March 2019

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Mild weather in February and March – and especially the ‘heatwave’ in late February – saw many visitors in the garden enjoying the early spring flowers. However, the unseasonal temperatures brought an early close to the aconites, snowdrops and crocuses. Daffodils are showing well now and will hopefully last into April. At the time of writing, early-flowering trees are in full blossom, with some fabulous displays of pink and white flowering cherry and yellow Cornus mas. Hellebores are also at their best now. Even some of the ground-cover plants, such as early-flowering borage, comfrey and Pulmonaria are in bloom, providing a good early source of food for emergent bumblebees and butterflies.

Visitors frequently comment on how well the garden is maintained. We are very grateful to the commitment of the garden volunteers for all the work they do, which has been quite demanding in recent months. Even in the winter season, there are lots of jobs to do. If you have spare time on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday mornings, you would be most welcome to join our friendly team and help out in the garden, whatever your interest or level of experience. Do drop in for a chat and find out where you could fit in.

A few sycamores were removed in January and some of the walnut trees trimmed back to remove excessive shading in parts of the garden. Visitors will have noticed the piles of sycamore logs and branches, which the volunteers are now dealing with. During the colder weather in January, our log store was almost depleted, but we were able to replenish this with seasoned wood from Sawston Hall, for which we are very grateful. We are now building up stores of logs for next winter.

There are two important events coming up soon. Firstly, our regular children’s Easter Saturday morning event on 20th April from 10am to 12 noon. All the usual activities, including treasure hunt, nature trail, craft work, seasonal painting and face painting. And, for the first time, a marbled Easter egg competition – look out for posters and fliers with details on how to enter. Refreshments, as ever, with Andy’s (seasonal) soup kitchen and tea and cakes from MCTeas.

Our anniversary fete this year will celebrate ten years since the garden was formally opened on 17th May 2009. We plan to make this a special occasion with more attractions than usual. In addition to the regular attractions and Sawston Steel Pan Band, the Cambridge Flower Club will be putting on flower-arranging demonstrations. Do come along and join in the celebrations. The fete is on Sunday 19th May from 2pm (not 20th May, as advertised in the February–March issue – our apologies for the confusion).

Some good news for the pomologists out there! We have been investigating the origin of the old apple tree just inside the main entrance to the garden. It is estimated to be fifty to sixty years old, but there are no records of when it was planted or which variety it is. Some locals thought it to be a Doctor Harvey apple, an old culinary variety no longer planted commercially, and it certainly looks similar to the Dr Harvey in the collection at Audley End. However, DNA fingerprinting last year failed to find a match in the national database, so we were none the wiser. One experienced observer who examined the fruit last year considered it to have characteristics of Cox’s Orange Pippin (COP). The possibility of the tree being derived from a cross between COP and Dr Harvey was investigated on the DNA database and – bingo! – this does appear to be the case. We are now very confident that our tree is a cross of COP x Dr Harvey and there is no other such match in the national database. We are delighted to announce that the tree has been accepted as a unique variety in the national Register of Local Cultivars and has been accorded the name of Mary Challis. With this wonderful news, we have put a conservation plan in place to conserve the variety and have made a start on producing new trees by grafting.

Sharp-eyed citizens may have noticed that the new road into the Croudace housing development along Mill Lane has been named ‘Challis Close’. It is very pleasing to have the Challis family name recognised in this way in the village. The name was one of a number proposed by the Village History Society, when they were approached by the Parish Council, and then chosen as the official new road name by South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Please note that Sunday openings times will revert to 2pm to 4pm from 31st March when we change to British Summer Time. Hurrah, summer is a-coming! Mike Redshaw

