January 2020

At the time of writing, the Challis museum and archive team are in the throes of finalising the displays for our latest exhibition ‘Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice…’ about the co-operative movement and shopping in Sawston. It includes some activities for children. Despite concerns that we didn’t have enough items to re-create an early 1900s shop, villagers have turned up trumps and donated lots of interesting objects to put on display, for which we are very grateful. The exhibition runs until 28th March and is open every Tuesday and Saturday morning from 10am to 12 noon. Do drop in to have a look at the exhibits and chat with our knowledgeable stewards. ‘Pop goes the weasel’!

The unseasonably mild weather – or perhaps this is now the new norm? – has encouraged spring bulbs to flower earlier than usual. There are already many snowdrops and a few aconites in flower. These should be at their best through February into March, followed by crocuses and then the daffodils around Easter time. These displays are a joy to see, especially on sunny spring days. Do pop in to the garden to have a look. The winter/spring border is also looking good now. Hellebores are starting to flower, set among a colourful display of lime-green, red, orange and yellow stems of dogwoods (Cornus spp.). Winter-flowering shrubs – notably sweet box, Mahonia, shrub honeysuckles and Viburnum fragrans – are giving off pulses of delightful scents to attract pollinating insects. Hmmm!
It is a relatively quiet time in the garden, but there are always jobs to be done. Maintenance of the garden is well up to date and always to a good standard, thanks to the regular volunteers who look after it. The Challis Trust relies entirely on voluntary work for all that it does, and we are hugely grateful for the time put in, and also to the many regular visitors who support our work.

In recent weeks, we have been tidying up overgrown areas, trimming ivy, pruning shrubs and cutting back overcrowded perennials. Judy has been busy as ever propagating some of our most popular perennials, for sale later in the year. If you are looking for interesting or unusual plants for your garden, do come along to see what’s on offer.
The next large task is to prune the apple trees while they are dormant during the winter months. We plan to produce more bud-grafted apple trees, using budwood from our Mary Challis apple. Last year, we used MM106 semi-vigorous rootstocks, which are suitable for bushes and half-standard trees. This time we will use M26 semi-dwarf rootstocks, to produce plants suitable for small bushes, cordons, fans and espaliers. Last year’s stock will be available for sale this summer and autumn.

A few more sycamores are scheduled for removal this winter to reduce over-shading in parts of the garden. This includes the large sycamore at the end of the Long Barn – a lovely specimen, but unfortunately the trunk is badly diseased and therefore hazardous. However, this will generate good quantities of timber for making logs. Currently, we have a mixture of sycamore, ash and chestnut logs available. We have made good sales of logs this winter and may well have to re-stock soon from a local source. Do collect your logs now to avoid missing out!

It is disappointing to report that there has been no further progress on building work for the garden museum, pending approval from the SCDC Planning Officer. We sincerely hope to make a start soon with a view to completing the building during 2020.

The programme of Challis events for 2020 is printed on page 2 of the February–March 2020 Sawston Scene – we look forward to seeing many of you in the garden during the forthcoming season. Remember the garden is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning from 9.30am to 12.30pm, and on Sunday afternoons (1pm to 3pm in the winter and 2pm to 4pm in the summer). In addition the Challis House is open every Tuesday morning from 10am to 12 noon to view the museum and archives.

Mike Redshaw

Published in the February–March 2020 issue of Sawston Scene