July 2019

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Summer is a busy time for the Challis Trust, with June and July being the peak months for visitors to the house and garden. We have hosted a number of gardening clubs and history societies, given presentations and tours of the garden and museum, and provided refreshments. These visits are very popular, judging by the favourable comments received. New visitors are invariably surprised by the size and variety in the garden, and impressed also by the exhibits in the house.

The garden team has been very active in recent weeks, keeping up with mowing, weeding, pruning and deadheading. After the dry start to the season, which held back growth, the heavy rainfall in June led to a surge of growth and flowering. It has been hard work keeping up with everything but, on the other hand, there’s been less watering to do. Despite the slow start, the herbaceous beds are lush and very colourful now. The bee border and wildflower meadow are especially good this year, full of flowers – a firm favourite with visitors. A wide range of bumblebees, butterflies and other insects can be seen.

It was pleasing to present the garden to a high standard for Sawston Open Gardens, to participate in the National Garden Scheme (NGS) event on Sunday 7th July. Our thanks to the garden volunteers who made a special effort to prepare the garden for the day, which attracted a hundred and fifty visitors. There were two other participating gardens this year, both in Mill Lane, and many people also visited the two artists’ studios that were open on the same afternoon (for Cambridge Open Studios). So plenty for visitors to see – combined with the good weather, it was a successful afternoon.

Open Gardens raised £955 for the NGS, to be distributed to the nursing and caring charities they support, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers’ Trust and the Queen’s Nursing Institute, among others. The Challis Trust is pleased to support these worthy causes by opening the garden to raise money. It would be good to see more Sawston gardens joining the scheme. If anyone is interested in opening their garden in 2020, please contact Mike Redshaw on 01223 834511.

There are no public events scheduled for August, but needless to say, we are very pleased to see people in the garden on our regular opening times (see page 23). At this time of the year, there are many plants and some fresh produce for sale, including root vegetables, beans and courgettes, with plums, damsons and apples to follow in August and September. In addition, Andy Jackson continues to produce large volumes of jams, relishes and chutneys. Our early summer honey has sold out but we expect to have more for sale in the coming period. Do drop in to see what’s on offer. Remember too that the house and museum are open every Tuesday morning to look around.

The Challis Horticultural Show is coming up on Saturday 7th September. We would love to see more people entering produce, flowers and handicrafts in the show, especially in the children’s sections. Schedules are available now from the Mary Challis Garden or from the dispenser at the main gate, or can be downloaded from our website, www.challistrust.org.uk. If you are interested in entering the domestic classes, please note there are some new classes this year, following set recipe: more of a challenge for experienced cooks and a level playing field for judging. If you grow stuff, bake, make things or take photos, there is something for everyone to get involved with. If you haven’t participated before, please do give it a try.

The Apple Day is brought forward to Saturday 28th September, earlier than last year. We hope the timing is optimal for the main apple harvest. Unfortunately, there are few apples on our own trees this year, most likely due to late frosts damaging the flowers and young fruit. We may well put out an appeal nearer the time for people to donate apples for pressing and juicing. If you would like to process your own apples, please bring them along on Apple Day and join in the fun. There will be plenty of other apple-related activities for children and adults alike.

Work continues apace in the house, sorting through and cataloguing the collection of archives and artefacts. It seems we have a large collection of clay pipes and assorted bottles. If you have specialist knowledge on either subject, please contact us to help identify and select pieces for display. We plan to hold an exhibition on co-operative societies in Sawston. We would like to have samples of ‘old’ money to put on display – farthings, coppers, threepenny pieces, shillings, half-crowns, and so on. If you have a collection or could loan some coins for the exhibition, please contact us. Mike Redshaw SS

Published in the June–July 2019 issue of Sawston Scene

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May 2019

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It is disappointing to have to report that we suffered a spate of vandalism in April. Considerable damage was done to furniture, trees and other items in the garden. The experience was extremely dispiriting for the many volunteers who put in countless hours to maintain this wonderful place and asset for the village. Such mindless acts will not be tolerated and we are vigorously pursuing leads to identify those responsible.

It was very heartening, therefore, to hold a very successful Easter Saturday children’s event at the end of this episode – a well-needed fillip for all of us involved in the Challis Garden. It was a reassuring day and it reminded us why we contribute so much time to the Trust and to see the great pleasure it gives to visitors. One happy visitor wrote in to say “Aged 3 to 70+ we had a great time in a relaxed, happy and safe atmosphere, enjoying sunshine, refreshments and the children’s activities. Everyone’s efforts were much appreciated.” Well spoken indeed!

We thank everyone who attended for their support and loyalty. In future, any trespassers will be well and truly composted!

