on spring flowers such as early-flowering borage, Pulmonaria and yellow archangel. They are difficult to observe, restless and fast-flying, but you might be lucky enough to spot one. Ask one of our volunteers for help.

We will be putting up scaffolding on the front and side of the Challis house for some essential maintenance work. Unfortunately, this hampers progress on planting up the front garden, but we will continue to do what we can. At least, it will give us more time to select and source the key plants needed. Gardening cannot be rushed – this is no television makeover job à la Titchmarsh!

There are often surprises in the Challis world. Recently, our builders found an old bottle under the floorboards of one of our properties. It is in remarkably good condition and cleaned up well. The two labels are clearly legible, one with a date of 1862. It is not clear this was the date the bottle was made but it must be from around that time. This bottle of blackcurrant wine was made by Hill, Evans & Co., Worcester and bottled by Robert Waters. The label on the reverse of the bottle makes interesting reading:

INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION
London 1862
Extract from the “STANDARD” of Nov. 1st
“In the cursory notices we have from time to time given of Class 2, which embraces chemical and pharmaceutical processes, we have omitted to mention WATERS’ QUININE WINE. We are all the more sorry for this because we can bear personal testimony of its value as a tonic, to the innocence of its composition, and of the pleasantness of its taste. Quinine in any form is apt to induce nausea and headache; in the shape of the Quinine Wine of Mr. Robert Waters without its sickening tendencies. Again, Quinine is usually dissolved in a powerful acid, which adds considerably to the disagreeableness of its taste. We do not know the process of Mr. Waters, but we do know that there is apparently no more acid in this Quinine Wine that there is in ordinary sherry bitters, and that it is equally palatable and far more medicinal.”

Well, you don’t see testimonials like that nowadays! Those of us that have taken quinine medication for malaria or tasted quinine wine can identify with the author’s sentiments.

We have started to produce a monthly newsletter, to inform visitors and the general public about what’s happening in the Challis Trust, with what to look for in the garden and any recent news. Get your copy from the garden or the Green Weigh shop or find it on local Facebook pages.

Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, April–May 2021

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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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November 2020

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At the time of writing this, in the second lockdown, we are grateful that the government has allowed green spaces, such as our garden, to remain open to the public for exercise and recreation. All organised meetings and gatherings, of course, are not allowed and the house and museum remain closed.

The beneficial value of green spaces for mental and physical well-being is now widely recognised, and has certainly been brought into the public domain by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many organisations, such as the National Garden Scheme and the National Trust, are actively promoting the importance of getting out in the natural world and encouraging us to visit parks and gardens. Green spaces such as the Challis Garden have never been as important as they are now. We are very pleased to welcome visitors to relax and enjoy this wonderful safe and peaceful place. There is always something new to see and people to chat to. Do drop by for a walk around the garden or to simply sit and relax.

The Royal British Legion installed a stunning poppy display for this year’s Armistice commemoration, which attracted lots of compliments and attention. Well done to the many ladies who made good use of the extra time at home to crochet poppies. The result was a spectacular ‘torrent’ of poppies spilling down the front of the Challis House. The Challis Trust is honoured to host this annual display and we look forward to seeing next year’s creation – but it will prove a hard act to follow!

The two owls carved from an old walnut tree have proved very popular with visitors and volunteers alike, and are now a key feature of the garden. Our ‘Name the Owls’ competition was very well supported, attracting over a hundred entries – a fantastic response. Thanks to all who entered. It was hard to choose a shortlist of five entries to go forward to a public vote, but there were a few obvious ones that appealed to the judges and a few quirky ones to throw into the mix. In the event, there was a very clear favourite, using clever puns to produce two familiar names – ‘Victawnia’ and ‘Owlbert’, suggested by Phoebe Marsh. Many congratulations to her for these endearing names. The runner-up was Alena Neesam for ‘Ozzy’ and ‘Barney’. Now that our owls have names, we hope they will live up to them and reign over the garden for many years to come.

We have had a very successful fruit harvest this year, but this has now come to an end, with the last of the Bramley apples. Much of the produce was used to make an impressive range of jams, chutneys and jellies. Many thanks again to Andy Jackson for his culinary skills! A lot of the apples were processed to make apple juice, mixing donated apples with our own. Three sessions produced a very creditable 178 bottles, far more than previous years. Each batch is different, depending on the mix of apples available at the time, but mostly Spartan, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Bramley and Lane’s Prince Albert. The mild weather and regular rainfall in late summer and autumn resulted in ripe, juicy apples ideal for juicing. 2020 appears to be a good vintage!

The mild weather through October and November has allowed people to get out and about, with many more people than usual visiting the Garden. The autumn colours persist here and there, but the strong winds in early November stripped most of the leaves off the trees. The main herbaceous beds, however, are still colourful, well into November, unaffected as yet by early frosts. Bulbs are already pushing through so it won’t be long before we have snowdrops, aconites and crocuses showing.