Published in the April–May issue of Sawston Scene

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January 2019

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It’s always good to reflect on the year past at the start of a new year. Last year proved to be a busy one. We held ten public events during the course of the year and hosted twelve booked visits and private functions (from garden clubs, horticultural societies, Brownies and other village groups). The garden team are becoming increasingly adept and efficient at putting up and taking down the marquee, party tents and gazebos used on these occasions! Our thanks to everyone who supported these events, and of course to the many volunteers that help in the garden, stewarding at events or serving refreshments. We could still use more help to ensure we can continue to hold regular events and maintain the garden to a good standard. If you are interested, please contact us or drop into the garden on one of our regular open mornings to see what we do.
The schedule of events for 2019 is shown on the inside cover of this issue. Do please make a note of these in your diaries. All events will be advertised in the Sawston Scene Diary. This year is the tenth anniversary of the formal opening of the garden, so we plan to have a special Anniversary Fete this year. Look out for details in due course.
Further good progress was made last year to our infrastructure and buildings. In the garden, internal footpaths were resurfaced, bore-hole equipment replaced and the ‘pink shed’ demolished. Repairs to the car park were carried out and essential maintenance undertaken on our neighbouring property, greatly improving the integrity and appearance of the passageway to the car park. Many thanks, as ever, to our builders Ray and Graham for their support and skilled workmanship.
The final phase of interior work was completed in the Challis house, allowing us to transfer the village archives from the Parish Council office and to formally open the Challis Museum and Archives. This is an important milestone for the trust and a great asset for the local community. If you haven’t been already, do drop in on a Tuesday morning to have a look at the permanent exhibition rooms and perhaps to browse the library and archives. Anyone wishing to do more serious research on Sawston village history can arrange to visit the archives on a Saturday morning by appointment.
The major project for 2019 is to construct a replacement building where the ‘pink shed’ stood. This is primarily to accommodate a garden museum where we can display old gardening equipment and associated artefacts.
Gardening work is on schedule. The herbaceous beds and individual shrubs have been weeded, cut back, pruned and mulched to give them a good start for the forthcoming season. We are currently focused on reducing heavy growth of ivy in parts of the garden and removing unwanted Prunus suckers. Hard work, but certainly keeps us warm on cold mornings! A few more sycamores will be removed this winter, to reduce excessive shade, allowing ground flora and under-storey shrubs to flourish. A start will also be made on remedial work to shorten overhanging walnut branches in one area.
At the time of writing in mid-January, the unseasonably mild weather is encouraging early displays of spring flowers. Snowdrops, aconites and the odd crocus are already showing and will continue to flower through February and March. Hopefully, there will be a true wintry cold spell to hold back the spring growth and help suppress garden pests, especially slugs and aphids. In the winter/spring walk, Mahonias, sweet box (Sarcococca confusa), shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera) and Viburnum fragrans give off wonderful fragrances on sunny mornings. The bright red, yellow, orange and green stems of the dogwoods are showing well and set off the under-planted spring bulbs. Well worth a stroll around in the coming months. Mike Redshaw

Published in February–March 2019 Sawston Scene

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Ray Reeve 1943–2018

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Ray Reeve in the Challis GardenRosemary Phillips, Chair of the Challis Trust, pays tribute to a man who made a huge contribution to its work…

Ray was brought up in Walcot Green on the outskirts of Diss. Nearby was a farm and from a young age he loved helping out, working with all the animals and especially with Captain and Major, the two Shire horses. After leaving school he got a job on Young’s Farm in Diss while studying at Easton College of Agriculture, near Norwich. He joined Diss Rugby Club and played alongside his brother Dennis but after incurring a broken shoulder during a match, he decided rugby was not for him!

Ray then moved to Pampisford to work as a pig man at Rectory Farm. He retained a lifelong respect for pigs who he said were far more intelligent than us humans. He had a special favourite at Wimpole Hall – a large Tamworth sow called Phyllis. He would talk to this lovely creature in ‘pig speak’ and she would talk back; and this carried on with any pig he came in contact with throughout his life.

After leaving Rectory Farm and working for a spell at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, he spent the rest of his working life at the National Seed Development Organisation, which later became the Plant Breeding Institute.

Ray met his wife Sue while working in Pampisford and they married at St John the Baptist Church there in 1967. They had two daughters – Nichola and Caroline. While the girls were still young, Ray and Sue helped to set up Sawston’s Saturday Morning Music Workshop. Having taught himself to play the clarinet as a child, Ray was particularly keen to impart his enthusiasm for the instrument to other children.

He was also a true cricket fan, and his daughters have vivid memories every summer of ‘Test Match Special’ constantly on the radio in the background. There would be a great deal of comment from Ray about how well or badly we were doing and not agreeing with a word Geoffrey Boycott said…

Once the girls had left home, Ray and Sue found a love of travel to far-flung places; on one holiday to America, they visited New Orleans where Ray realised his dream of going to a ‘gig’ in the historic Preservation Hall – the spiritual home of jazz.

Having taken early retirement at fifty-seven, Ray was always on hand to help out his daughters, arriving at their houses with a set of blue overalls (he had at least twenty pairs), gloves and secateurs. He put up greenhouses, sheds and summer houses, pruned apple trees, chopped wood, mowed lawns and planted vegetable patches.

