Updates

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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May 2018

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The Mary Challis Museum and Archive was formally opened on 27th April by Dr Tim Wreghitt OBE. This is a significant milestone for the Challis Trust and the culmination of ten years’ work renovating 68 High Street to accommodate the Sawston history archives and to house museum displays and exhibitions. To mark the occasion, two rooms on the first floor were formally named after two key people who dedicated their time to this cause. The main meeting room is now the Brian Butler Meeting Room, after our former Chair and Patron, who directed the work of the trust and started renovation work on the house. The library/archive room is now called the David Dockerill Library. David was an enthusiastic and energetic believer in the importance of local history and was instrumental in the founding of the Sawston Village History Society in January 1991, serving as its Chair until September 1995.

It was very pleasing and fitting that Dorothy Butler and Liz Dockerill were present to witness the naming ceremony. In her introductory talk, Rosemary Phillips, our Chair, also paid tribute to others who had made significant contributions to the Challis Trust, most notably Sheila Blackwell, Sue Reeve, Paul Mann, Bruce Milner and Bryan Howe.

The current collection includes the archive assembled by SVHS and housed for some years in the Parish Council offices. Most of the material has been donated by Sawston residents. The collection includes a set of Sawston Scenes, the Sawston Crier and a number of local and national newspapers as well as photographs taken of the village in 2000 and other photographs from the less recent past. Cataloguing is still in progress but a list of the various files is available. There is also a small range of books on the history of Sawston and the surrounding area. Books of which the trust has multiple copies may be borrowed.

During the course of the renovation work and initiated by Tony Fell, a time capsule has been concealed in the house, containing items and documents that are topical and pertinent to the Challis Trust and to Sawston in general. We hope this will create a lot of excitement and interest to whoever discovers it, whenever that may be! Who knows when?

The Mary Challis Museum and Archive will be open regularly to the public on Tuesdays from 10am to 12 noon. It is hoped that additional opening days will be held, provided there are stewards and archivists available to welcome visitors.

The garden will be open on Sunday 10th June specifically for the National Gardens Scheme from 2pm to 6pm. Money raised from the gate entry fee goes to a number of nursing charities supported by the NGS. Last year, over £3 million was raised. We are proud to support this excellent cause. Teas and homemade cakes will be available from the house. Plants, garden produce, preserves and honey will be on sale.

The Challis garden will be opening again for the NGS, on 1st July, as part of the Sawston Group, along with four other Sawston gardens. Sweet Tea café (across the road from the garden) will provide refreshments on that occasion.

On Sunday 17th June, we will again be honouring the memory of Jo Cox MP, who was killed in 2016, by taking part in the the Great Get Together event. The garden will be open from 12 noon to 5pm for visitors to bring a picnic and share a meal together, in a spirit of friendship and compassion. For more information, see greatgettogether.org. Do let us know if you intend to bring a group, so we can set out enough tables and chairs. Or bring your own chairs and rugs.

In the garden, volunteers have put in a lot of time weeding and manuring the herbaceous beds, planting up the vegetable plots, raising bedding plants and keeping on top of the grass. All this effort should ensure a very colourful display through the summer and into autumn. Do come along to see the wildflower meadow, bee border and main herbaceous beds, which are at their best in the coming period. Some of our specimen trees will also be in flower for a few weeks during this period – false acacia in June and golden rain tree in July. Mike Redshaw 

Published in Sawston Scene, June– July 2018

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March 2018

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Writing this at the beginning of March, it seems we are still in the grips of winter, feeling the effects of the ‘Beast from the East’ (or was it hysteria from Siberia?) sweeping across the country causing widespread travel chaos. Although we didn’t fare too badly here, it was bitterly cold. The early onset of spring in February has been put on hold and it remains to be seen how the garden plants recover in the coming weeks. Snowdrops were at their peak in late February but the very cold spell brought that to an early close.

With normal weather resuming, we can now look forward to displays of crocuses, followed by daffodils into April, tulips and then bluebells. Our winter/spring border is still very colourful and should show well into April. Fruit trees and ornamental cherries will also be in flower in the coming weeks – a welcome sight and a real sign that summer is on the way. Do visit us during our normal opening times. And remember there’s always fresh produce, preserves, logs and plants available from the garden throughout the year.

