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The Mary Challis Garden, along with four gardens in the village, opened for the National Garden Scheme on 2nd July. The event attracted close to two hundred visitors, helped by some good summer weather, raising a very creditable £1,300 for the NGS. Around £3 million is distributed by the NGS each year to support a number of important caring and nursing charities, including Marie Curie, Macmillan Cancer Support, Hospice UK, Carers Trust, The Queen’s Nursing Institute and Parkinson’s UK, among others. We are very pleased to support this charity. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the Open Gardens day.

The Sawston group is very keen for new gardens to join in, to ensure a good mix for visitors to explore. If there are any Sawstonians out there keen to open their garden, please contact Mike Redshaw at mjredshaw@hotmail.co.uk. Newcomers can join at any time, but ideally before the end of August to register for the following year so that details of their garden can be entered into the NGS’s annual directory.

We are pleased to welcome the return of the Newmarket Town Band on Sunday 6th August from 2pm to 4.30 pm, following a very entertaining performance last year. Bring family, friends and a picnic to enjoy the music in a very tranquil setting. Please bring your own chairs, if possible. The event is free but donations are very welcome.

Our Horticultural Show & Fete will be held on Saturday 2nd September. Lots of attractions and craft stalls, including music by Sawston Steel Band and flower-arranging demonstrations by Cambridge Flower Club. Whatever your pastimes and hobbies are, there is something for everyone to take part in. Please note there are a few changes to some of the classes this year:

  • Class 9 ‘Any other vegetable’ is now split into two sections: 9A cucurbits and 9B non-cucurbits.
  • Class 27 has changed to ‘an arrangement of native hedgerow flowers/foliage (minimum three species).
  • Class 52 a photo of ‘Sawston Views’
  • Class 53 a photo of ‘The Challis Garden’.

We are particularly keen to see more entries from children. Choose from five classes in two age groups – seven years and under and eight to twelve years old.

Bring your entries to the show for staging from 9am to 10.45am, with judging at 11am. The show opens from 2pm; entry is £2 per adult. Collect a schedule for the show, including the list of classes and an entry form, from the Challis Garden and dispensers at the two allotment sites, or follow the link on our Facebook page or online at www.challistrust.org.uk. Please return entry slips to the Challis Garden (see instructions on the Entry Form) or online by Thursday 31st August. Late entries will not be accepted.

It has proved very challenging to keep up with the lush growth this year. Most plants seem to be twice the size as normal! Lots of weeding, mowing, strimming and cutting back to do. Fortunately we have had extra help from local companies providing employee volunteer groups, which is a great initiative. A group from Domainex, based on Chesterford Park, helped recently to catch up with log-splitting, shredding and turning compost. A group is coming from Astra Zeneca in August to put up our large marquee for the Horticultural Show. If there other local companies or groups out there that would like to help, please get in touch.

The wildflower meadow in the centre of the main lawn is the centrepiece of the garden in July and August. A very colourful display of knapweed, scabious, campions and yellow bedstraw, a real magnet for all sorts of pollinating insects. Do have a look when you’re in the garden to see what’s about. Elsewhere, bedding plants are starting to flourish, complementing the dahlias, rudbeckias, asters, Verbena, day lilies and roses. Always lots to enjoy!

The new building at the entrance to the garden is nearing completion, just flooring and electrics to install. When it’s finished, we plan to transform the areas around the building from a building site into a much more attractive entrance into the garden. Please bear with us.

The ‘Sawston Street names’ exhibition in the Challis House will continue through the summer on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, providing there are enough volunteers for stewarding. This has proved to be very popular with Sawston residents. Do drop in to have a look if you haven’t seen it yet.

Mike Redshaw


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May 2023

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Looking back to Easter, which seems a long time ago now, we were very pleased with our first event of the year, the Children’s Easter Activity Morning on 8th April. A great success, with lots of new families joining in. Indeed, we’ve never seen so many people in the Challis Garden! It was a delight to see so many happy faces, enjoying a traditional Easter event. All the activities were well attended and the mini-pondlife display attracted a lot of interest. Many thanks to everyone who took part, with special thanks to the many volunteers and helpers on the day.

