November 2021

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We were delighted to be able to hold our Spooky Saturday event this year on Saturday 30th October. Despite the wet start, the weather improved during the morning into a lovely autumn day. Judging by the number of visitors, this is very popular with Sawston families. It was wonderful to see so many happy faces and colourful Hallowe’en costumes. Well done to everyone for entering into the spirit of the occasion. All the activities were well attended, especially the do-it-yourself face-painting. Mums and dads impressed us with their painting skills and evident enthusiasm! We loved all the photos and complimentary posts on Facebook.

The homemade cakes and Andy’s soups were fully consumed, and all the pumpkins carved. Many thanks, as ever, to our wonderful team of volunteers and helpers, without whom we would not be able to stage such events. Special thanks to Chris Baker for donating an impressively large – and characterful! – pumpkin to display and for bringing colleagues along to help prepare the pumpkins. “When shall we three meet again…?” – well, how about Saturday 29th October 2022?

Visitors will have noticed the steady progress on the new garden building. Weather permitting, we hope the roof will be in place well before winter really sets in. For the time being, we need to keep the main garden gate closed due to building work, so please continue to use the side entrance on the left-hand side of the car park. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

The Challis House and museum remain closed at the moment but new exhibitions are being planned. The archive team are still at work filing, cataloguing and sorting through the large collection of artefacts. One of the functions of the new garden building is to house some of the large collection of Challis artefacts recently donated by the Moulton family; Mary Challis’s mother was a Moulton. We are very grateful to them for donating this material.

The herbaceous perennial beds in the garden are still surprisingly colourful, though some tender plants were caught by the first frosts in early November. Autumn-flowering pink nerines (Guernsey lily) have been particular good this year. If the current mild weather continues, colour will last for a few weeks more. Summer bedding plants have now been replaced with winter-flowering pansies and wallflowers.

Although it is now well into autumn, there is limited autumn colour this year as a result of the protracted mild weather. However, some species are beginning to show marked changes in leaf colour, notably acers, dogwoods, ornamental ivy, sumach (Rhus spp.) (spp meaning ‘species, so more than one type) and Berberis spp. Autumn highlights in the Garden include our lovely ginkgo tree, Nandina (heavenly bamboo), cotoneasters and Amelanchier (juneberry). There is an impressive display of red fruit on the yew tree along the path into the garden.

Although winter is now upon us, there are many things to look forward to in our gardens. The first signs of spring bulbs emerging from the soil can already be seen. There should soon be snowdrops, aconites and crocuses to cheer us up. We can also enjoy the wonderful fragrance of wintering-flowering shrubs, such as shrub honeysuckles, Mahonia spp., Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) and witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.). The winter/spring border will be at its best in the New Year, punctuated with clumps of red, green, yellow and multi-coloured dogwoods (Cornus spp.). Do come and have a look on a bright winter or spring day to enjoy the sights and smells.

The traditional winter and Christmas favourites of holly, ivy and mistletoe look great this year, with lots of berries. If you need any materials for wreath-making, do come and ask us for some.

Thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers, work in the garden is well up to date. The main tasks for the coming period are to apply leaf mould and compost to the herbaceous beds, gather leaves and carry out winter pruning. Regular seasonal attention is needed to keep on top of vigorous herbaceous perennials that can be invasive if left alone. So lots of digging up, splitting and cutting back to do. Andy Jackson has been busy in the raised vegetable beds, planting broad beans and giant garlic. There are always plenty of jobs to occupy us.

Please remember that the garden remains open, as usual, throughout winter. Opening times are in the Directory and on our website. Do have a look at our Challis gifts for possible Christmas presents: notelets, tea towels, preserves, miniature and old bottles, woodturned articles, honey and plants. And there are always logs available for some winter warmth!

Mike Redshaw

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September 2021

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Writing this during the mini-heatwave in the second week of September, it feels as if summer is still with us, but there are clear signs of autumn in the garden – heavy morning dew, nights drawing in and ivy flowers alive with honeybees, hoverflies, wasps and the specialist ivy mining bee. Our beehives have produced 80lb of honey to date, with more to come – there is usually a boost at the end of season from ivy flowers, which the bees love, but ivy honey is a tricky one to process.
Apart from our Worcester Pearmain apple and a half-decent crop of Victoria plums, the top-fruit harvest has been poor this year. Not much prospect of producing any apple juice this season, but we are always hopeful of some donated fruit. On the other hand, raspberries are doing very well and should continue into October. Results from the vegetable beds have been rather mixed. Outdoor tomatoes and some potatoes succumbed to blight disease and had to be destroyed. But there were good crops of runner beans, French beans, beetroot and giant garlic, and decent bunches of grapes in the vinehouse.

