March 2019

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