Our next garden event is the Open Garden on Sunday 2nd July from 1pm to 5pm, joining three other Sawston gardens to support the National Garden Scheme (NGS). Homemade teas will be served from 1.30pm to 4.30 pm from the Challis House, and there will be plants for sale. The NGS is an important charity, raising about £3 million annually to support key nursing and caring charities. Please do come along to view the gardens, enjoy some refreshments and contribute to the NGS. Entry fee £6 per adult covers all four gardens. See the separate article on page 24 for more details.

Looking forward, a heads-up for Sunday 6th August when the Newmarket Town Band returns to the Challis Garden for an open-air concert, sponsored by the Royal British Legion. This was entertaining and fun last year – here’s hoping for some good summer weather and a good attendance.

We are counting the cost of winter losses in the garden due – mainly – to the severe cold and snow in mid-December. Overall, it’s not as bad as I had feared. A few shrubs (myrtle, hebe, buddleia, cotoneaster, Brachyglottis (Senecio), Choisya, Viburnum tinus) died or were badly frost-damaged. However, Hypericum (St John’s wort) and hydrangeas are recovering well. Among the herbaceous perennials, salvias, penstemons and phormiums have all been lost. Surprisingly, all our dahlias appear to have survived, putting on good growth now. Most gaps have been filled by dividing or moving plants, as a result we only need to replace a few plants. The garden team have been busy raising bedding plants (begonias, geraniums, zinnia, cosmos, Echium and rudbeckias) to fill the remaining gaps and for pot displays.

None of the mature trees suffered winter damage and, indeed, have produced excellent blossom. Apples, plum, damson and cherry avoided any early frost damage this Spring, but the heavy hailstorm on 5th May didn’t help! However, there appears to be good fruit-set so the signs are promising for good crops this year. Fingers tightly crossed! Golden rain trees and false acacia should produce good floral displays in early July, along with Deutzia and mock orange. Look out, too, for foxgloves, delphiniums and red campions flowering in the coming period.

The wildflower meadow in the centre of the main lawn is growing well. Cowslips showed well in March and April; there seem to be more each year. Other species are now shooting up, leading to a peak display of dog daisies, knapweed, campion and bedstraws in June and July. Yellow rattle is a key species in the mixture: it suppresses grasses, allowing native wildflowers to flourish. Enjoy the show! Elsewhere, we have embraced ‘No Mow May’, leaving many other areas uncut. It will be interesting to see what flowers and insects show up. This summer, we are participating in a ‘citizen science’ project to observe which types of pollinating insects are visiting native wildflowers, and to identify which wildflower mixtures support the most diverse range of pollinators.

The cool and wet conditions from March to early May have resulted in a strong surge of plant growth. We are working hard to keep on top of mowing, weeding and deadheading but may look somewhat rough around the edges for a while. Hopefully all will be in perfect order for the Open Gardens in July! If you have time to help out in the garden during our regular opening times, please join us or drop by for a chat.

Our latest exhibition, Voices from the past. How did your street get its name?, has proved very popular with Sawstonians. Our stand at the Spicers ground on Monday 8th May attracted a lot interest and discussion. The exhibition will continue in the Challis House, at 68 High Street, every Tuesday and Saturday from 10am to noon for the foreseeable future. If you are interested in local street names, do drop in to learn more. It’s fascinating and very informative!

The main gate to the garden will be out of use periodically, as building work continues, so please use the side gate on the left-hand side of the car park. Apologies for any inconvenience. Visitors will see that the blocking paving path across the car park now extends up to the entrance of the new building, providing good access for everyone. Internal work continues with ceilings, walls, flooring and electrical installation in progress. With fair weather and a reliable supply of materials, there is a good chance the building will be completed by the end of the summer. Let’s see…

Mike Redshaw

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March 2023

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Spring is definitely in the air now, albeit with occasional wintery interludes, and we are looking forward to our first event of the year, the Children’s Easter Activity Morning from 10 am to 12 noon on Saturday 8th April. All the usual popular activities will be there for youngsters and old ’uns alike to enjoy: face-painting, pot-decorating, picture painting and an Easter-themed trail. Refreshments, as usual, served by MC Teas from the Challis House. We hope to see lots of families in the garden again on Easter Saturday. Spoiler alert: chocolate treats may be available!