After all the cancelled events this year, the combined Challis Fete and Horticultural Show on 4th September was a resounding success. No surprise that many visitors remarked just how much they had missed these events and it was great to be able to enjoy an outdoor event again. The exhibits in the main marquee were as colourful as ever, displaying an impressive range of fruit and vegetables, floral arrangements, cakes, preserves, handicrafts, photos and children’s creations. Wonderful! Many thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations to those who won trophies and prizes.

Mr and Mrs Wells – enthusiastic supporters of the show – won two trophies. Mrs Wells gained the most points in the fruit and veg section and between them they were the family with the most points in the entire show by a wide margin. Very well done to them. The Kent family and the Cook family (from Bassingbourne) were second and third respectively for most points won. This year’s trophies were presented by our Patron, Jennifer Crompton:

  • Trustees Trophy (most points in fruit and vegetable classes): Kamlawatee Wells
  • Garden News Trophy (best exhibit in fruit and vegetable section): Justin Whitaker
  • Frank Matthews Trophy (best exhibit in domestic classes): Alison Kent
  • Mary Challis Trophy (best floral exhibit): Ann Redshaw
  • WI Trophy (best handicraft exhibit): Judy Saunders
  • Sue Reeve Trophy (best exhibit in 8 to 12): Sophie Macfarlane
  • John Falkner Trophy (best exhibit 7 and under ): Jessica Kent
  • Chair’s Trophy (family with most points): Mr and
    Mrs Wells
  • Norman Carver Trophy (best exhibit): Judy Saunders

We are grateful to the many organisations and individuals for attending the show and setting up stalls, including the Cambridge Flower Club, Royal British Legion, Old Forge Honey, Wool’n’Tea, Pippa’s Cards, Timebank, Paul Stower (woodturner), Jeanette Cavey (machine-knitting), Eleanor Clapp (spinning wheel) and Morsbags. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone. And last but not least, a huge thank you to the many volunteers and helpers who made the day such a success – not just on the day but for the work and preparation beforehand. Andy Jackson’s auction of produce after the show again provided a very entertaining end to the afternoon! Many thanks, Andy.

Visitors will have noticed the ongoing progress on building work for the new garden museum. Work is complicated by the limited access to the site for larger vehicles, but our builders have got around the problem with admirable ingenuity. What would we do without them? The main gate will remain closed for the foreseeable future, so please continue to use the side-gate on the left as you enter the car park.

We aim to hold our popular Spooky Saturday Halloween event, as usual, on Saturday 30th October from 10am to noon. Look out for more information on our website and Facebook page, and posters in the High Street. Save the date and plan ahead. We look forward to seeing lots of families there. Whooooo!

Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, October–November 2021 issue

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July 2021

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We were very sorry to have to cancel our Anniversary Fete in late June at short notice, to comply with the latest government guidelines on social gatherings. Notices were posted on social media and our website but may not have reached everyone. We apologise for the disappointment and any inconvenience caused.

To make up for the cancelled events, we aim to make the Horticultural Show in September a bigger event than usual. We hope more people will enter this year. If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, arrange flowers, bake, make preserves, sew, knit, stitch, paint, sketch or take photos, then there is something for you to enter. Schedules are available from the Challis Garden or can be viewed on our website. We would love to see more entries from children and encourage them to enter. There are several activities to choose from, in two age groups – seven years and under and eight to twelve years old. Entry slips to be returned by Thursday 2nd September, please.

The Twelfth Night production on 20th June was a great success, a highly entertaining performance by very professional actors. We are delighted that Half Cut Theatre are returning on Sunday 15th August with Treasure Island. There will again be two performances, at 2pm and 5pm. Book online at www.halfcuttheatre.co.uk or call 07892 854658 to avoid disappointment. No pre-payment is needed, and you ‘Pay What You Decide’ after the performance. Gates open one hour before each performance to let you relax and enjoy a picnic or snacks beforehand. Please bring your own seats and blankets, if possible.

We are delighted that a start has been made on building the new Garden Museum. Footings have been dug and concrete foundations put in. Availability of building materials is an issue in the industry at present, but hopefully construction can progress smoothly during the summer months. The garden will open as usual, but for the foreseeable future, the main entrance to the garden is closed, so please use the side gate on the left-hand side of the car park.