We plan to remove a few more sycamore trees from the ‘woodland’ area, which hopefully will have been done by the time this issue comes out. Visitors can see changes in this part of the garden, with recently planted shrubs, small trees and evergreens establishing, under-planted with bluebells and other shade-tolerant plants. More hellebores, bluebells, winter box (Sarcococca) and Hypericum will be planted as infills where appropriate.


In the far south-west corner of the garden, we have planted a number of hazel seedlings to develop a small copse. This will provide a regular supply of poles and plant supports for the main herbaceous borders and raised vegetable beds. We are also encouraging brambles, foxgloves and nettles to establish in this corner, to provide nesting sites for warblers and finches, and food for butterflies and bumblebees. Our honeybees will also benefit from an early source of pollen from the hazels and some late summer foraging on the brambles.

The Easter Saturday Children’s Event will be early this year, on the last day of March, so it is not covered in this issue. I trust the weather will be kind and all goes well! Our Anniversary Fete, to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the official opening of the garden, is on Sunday 20th May from 2pm. Do come along and enjoy live music from Sawston Steel Band while sampling teas, home-made cakes and soup from our kitchen. There will be a range of activities including craft stalls, giant garden games, bottle stall, tombola and more to entertain you.

The last phase of internal building work and decorating in the Mary Challis House should be finished in he coming period. When complete, there will be static displays and exhibitions on the ground floor, a library, meeting room and period bathroom on the first floor, and an office and archive storage on the top floor. We have now transferred nearly all the village history archives and artefacts from the parish council offices to the house. A team of archivists and helpers, led by Mary Dicken, have been busy sorting, cataloguing and storing these items. It is intended to have a formal opening of the library and archive storage at the end of April. Quite an achievement and a huge milestone for the Challis Trust! We will need more help in the house to complete the archiving and to assist visitors during regular opening hours once the museum and archives are ready to view. If you are interested in helping, please do get in touch.

Please note that our Sunday opening times revert to the usual summer hours of 2pm to 4pm from Sunday 25th March. Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, April–May 2018

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January 2018

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At the start of a new year, it’s always good to reflect on the previous year. What have we achieved? Well, quite a lot actually. We ran our third exhibition, ‘Back to School’, in the house, which generated a lot of interest from Sawston residents. In the garden, we held seven major public events (Easter Saturday, Anniversary Fete, Bioblitz weekend, NGS open gardens, Jo Cox memorial picnic, Horticultural Show and Spooky Saturday). We also hosted eight booked visits and several private parties and youth groups. Overall, the garden catered for a wide range of activities and meetings, involving a number of Sawston organisations.

Our events are well established on the Sawston calendar and we hope to see more people visiting the garden this year. Of course, none of this would be possible without the dedicated and enthusiastic support of our many volunteers – too many to mention individually – for which the trustees offer their wholehearted thanks.

Please note that the schedule of events for 2018 is listed on the inside cover of this issue. The Easter Children’s Activity Morning is on Saturday 31st March, rather early this year. All events are in the Sawston Scene Diary, and in the Friday email, a weekly reminder of events in the diary (sign up at www.sawstonscene.org/the-friday-email).

Writing in mid-January, it seems the seasons get earlier each year. Some snowdrops and aconites are already in flower. Crocuses, daffodils and bluebells are pushing through the soil. February and March are the best months to see the early spring bulbs, with veritable carpets of white, blue and yellow blooms. On a bright spring morning, it is an inspiring sight. Do drop in and have a look. And take a stroll down the winter/spring walk to smell the intense fragrance from sweet box, shrub honeysuckle, Viburnum fragrans and mahonia. The dogwoods – with their bright yellow, orange, red and green stems – and hellebores are also at their best then.

We aim to take out a few more sycamore saplings this spring to reduce shade and allow underplanted shrubs and small trees to flourish. More ground cover and shade-tolerant plants will be added to augment these ‘woodland’ plantings. It’s a long-term project but we are making progress. In the far corner of the garden, we will plant a small hazel coppice and allow brambles to establish to create a productive yet wildlife-friendly patch.

The main objective of the trust for 2018 is to complete the refurbishment and decorating of Mary Challis’s house, number 68 High Street. This will allow us to complete the transfer of the Sawston Village History Society archives from the Parish Council office for long-term storage. We gratefully acknowledge the good co-operation of SVHS to facilitate this process. The collection of documents and artefacts will be properly collated and archived as a resource for the village. It is hoped there will be enough volunteers to act as archivists during regular opening times, to assist visitors to locate information and view documents. Details will be given in due course.