Ray and Sue ReeveNever ones to pass on a horticultural challenge, Ray and Sue, now in their early sixties, volunteered to help with the rescue of Sawston’s newly acquired Challis Garden. It had been left in trust to the village when the owner Mary Challis died in 2006, and after many years of neglect was completely overgrown and full of derelict buildings. By 2007, it was in need of some serious attention and a group of intrepid enthusiasts began the challenging work of restoration. Ray and Sue were instrumental in getting those first volunteers together for what would prove to be a daunting task.

Ray was always referred to as ‘Head Gardener’. I don’t know if this title was formally ordained, or if it simply came about as Ray’s knowledge and leadership became apparent. But it was clearly the right title to give him due to his evident skills and enthusiasm. He led by example and with a quiet, calm demeanour. There was never any fuss nor harsh words and rarely any sign of impatience or disapproval. He was a joy to work with – a great example to us all.

He always had time for visitors to the garden, whether answering questions, giving advice or just passing the time of day. When Sue died unexpectedly in 2012, it was as if Ray had been cut in half; they had been such a close and loving couple. He found it hard to cope without her. But he was amazing. He kept his two allotments going and immersed himself in the Challis Garden, continuing what they had begun together. In this work, he found great solace and peace.

When he learnt about his terminal illness, there was no fuss or drama, just a straight acceptance of his condition. He quickly decided that he didn’t want to have any treatment – he didn’t see the point – and he got on with tidying up his domestic affairs, giving up his allotments and bringing his huge collection of garden tools down to the Challis Garden. He was still very involved right up to the annual Horticultural Show in early September this year, manning the plant stand, as he always had done.

It was a great privilege to know Ray and his death is a huge loss both to his family and to the Challis Trust, to whom he selflessly gave so many years. Without his commitment, it would not be the wonderful, tranquil oasis it is today, a living lasting tribute to the amazing, irreplaceable, Ray Reeve. 

Published in December 2018–January 2019 Sawston Scene

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November 2018

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Apple DayThere has been plenty to enjoy in the garden in recent weeks, with good autumn colours developing on trees and shrubs, and some perennials and bedding plants persisting well into November. However, the first frosts in late October put paid to the most sensitive plants, notably dahlias, nasturtiums and begonias.

The garden team are busy now tidying up the herbaceous beds in preparation for next year – lots of weeding, pruning, dividing and mulching to be done. Leaves are now dropping regularly; most of these are picked up by our sit-on mower and collected in two large wire ‘cages’ to produce leaf mould for next year. We have just had our annual bonfire, close to Guy Fawkes Night, to burn non-compostable material collected over the course of the year.

We could still use some more help in the garden. If you have spare time on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday mornings, you are very welcome to join our garden team and help with a range of tasks.

Our vegetable beds and fruit trees performed well, considering the rather extreme weather this year. The last of the apples and summer vegetables have been picked and sold or processed into jams, chutneys and relishes. Our thanks to Andy Jackson for keeping us supplied with a range of preserves throughout the year. His courgette relish is always in demand!

Our bees have not been so active this year, with just one hive coming through the harsh winter and spring weather. Although they appeared active through the hot, dry period, there was clearly not much nectar available, and so did not build up adequate honey stores during the main season. However, they were very active in September and October, bringing in lots of ivy nectar and pollen, so there may be a small surplus of honey to extract.

The garden hosted two very successful events in October. The Apple Day was well attended, blessed with some good autumn sunshine. Large quantities of apples were processed into juice, with has proved very popular with visitors. There are still a few bottles left if you haven’t tried some yet! Thanks to everyone who brought their apples along and to the volunteers for helping out on the day. The event was perhaps a little late in the season for the main crop of dessert apples. It is planned to hold it earlier next year, which should produce a greater mix of varieties for juicing. The generous grants from SCDC’s Community Chest and Cambridge University Rag Appeal to purchase the equipment are gratefully acknowledged.

Our popular Spooky Saturday was again very well attended, with plenty of activities to entertain lots of children on a rather cold morning. Some very impressive pumpkin-carving and face-painting was on show! Thanks again to all the visitors and volunteers for making this event so successful.

The Christmas wreath-making workshop will be held on Saturday 1st December in the Long Barn in the garden. Tuition will be given and all materials provided, plus mulled wine and mince pies. What’s not to like! Book a place to make your own wreaths. Details are in the Diary and on posters in the High Street.

Our museum volunteers are making good progress sorting and archiving the large volume of material in the house. Additional material is still coming in, with a batch from the Parish Church archives, mostly accounts and invoices. The two storage rooms on the second floor are almost full and attention is now being given to sorting out their contents. A number of photographs, paintings and posters in the collection have been re-framed. Some of these will be hung in the permanent exhibition rooms to refresh the wall displays.