Despite a very dry June, the earlier wet weather and rain in the first half of July has encouraged very vigorous growth. Many of the plants in the herbaceous borders are much larger than usual, with wonderful displays of flowers. The wildflower meadow in the centre of the main lawn is especially good this year, dominated now by scabious and knapweed giving mauve and purple hues. There seem to be fewer butterflies around this year – probably due to the cold, wet weather in late spring affecting the first generations – but lots of bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and ladybirds. Visitors have enjoyed these displays. Come and see for yourself!

Local artist Fran Godwood has produced a new garden design for our notelets and tea towels to augment our range of Challis gifts. Also available: honey from our hives, fresh garden produce, jams and preserves, house plants, garden plants and old bottles. Do have a look.

Two tiny ‘hoglets’ were seen by several people in the garden in early July, just 10cm long. Cute!

The archive remains closed to visitors, but work on cataloguing has continued and we hope to find some means of making an online catalogue available to the public. One of the features of the archive is that it holds complete sets of Sawston Scene and the Sawston Crier and a good selection of press cuttings about Sawston from the local newspapers since the 1980s. Anyone who would like to look at any items is welcome to make an appointment to do so. We also collect orders of service from the funerals of Sawston inhabitants to provide a permanent record of their lives in Sawston, and will be pleased to receive any of these, which can be posted in our post box.

We were recently very pleased to receive a generous donation from a member of the Challis family which includes books owned by Mary Challis and many other family artefacts and photographs, which we hope to display soon.
A recently catalogued file concerns the way the Festival of Britain was marked in Sawston, seventy years ago. There was a special week in July 1951, which included a concert, a tennis tournament, an exhibition and the Horticultural Show. There were also visits to factories at Thomas Evans, James Garnar. Eastern Counties Leather, Edward Towgood, the House of Spicer and Crampton’s. None of these enterprises now exists, illustrating how Sawston has changed in the interim. There is an archive photograph showing the opening of the Festival Week at the Village College.
Mike Redshaw & Mary Dicken
Published in the August–September 20221 Sawston Scene

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May 2021

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A busy month coming up in the garden with three events on successive Sundays in June. Please note that the normal opening times will not apply on these days. First up is the Open Garden event on Sunday 13th June in support of the wonderful National Garden Scheme (NGS), which has raised money for nursing and healthcare charities since 1927. The total to date has exceeded £60 million, with around £3 million donated annually in recent years – a fantastic achievement. Due to the pandemic, most private gardens could not open last year so we are very pleased to be able to continue our commitment to the scheme again in 2021. The garden will be open from 1pm to 5 pm. Admission is £3 per adult (free for children). Plants will be on sale on the day, with a proportion of the takings going to the NGS.

On Sunday 20th June, we are delighted to be hosting our first open-air theatre performance. This features Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by the Half Cut Theatre Company. This is a new theatre group, based in London, set up last year in response to the closure of theatres due to the Covid crisis. One of the founding members is a Duxford lad, James Camp, who attended SVC – hence the interest in bringing the play to Sawston. They will give two performances at 2pm and 5pm. Please book online at www.halfcuttheatre.co.uk or call 07892 854658. There is no pre-payment required but a ‘Pay What You Decide’ contribution after the performance.

Gates will open one hour before each performance so there is time to relax and have a picnic or snacks before the play starts, and you can visit our Pimm’s tent for a selection of refreshing drinks. It promises to be an entertaining afternoon. If possible, please bring your own seats and blankets as there are a limited number available on site. There is a lot of interest in this event, so do book your place early!

The company is returning in August to perform Treasure Island – more details about this in the next issue.
Our postponed Anniversary Fete will be held on Sunday 27th June from 2pm to 4.30pm. It is hoped all our usual groups and attractions can attend to entertain and educate us. This year we propose to have a Kid’s Zone hosting a range of activities, which we hope makes up partly for the cancelled children’s events over the past year. Look out for posters in the village and on our Facebook page. As usual, M C Teas will serve tea and cakes from the house.
Passers-by will have noticed scaffolding at the front of the house at 68 High Street in recent weeks. This is for essential maintenance work on guttering, fascias and soffits, re-pointing brickwork and re-coating the external walls. The opportunity will also be taken to install a swift nestbox at the front. Apparently, swifts used to nest at the front but nesting sites were blocked off during renovation work. Two tubular nestboxes were fitted to the south-facing wall as replacements but they do not appear to have been used regularly. In recent years, the swifts have been nesting at the rear of the properties. It will be interesting to see how soon the new boxes are occupied. Swifts return here in mid-May and quickly start to seek out nest sites. Hopefully the new boxes will be in place in good time. Like most wildlife nowadays, swifts need as much help as we can give them. Let’s wait and see!

