January 2017

Looking back at 2016, we are very pleased with what was accomplished last year. In addition to our regular opening hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, we held six public events – Easter Saturday, Anniversary Fete, NGS Open Gardens, Horticultural Show, a Bioblitz and Spooky Saturday – and hosted fourteen garden bookings (various groups, clubs, schools, Brownies and Beavers). Many thanks, as always, to everyone who attended these events and to our hard-working volunteers for tending the garden, serving teas, and so on. Also to those who stopped by at the house at the Winter Fair event to share some Christmas spirit – it was a great evening!

Renovation work and decorating continue in the house, the main focus being the first floor, to give us much-needed space for displays, storage and an office. We were disappointed not to be able to hold an exhibition in 2016, but happy that this will now go ahead with our third exhibition ‘Back to School’ in late spring (more about this in our previous update). If you have any relevant educational material or artefacts that could be used in the exhibition, then we’d be delighted to hear from you.

There are signs of an early spring in the garden. The first snowdrops and aconites are already in flower, and should put on a good display into February. Crocuses, daffodils and tulips will follow in March and April. Do drop by to have a look at these displays, ideally on a sunny morning.

In the Spring/Winter walk, there is intense perfume from the wintering-flowering shrubs – Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa), shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), Mahonia spp. and Viburnum farreri fragrans. Delicious! The various dogwoods (Cornus spp.) are at their most colourful in spring, ranging from bright yellows, orange, and light green to deep reds – the pick of these being ‘Winter Beauty’.

We intend to remove more sycamores from this part of the garden. This will allow us to plant up this woodland area with suitable ground cover, shrubs, evergreens and small ornamental trees. Elsewhere in the wilder parts of the garden, the onus is on encouraging native flora, which support a host of insects and other fauna. Good numbers of birds are regularly seen in the garden, including a pair of treecreepers, which we hope may nest this year.

The results of the DNA-fingerprinting to identify our apple varieties are now in ! Our apple collection consists of Ashmeads Kernel, Orleans Reinette, Peasgood Nonsuch – I’m not making this up ! – Bramley, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Worcester Pearmain, Discovery, Fiesta and Chivers Delight. The only surprise is what we thought was a Dr Harvey (the large tree near the main entrance to the garden) did not match the national database, so may well just be a seedling tree. We have checked the fruit from this tree against the Dr Harvey apple at Audley End and it looks very similar, so it remains a mystery. Does anyone know anything about the Challis Garden tree?

Please note that Sunday opening times are still on the winter schedule, 1pm to 3 pm, until the clocks change to BST on 26th March.

Finally, we are very sorry to say goodbye to Sheila Blackwell, who served the Mary Challis Trust for many years, as trustee and as treasurer. She resigned at the end of 2016 due to ill health. The trustees express their sincere thanks to Sheila for her long service and dedication, and wish her well. She will be greatly missed.

Mike Redshaw