Building work along the passage to the car park continues, effecting necessary repairs to the exterior walls, windows and rainwater goods in the adjoining property. Scaffolding will remain in place until work is completed, but this does not impede access for visitors to the garden or museum. Parking is available to the rear of Tucker Gardner for the time being.

Visitors will see that the ‘infamous’ Pink Shed has now been demolished, as it had become hazardous. This will be replaced by a new building to house a garden museum and shop. This is a very exciting project for us, made possible by a generous anonymous donation. It is planned to start work on the new building in the New Year. Mike Redshaw

Published in December 2018–January 2019 Sawston Scene

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Ray Reeve

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It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share with you news of the death of our irreplaceable Head Gardener, Ray Reeve. He passed away in Arthur Rank Hospice on Monday 17th September 2018 after a short illness. 

Sadly missed – so happily remembered.  

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September 2018

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It is pleasing to see the gardens recovering well after the prolonged drought this summer, giving a late burst of colour that should continue into October, if the promised warm autumn weather materialises. Dahlias, cosmos, begonias, zinnias and asters are looking especially good. But we have lost some shrubs and herbaceous perennials, which will have to be replaced. For the longer term, we aim to introduce more drought-tolerant species into the garden, to adapt to the changing climate. On the other hand, some plants have thrived this year. The golden rain trees were spectacular in July, covered in long bright yellow panicles and are now festooned with their unusual seed capsules.

The mini-heatwave at the beginning of September coincided with our annual Horticultural Show, making for a great day. The main marquee was very colourful, showcasing the wonderful range of fruit, vegetables, flowers, cakes, preserves and handicrafts produced by local people. Well done to everyone who took part and thanks to our judges, stewards, volunteers and MC Teas for their part in the event. This year, we had more attractions to entertain visitors, including beekeeping, flower-arranging, a woodturner, bag-making, hand-made cards and machine-knitting, among others. Congratulations to all the trophy winners: Kamla Wells (fruit and veg), Jean Osborne (best produce exhibit), Richard Steel (domestic classes), Rodney Peck (flowers), Audrey Jackson (handicrafts), Phoebe Marsh (8–12 year-olds) and Jake Smiles (7 and under). The Wells family again won the Chair’s Trophy for the highest number of points in the show yet – they take some beating! The best exhibit in show went to Rodney Peck for some stunning dahlias. Thanks also to Dr Tim Wreghitt for presenting the prizes.

We are holding a new event on Sunday 21st October – Challis Apple Day – to coincide with National Apple Day. It aims to be a celebration of all things ‘apple’. The main activity is apple-pressing and juicing. We are grateful for a grant from SCDC’s Community Chest to purchase the necessary equipment. Please bring your own apples along to press and make juice, which will then be sterilised and bottled. For the children, story-teller Marion Leeper will be there telling stories from 11am to 2pm. There will also be other apple-themed children’s activities and seasonal soup from Andy’s kitchen.

Our popular Halloween event – ‘Spooky Saturday’ – takes place on Saturday 27th October. All the usual children’s activities, refreshments and hot soup. Do come and enjoy this fun morning. Halloween costumes are not compulsory, but positively encouraged! Hope to see lots of you there.

A large number of Challis volunteers enjoyed a visit to the RHS Hyde Hall garden in Essex, transported in Tim Phillips’ classic coach ‘Mary’. A very successful day for everyone, and a way of saying thanks to our fantastic volunteers for their time and input in the house and garden. I’m already thinking about possible venues for next year’s outing!

Visitors to the garden in the coming month will notice scaffolding erected in the entrance from the High Street, as essential renovation work is carried out to our adjacent properties. This will not impede access. The gardens will be open at the usual times throughout this period.

The last batch of Sawston History archives and artefacts have now been transferred to the Challis House from the Parish Council office. The museum and archive teams are making good progress on cataloguing this material before it goes into long-term storage. The museum and archive are open 10am to noon every Tuesday morning and on the first Saturday of each month, with stewards on hand to greet visitors and assist with any enquiries. Do drop in.

The trustees are very keen to maintain the current programme of events and accessibility to the house and garden. There is a lot of work involved to be able to do this and although there is an admirable pool of volunteers, we do need additional help in busy periods. If you have spare time to help in the garden or museum, or to assist at events or Sunday stewarding, we would be very pleased to hear from you. Mike Redshaw 

Published in October–November 2018 Sawston Scene

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