Despite inclement weather – cold spells, a very dry April and late frosts – the garden volunteers have been busy preparing the herbaceous beds for the summer, tidying up the winter/spring border, raising bedding plants, trimming and mowing. If the weather – finally – comes good in the coming weeks, we can look forward to lots of colourful displays through to autumn. Look out for the stunning displays on false acacia and golden rain trees from late June to early July.

We have re-organised the plant nursery area and gift stand, putting material for sale on stands, with clear labelling and pricing. This is a much-needed improvement. We hope you like it.

Are you aware there is a unique apple variety in our garden? The large tree at the main entrance has been identified as a cross between Dr Harvey (one of the earliest English culinary apple varieties) and Cox’s Orange Pippin. This cross is not on the national register of English apples and hence has been accepted as a new variety ‘Mary Challis’ and listed in the Register of Local Cultivars. We have raised new trees by grafting, which are now available as two-year old semi-standard trees. If you are interested in planting a Mary Challis apple, please talk to one of the garden team. It produces medium-large apples, with good cooking and eating properties that store well through to Christmas time.

Mike Redshaw

Printed in the June–July 2021 issue of Sawston Scene

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March 2021

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In view of the ongoing pandemic and the Government’s latest roadmap out of lockdown, we have had to cancel our popular Easter children’s event and defer our Anniversary Fete to a later date. As it stands, we plan to hold the Fete on Sunday 27th June, which is after the 21st June tentative deadline when all restrictions on social mixing will be lifted. However, we are all aware that the situation can change quickly, so please look out for further announcements nearer the time.

We were very pleased to re-open the Garden to visitors in February. Current rules allow for households and support ‘bubbles’, and for two people from different households to meet outdoors for recreation and exercise. From 29th March, the ‘rule of six’ will apply again, allowing more people to meet up outdoors, with further restrictions easing after 12th April and again from 17th May. Confused? If so, go to the Government’s website to see exactly what is and isn’t allowed.

Back in the garden there are lots of signs of spring. Yellow brimstone butterflies and early bumblebees are active on warm days. Snowdrops and aconites have gone over but the crocuses are hanging on and open up fully when the sun shines. Early daffodils started to flower in March and will be at their peak in April, and later on early tulips and crown imperial lilies will appear. There is still a surprising amount of spring blossom to appreciate – and for our honey bees and other pollinators to feed on – including Cornus mas, shrub honeysuckles and Mahonias. Damson trees and ornamental cherries are starting to show their pink and white flowers, giving a tantalising glimpse of the ‘main event’ when the apple blossom comes out in April and May. Can’t wait!

We’ve noticed a lot of ladybirds emerging from their winter hibernation in recent days – mostly seven-spotted ones. Are we in for a significant ‘ladybird year’ in 2021? The last was in 2018 when huge numbers were seen pupating on tree trunks in the garden during very hot summer weather. Another interesting insect to look out for now is the hairy-footed flower-bee. This species emerges very early in the year, flying low over the ground to feed on spring flowers such as early-flowering borage, Pulmonaria and yellow archangel. They are difficult to observe, restless and fast-flying, but you might be lucky enough to spot one. Ask one of our volunteers for help.

We will be putting up scaffolding on the front and side of the Challis house for some essential maintenance work. Unfortunately, this hampers progress on planting up the front garden, but we will continue to do what we can. At least, it will give us more time to select and source the key plants needed. Gardening cannot be rushed – this is no television makeover job à la Titchmarsh!

There are often surprises in the Challis world. Recently, our builders found an old bottle under the floorboards of one of our properties. It is in remarkably good condition and cleaned up well. The two labels are clearly legible, one with a date of 1862. It is not clear this was the date the bottle was made but it must be from around that time. This bottle of blackcurrant wine was made by Hill, Evans & Co., Worcester and bottled by Robert Waters. The label on the reverse of the bottle makes interesting reading:

London 1862
Extract from the “STANDARD” of Nov. 1st
“In the cursory notices we have from time to time given of Class 2, which embraces chemical and pharmaceutical processes, we have omitted to mention WATERS’ QUININE WINE. We are all the more sorry for this because we can bear personal testimony of its value as a tonic, to the innocence of its composition, and of the pleasantness of its taste. Quinine in any form is apt to induce nausea and headache; in the shape of the Quinine Wine of Mr. Robert Waters without its sickening tendencies. Again, Quinine is usually dissolved in a powerful acid, which adds considerably to the disagreeableness of its taste. We do not know the process of Mr. Waters, but we do know that there is apparently no more acid in this Quinine Wine that there is in ordinary sherry bitters, and that it is equally palatable and far more medicinal.”