The weather so far this year has been very unpredictable, swinging from mini-heatwaves to prolonged cool spells, and very little rain to be seen. The ground is still very dry, so we are having to spend a lot of time watering. Good that we replaced our bore-hole pump last year! The garden team are raising large numbers of bedding plants – geraniums, begonias, zinnias, rudbeckias – to fill out the main summer beds. Despite the inclement weather, we look forward to full colourful herbaceous borders this summer. The local wildlife is thriving in the garden, with many butterflies and bees to be seen, and lots of birdsong from resident blackcaps, thrushes, finches, wrens and goldcrests. Delightful!

Unfortunately, our annual anniversary fete falls too late in May to get a mention in this issue. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the formal opening of the garden on 17th May 2009. In addition to the main attractions of Sawston Steel Band and Cambridge Flower Club, more stalls and stands are planned this year. Weather permitting, we hope for a good turnout again.

Two further events to look forward to in June and July. Firstly, we are again opening the garden for the afternoon of 16th June in memory of Jo Cox MP. This is now a nationwide event, encouraging people to spend time and share a meal together. Do come along, bring family and friends for a picnic in the garden (sorry, no barbecues). There will be garden games available for children (and older ones!) and plenty of space to relax or let off steam.
The Challis Garden is participating again in the National Garden Scheme along with two other Sawston gardens on Sunday 7th July. There will be plants for sale on the day and the house and museum will also be open. Sweet Tea café will be opening specially, in support of the event, serving cream teas and other treats on the day. What nicer way to relax and enjoy a garden on a Sunday afternoon?

In the Mary Challis house, the museum and archive team are pressing on with sorting and cataloguing our collections. The museum is very well supported, with volunteers working in two teams. At present, one is focusing on cataloguing the many photograph and postcard albums. The other is sorting and cataloguing the collection of artefacts acquired mainly by the Village History Society. New exhibitions are being planned, including a possible one about cooperative societies in Sawston; the first was set up by local businesses in 1867. With the return of the Co-op to the village, it’s appropriate to have their input but they are proving slow to respond to requests for information.

Next year sees the 50th anniversary of Sawston Scene (yes, it really has been going for that long!) which is another worthwhile subject for an exhibition. We are very happy to receive suggestions for possible new exhibitions; if readers have any ideas, please do get in touch. Please note that the museum and archives are open to the public every Tuesday morning 10am to 12 noon, and on Saturday mornings by appointment only. Larger groups can arrange a visit to the house at other times by making a booking. Mike Redshaw

Published in the June–July 2019 issue of Sawston Scene

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March 2019

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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

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January 2019

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It’s always good to reflect on the year past at the start of a new year. Last year proved to be a busy one. We held ten public events during the course of the year and hosted twelve booked visits and private functions (from garden clubs, horticultural societies, Brownies and other village groups). The garden team are becoming increasingly adept and efficient at putting up and taking down the marquee, party tents and gazebos used on these occasions! Our thanks to everyone who supported these events, and of course to the many volunteers that help in the garden, stewarding at events or serving refreshments. We could still use more help to ensure we can continue to hold regular events and maintain the garden to a good standard. If you are interested, please contact us or drop into the garden on one of our regular open mornings to see what we do.
The schedule of events for 2019 is shown on the inside cover of this issue. Do please make a note of these in your diaries. All events will be advertised in the Sawston Scene Diary. This year is the tenth anniversary of the formal opening of the garden, so we plan to have a special Anniversary Fete this year. Look out for details in due course.
Further good progress was made last year to our infrastructure and buildings. In the garden, internal footpaths were resurfaced, bore-hole equipment replaced and the ‘pink shed’ demolished. Repairs to the car park were carried out and essential maintenance undertaken on our neighbouring property, greatly improving the integrity and appearance of the passageway to the car park. Many thanks, as ever, to our builders Ray and Graham for their support and skilled workmanship.
The final phase of interior work was completed in the Challis house, allowing us to transfer the village archives from the Parish Council office and to formally open the Challis Museum and Archives. This is an important milestone for the trust and a great asset for the local community. If you haven’t been already, do drop in on a Tuesday morning to have a look at the permanent exhibition rooms and perhaps to browse the library and archives. Anyone wishing to do more serious research on Sawston village history can arrange to visit the archives on a Saturday morning by appointment.
The major project for 2019 is to construct a replacement building where the ‘pink shed’ stood. This is primarily to accommodate a garden museum where we can display old gardening equipment and associated artefacts.
Gardening work is on schedule. The herbaceous beds and individual shrubs have been weeded, cut back, pruned and mulched to give them a good start for the forthcoming season. We are currently focused on reducing heavy growth of ivy in parts of the garden and removing unwanted Prunus suckers. Hard work, but certainly keeps us warm on cold mornings! A few more sycamores will be removed this winter, to reduce excessive shade, allowing ground flora and under-storey shrubs to flourish. A start will also be made on remedial work to shorten overhanging walnut branches in one area.
At the time of writing in mid-January, the unseasonably mild weather is encouraging early displays of spring flowers. Snowdrops, aconites and the odd crocus are already showing and will continue to flower through February and March. Hopefully, there will be a true wintry cold spell to hold back the spring growth and help suppress garden pests, especially slugs and aphids. In the winter/spring walk, Mahonias, sweet box (Sarcococca confusa), shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera) and Viburnum fragrans give off wonderful fragrances on sunny mornings. The bright red, yellow, orange and green stems of the dogwoods are showing well and set off the under-planted spring bulbs. Well worth a stroll around in the coming months. Mike Redshaw