The garden team have been very busy in recent weeks preparing for the coming season. All the compost and leaf mould produced last year have been applied to the main herbaceous beds, vegetable plots and soft fruit. Seasonal pruning, tidying up, pond-weeding and annual tree work is well up to date. We can now concentrate on spring weeding, removing dead leaves and flower stems, installing plant supports, planting up the vegetable plots and fertilising trees and shrubs. As ever, plenty to do!

The ever-increasing drifts of snowdrops, aconites and crocuses were especially good this year but cut short by cold spells in late February. Daffodils were the main highlight in March and should continue into April, followed by tulips, Crown Imperial lilies and bluebells in May. Winter- and spring-flowering shrubs added to the seasonal delights, some producing delicious fragrances: the best of these are shrub honeysuckles, Christmas box, Mahonia and Viburnum fragrans. As we move towards summer, we can look forward to some spectacular floral displays from flowering cherries, apple trees, horse chestnut, mock orange and laburnum.

The exceptionally cold spells this winter have caused considerable damage in the garden. Many of our favourite established shrubs have perished, most obviously Hebe, Hypericum (St John’s Wort) and myrtle. Viburnum tinus, Choisya and fuschias may recover but the extent of the damage is not yet clear. It also looks as if some of our most popular herbaceous perennials (penstemons, salvias and dahlias) have succumbed. Indoor plants in the vinehouse were particularly badly affected, especially the geraniums, cacti and succulents. In these circumstances, it is best not to cut back affected plants but allow time for them to recover before deciding whether to leave or replace them. We will strive to recover what we can, divide healthy clumps and source replacements, and also raise more bedding plants than usual to fill gaps. It may take a few seasons to fully recover the situation so the displays may not be as good as in recent years. Here’s hoping for kinder weather this year!

Our museum and archives team are busy preparing the Challis Museum’s next exhibition – ‘Voices from the past. How did your street get its name?’

Following on from the huge success of our ‘Platinum Jubilee’ exhibition last year, which attracted 684 visitors, we will be opening our new exhibition on Easter Monday 10th April from 10am to noon. The exhibition will then be open on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10am to noon.

The exhibition will explore the origins of Sawston street names and prominent buildings named after local people (and some royals!) who have made a significant contribution to Sawston life. The streets covered will include:

Adeane Road, Ashley Way, Belbin Close, Bennet Way, Bircham House, Bowers Terrace, Burnand’s Place, Catley’s Walk, Challis Close, Crampton Terrace, Dockerill Close, Eccles Close, Edinburgh Avenue, Evans Way, Falkner Road, Gosling Way, Hammonds Road, Henry Morris Road, Huntingdon Road, Huddleston Way, Hurry’s Close, John’s Acre, Jones Place, Joyce’s Close, Kirkham Drive, Martindale Way, Mallow’s Close, Marven Centre, Marven Road, Milner Close, Morley’s Place, Pease Close, Princess Drive, Prince William Way, Queensway, Resbury Close, Roe’s Close, Spicer’s Field, Stanley Webb Close, Teversham Way, Uffen Way, Wakelin Avenue, Roughead Drive, Wards Close. You are in for some surprises!

Mike Redshaw 

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January 2023

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New Year is always the right time to look ahead to future seasons but also to look back on the year past. 2022 was a rollercoaster of a year weather-wise: a mild spring, exceptionally dry summer, and much higher than average temperatures in autumn followed by an Arctic blast in mid-December. That caused a lot of damage to tender herbaceous perennials and shrubs; it’s still too early to assess just how bad the damage is, so we are delaying cutting back to allow these plants to – hopefully – recover. The worst of the damage was to geraniums and succulents in the glasshouses, even though they were heated: -10°C was just too severe and difficult to protect against. We anticipate replacing a lot of plants in the spring.

It was interesting to examine the many animal tracks in the December snow. Our resident fox was very active, with trails all over the garden. Cats, squirrels and a few large birds accounted for the rest. We even spotted a snowy owl (see photo)!