There is still lots of work for the gardening team. Shrubs and herbaceous perennials have put on a lot of growth this year: now is the time to lift, divide and replant. There are large amounts of compost and leaf mould to apply to feed the plants over the coming season. Large shrubs and trees need pruning and shaping. Lots to do, but we are blessed with a large team of enthusiastic volunteers. Thanks as ever for everything they do to make the Challis Garden such a wonderful place and asset for the village.
Finally, we are delighted to have new tenants in our little shop, which has been vacant since ‘Shop For Your Community’ left in 2019. Our builders and decorator have fully restored and updated the property inside and out to make it fully compliant with current regulations for lettings. We wish Chris and Kelly every success in their new venture ‘Green Weigh’, selling sustainably and ethically sourced food and household products, with the aim to minimise single-use packaging. Very best of luck! Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, December 2020–January 2021

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September 2020

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It has been a delight to see so many people using the garden during the past few months to meet up with friends and family, as the Covid-19 situation limits the opportunities for travelling further afield. As well as our regular visitors, we have also welcomed many new faces to the garden. As one of them commented recently, it really is a hidden treasure in the centre of the village. If you haven’t been to the garden yet, please do drop by to see for yourself. There are lots of different areas and plantings to view, with plenty of seats and benches to rest on. Always something new to see or to revisit favourite parts, or to find a quiet spot to read or chat.

We are pleased too that some local groups have been using the garden for various activities or to hold meetings, as their usual meetings places are still closed. There are regular sessions of tai chi, Pilates, sketching and painting, and the Sawston Steel Pan Band have been practising here. The Royal British Legion, Women’s Institute and Sing to Remember also hold regular meetings and social gatherings. More recently, Cambridge Rare Diseases Network – a support group for families affected by a range of very rare conditions – have met in the garden. They had had great difficulty sourcing venues for outdoor activities and have been delighted to ‘find’ the Challis Garden.

In view of the ongoing Covid situation and the recently announced restrictions limiting meetings to a maximum of six people, we ask visitors to respect these guidelines when using the garden. There are notices on each table to remind everyone to keep to the ‘Group of Six’ rule and to use the hand sanitisers. Thank you for your cooperation.

It is disappointing that we haven’t been able to hold any events this year, and have now decided to cancel our popular Spooky Saturday Hallowe’en event. Under the circumstances, it would be impossible to maintain social distancing and maximal group sizes, given the nature of the usual activities and lots of excited children. A great pity, but we feel it is the right decision.
Our ‘Name the Owls’ competition has attracted lots of entries so far. We hope to get more entries from children once they receive their entry forms at school. A shortlist of names will be selected for a public vote and the winners will be invited to a small socially distanced naming ceremony, most probably on 31st October. Good luck to everyone who enters. If you haven’t seen our owls yet, do come and have a look to see what the fuss is all about!
The garden has benefitted from an upsurge in volunteer numbers as well as visitors in recent months. Many new volunteers have offered their time to help in the garden, for which we say a very big thank you. This has enabled us to keep up with garden maintenance and also to tackle a few long-outstanding tasks. And there’s always more to do!

Like everyone else, we have had bountiful crops of fruit this year – especially our plums, gages, damsons and apples. Andy Jackson (of ‘Andy’s Allotment’) has excelled himself making record quantities of a variety of jams and chutneys, using produce from the garden. In early September we processed some of the apples from our own trees and donated fruit to produce sixty bottles of apple juice. Many thanks to those people who brought apples for juicing. We’ll have another session later in the autumn.
The herbaceous borders are looking good: lots of colour with asters, penstemons, dahlias, begonias and zinnias, which should last well into October. With the autumn fast approaching, we are now looking towards cutting back perennials that have finished flowering and reducing overgrown clumps.

For those of you looking to renovate borders or starting new gardens, please do have a look at our stock of plants for sale. There is always a wide choice of planting material available – have a look, you might well find what you need for that gap or replacement, or to introduce something new. This year, we also have two-year old semi-standard ‘Mary Challis’ apple trees for sale. These are unique to our garden and can’t be purchased elsewhere. A cross between Cox’s Orange Pippin and Dr Harvey (an old English cooking apple), it has been accepted as a unique variety and listed on the Register of Local Cultivars. It produces large apples, with very good cooking properties but sweet enough to be eaten raw. If you are interested, please contact us to reserve a tree.

We also have two-year-old golden rain trees Koelreuteria paniculata for sale. Also known as Pride of India, these are handsome trees, up to 10m tall, that produce striking pinkish-red foliage in spring and masses of yellow blooms in June–July that develop into bladder-like seed capsules in the autumn. A great specimen if you have the space, though the size can be controlled by pruning.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Royal British Legion for a generous donation, sourced from the Central Co-op, for which we are very grateful. This has been used to purchase a much-needed log-splitter and some ornaments for our ‘chicken shed’ exhibit.

The Challis House and Museum remains closed for the foreseeable future and is unlikely to open again until next year. However, a visit to the library and archives for research purposes can be booked by appointment.
Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, October–November 2020 – see page 17 for a feature on groups meeting in the Challis Garden.

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