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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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July 2018

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June proved to be a very busy month for the garden team, with a number of weekend events held and several evening visits by a variety of groups. It’s always a pleasure to see the garden used in this way; that’s what it’s for! The Challis Garden also opened twice during June and July to raise funds for the National Garden Scheme. Our open day raised over £400 and the Open Gardens opening raised nearly £1,300. All these donations go to support several important nursing and caring charities in the UK.

The weather has proved challenging during the long hot spell in late June and early July. The lawns are brown and many shrubs and annual plants are suffering – less mowing and more watering is the order now. Even the mature trees are affected, with a number of branches breaking off due to the extreme dryness. We are endeavouring to keep tender plants alive by frequent watering but there is a limit to what can be achieved. We anticipate many losses later in the year and the coming winter.

On the brighter side, trees and shrubs have blossomed profusely this year. Our specimen trees – false acacia, golden rain tree and Kentucky yellowwood – flowered far better than they have for many seasons. Laburnums, mock orange and flowering currants also gave good displays. Fruit-set on the apples and plums looks good, so we are hoping for good crops this autumn. Blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and tayberries are giving good crops, but the summer raspberries are disappointing.

The local wildlife seems to be flourishing. There are numerous bumblebees, butterflies and moths in the flower beds, with dragonflies and damselflies around the pond. Blue tits, great tits, coal tits, wrens, robins, blackcaps, goldcrests and mistle thrushes, among others, have all nested successfully. One keen photographer took some excellent photos of the three mistle thrush chicks in the nest before they fledged (see above).

The museum and archive team are working hard sorting and cataloguing the collection of material in the house. A history research group are also at work; one of their first projects is to collect and disseminate histories of some buildings in Sawston High Street, in collaboration with Sawston Scene. The museum is experimenting with opening on the first Saturday of the month in addition to the current Tuesday mornings. Volunteers to help with the openings and the research are always welcome at these times. Without volunteers we cannot open.

Our next major event is the Challis Horticultural Show on Saturday 1st September. We are keen to attract more entries from Sawston and our neighbouring villages. There is something for everyone – fruit and vegetables, cookery, flower arrangements, handicrafts and children’s classes. Do give it a try if you haven’t entered before. It’s good fun and a great afternoon’s entertainment. There is a beekeeping stand again and various stalls, not to mention our popular Pimm’s tent and homemade cakes. Entry forms for the Show will be available from the garden nearer the time or can be downloaded from our website. Mike Redshaw 

Published in Sawston Scene, August–September 2018

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Richard Maunder 1937–2018

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It was very sad indeed to hear that one of our most dedicated supporters and former trustee Richard Maunder passed away in early June. Richard and Marilyn Maunder were among a group of volunteers who came together to start clearing the garden and outbuildings, which had been neglected for far too long. Over the years, they have given countless hours to help bring the garden to what it is today. Marilyn became a trustee in the early days, and in 2008 Richard took on the role of treasurer and gave several valuable years managing the trust’s finances in a very professional way. They both stood down as trustees in 2008 and continued as volunteers in the garden. Richard and Marilyn were also instrumental in reviving the village horticultural show in the Challis Garden, running it until 2016.

Richard was a very generous donor to the Challis Museum. In particular, he presented a delightful parlour piano, circa 1820, which he had restored and re-strung himself. He was a very talented man. The piano has pride of place in the Victorian Parlour.

It was very fitting to accommodate Richard’s wake in the Challis Garden. He would have liked that. The trustees acknowledge Richard’s commitment and support over the years and wish to express their sincere condolences to Marilyn and the family. Richard will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him. Mike Redshaw 

Published in Sawston Scene, August–September 2018

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