Well, you don’t see testimonials like that nowadays! Those of us that have taken quinine medication for malaria or tasted quinine wine can identify with the author’s sentiments.

We have started to produce a monthly newsletter, to inform visitors and the general public about what’s happening in the Challis Trust, with what to look for in the garden and any recent news. Get your copy from the garden or the Green Weigh shop or find it on local Facebook pages.

Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, April–May 2021

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January 2021

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Looking back to this time last year, volunteers were busy putting together the exhibition ‘Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice …’ on the co-operative movement and shopping in Sawston. Since then, of course, the exhibition had to close early due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the planned celebration of fifty years of Sawston Scene didn’t materialise and all our events except the Open Gardens were cancelled. It has truly been a very strange year for everyone.
We have now reluctantly had to take the decision to close the garden to visitors during this second national lockdown. Given the seriousness of the current situation, we had no alternative. This is very disappointing for all of us, but we trust you understand the reasons for this. We sincerely hope we will be able to re-open the garden in the near future, possibly some time in February, but who knows…?

On a positive note, however: once the garden re-opened in early June, we have never had so many visitors during the regular opening hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. It was hugely satisfying to see the garden used in this way as more people discovered our peaceful and safe haven in the centre of the village. Many groups took advantage to meet up with friends and family, including Pampisford WI, OWL, the Royal British Legion, Cambridge Art Circle, Wool’n’Tea, Sing to Remember, Cambridge Rare Disease Network and Dan’s tai chi class. We also welcomed others to the garden in the evenings for practical sessions – Sawston Steel Band, Pilates, Sawston WI and Sawston Boys and Girls Brigade among others. The garden is a versatile location, suitable for all sorts of activities and get-togethers. We thank the Sawston community for their support and patronage during this difficult period and we look forward to hosting more gatherings in 2021.
One thing we have all learnt in 2020 is the importance of nature and green spaces for our well-being and mental health. This is acknowledged and strongly supported by the Government and leading charities, such as the National Trust, the Royal Horticultural Society, National Garden Scheme and not least the medical profession, who all make strong cases for keeping parks, gardens and other green spaces open to the public for exercise and relaxation. Here at the Challis Trust, we are very pleased to be a part of this community and fully endorse the view that nature needs to be accessible and conserved.

Our team of volunteers has grown, as we’ve all found more time on our hands to take on other activities. Volunteer hours were at a record level, 30% higher than preceding years. This has enabled us to keep well on top of routine gardening jobs and to carry out some additional tasks. Thanks indeed to all our volunteers, the garden has never looked so good. And Mary Challis’s chickens have been given a new home!
Many of you will have seen the changes in the front garden of the Challis House on the High Street. It was due for a makeover! We don’t really know what the front garden looked like in Mary Challis’s time, but there are reports of lawn and bedding plants either side of the path, with climbers growing up the side wall. A pair of laburnum trees stood at the front, creating an ‘arch’ over the pathway. Only one remains now. The house was formally known as ‘The Laburnums’, its name etched on a glass panel above the front door. It is planned to reinstate the two laburnums when the second one dies and to install a new glass panel.
The new look is more modern and formal, with symmetry either side of the path. The two small paved areas on each side reflect the colours and dimensions of the front of the house. The main colour theme will be yellow, blue and grey-green, complementing the laburnum flowers when these are in full bloom. The evergreen Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ will be trained to cover the side wall. It is not yet fully planted as it proved difficult to source some key plants, due to disruption in the supply chain of planting material during the pandemic. Hopefully, these will be available in the spring. Do follow the progress in the coming months.
There are early signs of spring in the garden. Many snowdrops and a few aconites are already in flower and should be at their best in February and March, to be followed by crocuses and daffodils. In the winter/spring long border, the dogwoods (Cornus spp.) are looking really good this year, with solid stands of yellow, green and red stems. And many of the winter-flowering shrubs are starting to produce strongly perfumed flowers, notably shrub honeysuckles, winter box, Viburnum spp. and Mahonia. Hopefully you will be able to visit soon and not miss out on these winter displays.
Ever optimistic, we are planning to hold several events this year. The programme of Challis Trust events is:

Events planned for 2021

Anniversary Fete
Sunday 16th May

NGS Open Gardens
Sunday 13th June

Big Challis Family Picnic
Sunday 18th July

Challis Horticultural Show
Saturday 4th September

Spooky Saturday
Saturday 30th October

Sawston Winter Fair
to be confirmed

Hopefully, these will take place as planned in 2021! Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, February–March 2021

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