On a happier note, the worst of the pandemic is behind us and we are seeing many visitors to the garden and museum. Our Platinum Exhibition celebrating the late Queen’s seventy years as monarch was very well attended, with a total of 684 visitors, including 108 children. The exhibition is still in place and can be viewed on Tuesday mornings, if there are stewards available. It won’t be dismantled until the next Exhibition opens in April (dates to be confirmed). This will be about street names in Sawston that are named after important local residents and other dignitaries. More about this in the next issue.

We are pleased to present a full programme of events in 2023, which is set out on the inside front cover. In addition to our well-established annual events – Easter Saturday, Open Gardens, Horticultural Show & Fete and Spooky Saturday – we hope to have Half Cut Theatre back and some more musical performances. If there are any local musical groups that would like to meet in the garden on Sunday afternoons to practise or perform, you are more than welcome to come. Just get in touch to arrange a date.

The main gate is open again now that scaffolding has been removed from the new building. We may have to close this entrance when building work resumes, but the side gate will be open. Sharp-eyed visitors will have spotted a few bricks with initials engraved into them on the new building. These were rescued from the old ‘pink shed’ and carefully incorporated into the new build. No records exist about these engravings but we can make some informed guesses at to whom they might belong to. There are three sets of initials:

  • A.J.C. This almost certainly relates to Mary Challis’ grandfather Arthur James Challis (1832–1903). A grocer and draper originally, he expanded his interests to become an auctioneer and built a property empire in Portobello Lane, Shingay Lane and next to the Fox pub, as well as the Challis House and Monk’s Orchard. He was clerk to the parish council when it was set up in 1895 and had been assistant overseer since 1880. He was also a member of the school board. A prominent figure in Sawston, well-versed in village affairs.
  • E.C. We know there was an Elizabeth Challis who was left £50 in AJC’s will, but it is not clear why she had been included in his estate. The jury’s still out on this one.
  • W.F. 1880 This could have been William Freestone, who appears in Kelly’s Directory for the late 1880’s. He was a currier and carrier in the leather industry in Sawston but we don’t know if he was linked to the Challis family.

If anyone has any knowledge or thoughts on these engravings, please do share them with us.

Garden work is now focusing on the main winter tasks to prepare the herbaceous beds for the coming season – mulching, pruning autumn-flowering shrubs and fruit trees, and collecting the last of the fallen leaves. Some corrective pruning is also necessary now to remove over-extended branches, dead wood, and misshapen or unbalanced growth on mature trees. This will be carried out by our regular tree surgeons while the trees are still dormant.

Spring bulbs are emerging everywhere, with extensive drifts of snowdrops, aconites, crocuses and daffodils to look forward to. Some sections may be roped off to avoid trampling these delicate flowers. Now is also the best time to enjoy winter-flowering shrubs, such as Christmas box (Sarcococca), shrub honeysuckles, Viburnum fragrans and Mahonia. Take a stroll along the Winter/Spring walk to appreciate these, interspersed with colourful dogwoods and underplanted hellebores.

We look forward to welcoming visitors to the house and garden. There is always something new to see and you can check what’s on offer from our plants, produce and gift stands. We still have a good stock of seasoned logs, honey, apple juice and preserves to choose from. Cash only, so come prepared! Mike Redshaw 

Published in Sawston Scene, February–March 2023 issue. 

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November 2022

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Our new garden building is really starting to take shape now the roof is finished and scaffolding taken down. The external finish of Cambridge brick, flint panels and plaster reflects the building styles in the vicinity. There is still much to do, with window-frames and glazing, flooring, electrics, insulation and heating to install. We hope you like the look of the new building. We do! The main gate will be open again (hoorah!), provided there is no structural work going on, so please enter the garden there rather than the side gate.