For the safe keeping of the village archives, further improvements are needed to heating, ventilation and security. Clearly, the right climatic conditions must be achieved to ensure these records are maintained in good condition for future generations. We will ensure this is properly implemented. When the house is fully finished, it will provide space for permanent displays and exhibition rooms, a meeting room, an office, a library and storage space for archives. We can’t wait to see it completed!

It is with great sadness we learned that our former Chair and Patron, Brian Butler, died in early January after a long illness. Brian was involved with the trust for many years and a very effective Chair, directing the trust in keeping with Mary Challis’s wishes. He was instrumental in refurbishing the garden and doing essential building work on the house. Of course, the services of his building company T Butler & Sons were particularly helpful in the early years, which is duly acknowledged here. He resigned as Chair in November 2014 and has remained an Honorary Patron since then. We are extremely grateful for Brian’s commitment to realising the aims of the Challis Trust, without which the house and garden would not be the success they are today. The trustees offer sincere condolences to Brian’s family and especially to his wife Dorothy. Mike Redshaw 

Published in the February–March 2018 issue of Sawston Scene

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November 2017

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As the days shorten and the trees lose their leaves, we are still enjoying the late autumn colours in the garden. The colourful display in the herbaceous beds lasted late into the autumn, but dahlias and bedding plants succumbed to the first sharp frost of the season on 6th November. Asters and penstemons survived to leave some colour into the month. The frost accelerated the leaf-fall from the larger mature trees, which had given some lovely displays of colour up to that point. The garden team is now busily sweeping and hoovering up these leaves, which will create lots of leaf-mould for mulching the beds next autumn.

Colours are developing in the winter/spring walk. The brightly coloured stems of the dogwoods (Cornus sp.) are showing well now. Visitors in the next few months will be able to enjoy the fragrance from the winter and early spring-flowering shrubs, such as Mahonia, Hamamelis (witch hazel), shrub honeysuckle, Viburnum fragrans and winter box (Sarcococca confusa). Beyond that we look forward to the spring bulbs – snowdrops and bluebells are already emerging through the leaf litter.

Visitors to the garden often comment on our composting arrangements. We are very committed to recycling as much organic material as possible in the garden. Leaf litter is compacted in two large metal cages, watered periodically to help decomposition and left for about 12 months. This results in a very friable mulch that is returned to the established beds. Almost everything else is added to the compost bins, which are turned twice (more often would be better, but it’s hard work!) and is ready to use after eighteen to twenty-four months. We produce more compost than we need, so there is usually a small surplus available for anyone who wants to come and fill a few bags.

The quantity of material that cannot be composted and needs to be burnt is getting less and less each year: mostly ivy, very fibrous material, thorny stems and diseased plants. Regular bonfires used to be a common feature in the early years, but we only need to burn once a year now, at most. We choose a suitable day when the wind is in the right direction to carry the smoke away from neighbouring buildings. Dead or very decayed material is added to an ‘eco-pile’ to rot down, creating a great habitat for many types of wildlife.

The Challis Trust has taken delivery of seven sculptures by the Sawston sculptor Douglas Jeal (see page 5 of the April–May 2017 issue). We are very grateful to the Jeal family for this generous gift. The sculptures will be placed around the garden in suitable locations. These will add interest to the garden and we hope that visitors will enjoy seeing them. Indeed, we would be very pleased to accept other artworks for display, temporary or permanent, on loan or as a donation. Please get in touch with us if you have anything to offer.

Our Halloween event ‘Spooky Saturday’ was popular as ever and very well attended. We really enjoy seeing the garden used in this way; it makes all the hard work worthwhile. Many thanks to everyone who came and to our volunteers for helping out. The attendance was so good this year that we ran out of some supplies early on. We apologise to anyone who was disappointed – we will make sure there is plenty of everything next year!

This year, for the first time, we are holding a Christmas wreath-making workshop on the morning of Saturday 2nd December, from 10am to 12.30pm. All materials will be provided and the wreaths made under tuition from Catherine Tregaskes of Greener Sawston. This is a bookable event, limited to fourteen places at £15 each; please email events@challistrust.org.uk if you’d like to book a place. We may hold a second session is there is enough interest. Mike Redshaw

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