We were very pleased with the turnout for our Spooky Saturday Hallowe’en event at the end of October. It was great to see so many happy – and scary! – faces and indeed many new ones. Thank you to everyone who attended and for joining in the spirit of the event, and to the many helpers and volunteers. All the activities proved very popular, especially the Spooky trail, face-painting and pumpkin-carving. Special thanks are due to Gita, Suresh and Ann for setting up the Spooky trail, to Audrey and Renate for supervising the face-painting, to Andy for his inventive soups and to Chris Baker and her team for scooping out fifty pumpkins – not the nicest of tasks on a cool damp morning! Looking forward to next year’s event already.

At the time of writing – on Armistice Day – the poppy display in the front garden of the Challis House looks stunning. We are very pleased to support the Royal British Legion on this important occasion in the nation’s annual calendar. Well done to everyone involved in creating this beautiful exposition. This annual remembrance is a poignant reminder of the horrors of war, given what’s going on elsewhere in the world right now. Lest we forget….

This unseasonably mild weather – up to ten degrees warmer than average in November! – has meant prolonged autumn flowering. Asters, dahlias, penstemons and even begonias and geraniums are still blooming well, adding lots of colour to the herbaceous borders and window boxes. We normally plant out winter and spring bedding now but we are reluctant to uproot such colourful plants. The flush of annuals weeds is keeping us very busy, as we aim to clean up the beds prior to applying leaf mould and garden compost. If the dry summers and moist, mild winters continue, we will have to radically review what and where to plant in the garden. These are indeed strange times we live in.

It is very difficult to predict how the garden will progress in the coming months. If the mild weather continues, we may be in for a very early spring, with carpets of snowdrops, aconites, crocuses and daffodils to look forward to. Whatever the weather, it is well worth taking a stroll along the winter/spring border to enjoy the colours and fragrances of winter-flowering shrubs, especially Mahonia spp., shrub honeysuckles, Viburnums, Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) and witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.). Multi-coloured dogwoods (Cornus spp.) are at their best in the new year, showing their red, green and yellow stems to best effect, and set off the underplanted hellebores and spring bulbs. Lots to admire.

All the wooden garden furniture and donated benches have been put into storage for the winter, including the stunning circular bench that Pearl Mann recently gifted in memory of her husband Paul. Both have given a lot of time and expert local knowledge to the Challis Trust from its inception, both in the garden and museum. We are immensely grateful for their contribution to establishing this wonderful asset for the village.

As ever, there are plenty of gifts and goodies to view in the garden. Our bees have been busy this year, making lots of lovely mixed floral summer honey. We processed some of the bumper apple crop to make 150 bottles of apple juice; thanks again to one and all for donating their surplus apples. Our log stores are full if you need to top up for the winter. All this plus our own Challis tea towels, cards and plants are available for a donation. You need look no further for some interesting local gifts for the Christmas season.

A reminder that the garden remains open throughout the winter on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, and Sunday afternoons. Please refer to the opening times in the Directory. We look forward to seeing you there.

Please note also that the Challis House is open every Tuesday morning from 10am to noon to view the Queen’s Jubilee Exhibition and the museum itself. The next exhibition will be about Sawston streets named after local people. If you have any information, records or photos about these people and the streets, please get in touch with us.

Finally, the Mary Challis Trust would like to express sincere condolences to the family and friends of Judy Saunders on her untimely and sudden passing. Judy was a long-term friend and supporter of the trust, along with the Wool’n’Tea craft group, which she ran for many years, holding regular meetings here. She always entered the Horticultural Show with a range of wonderful creations, and surpassed herself in recent years by winning ‘Best in Show’ for the last three years in succession – a remarkable achievement from a remarkable lady. She will be sorely missed by everyone who knew her.

Mike Redshaw 

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September 2022

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The much-anticipated rain in early September, after the interminably long dry summer, threatened to spoil the annual Horticultural Show and Fete but fortunately the weather was fine on the day. It was very pleasing to see a good number of entries again this year, considering the difficult growing season. The main marquee was very colourful with good displays of fruit and vegetables, flowers, cakes, preserves and handicrafts. The children’s classes were well represented, with some wonderful creations. Well done to everyone who entered. We are very keen to continue to hold this traditional show and acknowledge the support of Sawston residents. It will be held again on Saturday 2nd September 2023. 

This year’s trophies were presented by our Patron, the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, Jennifer Crompton:

  • Trustees Trophy (most points in fruit and vegetable classes): Mrs K Wells
  • Garden News Trophy (best exhibit in fruit and vegetable section): Mrs K Wells
  • Frank Matthews Trophy (best exhibit in domestic classes): Helena Marsh
  • Mary Challis Trophy (best floral exhibit): Rodney Peck
  • WI Trophy (best handicraft exhibit): Judy Saunders
  • Sue Reeve Trophy (best exhibit in 8–12 age group): Sophie Macfarlane
  • John Falkner Trophy (best exhibit in 7-and-under age): Jessica Kent
  • Chair’s Trophy (family with most points in show): Mr & Mrs Wells
  • Norman Carver Trophy (best exhibit in Show): Judy Saunders

Congratulations to all the winners. Mrs K Wells swept the board in the fruit and vegetable section, winning both trophies, and the Wells family also recorded the highest number of points in the show. Very well done to them. Judy Saunders deserves special mention for again winning the best handicraft exhibit and the best in show – for the third year running – proving she’s no one-hit wonder! Our congratulations also go to Sophie Macfarlane and Jessica Kent for again producing the best exhibits in the 8–12 years and 7-and-under age groups. 

Some of our regular stallholders were unable to attend the show so we were very pleased to welcome some newcomers: Tina Bone (fine arts), Liz Taylor (The Silver Bird jewellery) and local artist Fran Godwood. Many thanks to Sawston Steel Band for providing live music through the afternoon and to the many organisations and individuals who attended the show, including the Royal British Legion, Wool’n’Tea handicrafts, Pippa’s Cards, Morsbags, Timebank and Eleanor Clapp (who brought her spinning wheel). Andy Jackson’s produce auction always attracts a lot of attention and provided some good entertainment to round off the afternoon. 

Work has resumed on our new garden building following final approval from the local planning department. A rainwater soakaway has been installed and construction of the roof is in progress. The immediate aim is to get the building watertight before winter sets in and then continue with interior works. Once the roof is on, scaffolding can be removed and we should be able to reuse the main gate again to enter the garden. 

Visitors to the Horticultural Show will have noticed the new block-paving path leading to the main gate. This has been installed to improve access for disabled visitors, mobility scooters and pushchairs. Sawston Fun Run made a generous contribution to the cost of this work, which we gratefully acknowledge. 

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Exhibition in Challis House proved very popular and was consequently extended to the end of September. The purple bunting at the front of the house was removed out of respect to the Queen. The exhibition won’t be taken down immediately so can still be viewed, for the foreseeable future, during normal museum opening times 10 am to 12 noon on Tuesdays. 

The last event of the season is our popular Spooky Saturday Hallowe’en event on Saturday 29th October from 10am to noon. We look forward to seeing you there. 

The dry summer has taken its toll in the garden. Many herbaceous perennials and annual bedding plants did not thrive, leaving empty spaces in the main beds. These will be replaced by dividing large clumps and infilling where necessary. The lawns have recovered remarkably quickly following recent heavy rainfall and we will have to resume mowing. Plant highlights in September are undoubtedly the Marvel of Peru (or four o’clock plant), Mirabilis jalapa and the Crinum or swamp lily Crinum moorei that welcomes you as you enter the Garden. Mirabilis jalapa grows along the main path from house, with multi-coloured tubular flowers that open early morning and late afternoon. Do have a close look at this when you pass. It readily self-seeds from its large black seeds that germinate in the spring and can also over-winter in milder conditions due to its deep swollen roots. A good doer, as Monty Don would say. We have seed available if you want to try some in your own gardens – just ask! 

Dahlias and penstemons will continue to flower up to the first frosts, with asters, sedums and cyclamens going through to November. There is always plenty to look at. Although many leaves have dried up and dropped early due to the dry conditions, most trees should still develop good autumn colours. 

Despite the lack of rain, our apples have produced bumper crops, especially Cox’s, Worcester Pearmain, Discovery and Bramleys. We aim to produce some apple juice this year. If you have any surplus apples, please consider donating them for juicing.
Mike Redshaw
Published in the October–November 2022 Sawston Scene


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