Published in February–March 2019 Sawston Scene

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Ray Reeve 1943–2018

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Ray Reeve in the Challis GardenRosemary Phillips, Chair of the Challis Trust, pays tribute to a man who made a huge contribution to its work…

Ray was brought up in Walcot Green on the outskirts of Diss. Nearby was a farm and from a young age he loved helping out, working with all the animals and especially with Captain and Major, the two Shire horses. After leaving school he got a job on Young’s Farm in Diss while studying at Easton College of Agriculture, near Norwich. He joined Diss Rugby Club and played alongside his brother Dennis but after incurring a broken shoulder during a match, he decided rugby was not for him!

Ray then moved to Pampisford to work as a pig man at Rectory Farm. He retained a lifelong respect for pigs who he said were far more intelligent than us humans. He had a special favourite at Wimpole Hall – a large Tamworth sow called Phyllis. He would talk to this lovely creature in ‘pig speak’ and she would talk back; and this carried on with any pig he came in contact with throughout his life.

After leaving Rectory Farm and working for a spell at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, he spent the rest of his working life at the National Seed Development Organisation, which later became the Plant Breeding Institute.

Ray met his wife Sue while working in Pampisford and they married at St John the Baptist Church there in 1967. They had two daughters – Nichola and Caroline. While the girls were still young, Ray and Sue helped to set up Sawston’s Saturday Morning Music Workshop. Having taught himself to play the clarinet as a child, Ray was particularly keen to impart his enthusiasm for the instrument to other children.

He was also a true cricket fan, and his daughters have vivid memories every summer of ‘Test Match Special’ constantly on the radio in the background. There would be a great deal of comment from Ray about how well or badly we were doing and not agreeing with a word Geoffrey Boycott said…

Once the girls had left home, Ray and Sue found a love of travel to far-flung places; on one holiday to America, they visited New Orleans where Ray realised his dream of going to a ‘gig’ in the historic Preservation Hall – the spiritual home of jazz.

Having taken early retirement at fifty-seven, Ray was always on hand to help out his daughters, arriving at their houses with a set of blue overalls (he had at least twenty pairs), gloves and secateurs. He put up greenhouses, sheds and summer houses, pruned apple trees, chopped wood, mowed lawns and planted vegetable patches.

Ray and Sue ReeveNever ones to pass on a horticultural challenge, Ray and Sue, now in their early sixties, volunteered to help with the rescue of Sawston’s newly acquired Challis Garden. It had been left in trust to the village when the owner Mary Challis died in 2006, and after many years of neglect was completely overgrown and full of derelict buildings. By 2007, it was in need of some serious attention and a group of intrepid enthusiasts began the challenging work of restoration. Ray and Sue were instrumental in getting those first volunteers together for what would prove to be a daunting task.

Ray was always referred to as ‘Head Gardener’. I don’t know if this title was formally ordained, or if it simply came about as Ray’s knowledge and leadership became apparent. But it was clearly the right title to give him due to his evident skills and enthusiasm. He led by example and with a quiet, calm demeanour. There was never any fuss nor harsh words and rarely any sign of impatience or disapproval. He was a joy to work with – a great example to us all.

He always had time for visitors to the garden, whether answering questions, giving advice or just passing the time of day. When Sue died unexpectedly in 2012, it was as if Ray had been cut in half; they had been such a close and loving couple. He found it hard to cope without her. But he was amazing. He kept his two allotments going and immersed himself in the Challis Garden, continuing what they had begun together. In this work, he found great solace and peace.

When he learnt about his terminal illness, there was no fuss or drama, just a straight acceptance of his condition. He quickly decided that he didn’t want to have any treatment – he didn’t see the point – and he got on with tidying up his domestic affairs, giving up his allotments and bringing his huge collection of garden tools down to the Challis Garden. He was still very involved right up to the annual Horticultural Show in early September this year, manning the plant stand, as he always had done.

It was a great privilege to know Ray and his death is a huge loss both to his family and to the Challis Trust, to whom he selflessly gave so many years. Without his commitment, it would not be the wonderful, tranquil oasis it is today, a living lasting tribute to the amazing, irreplaceable, Ray Reeve. 

Published in December 2018–January 2019 Sawston Scene

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November 2018

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Apple DayThere has been plenty to enjoy in the garden in recent weeks, with good autumn colours developing on trees and shrubs, and some perennials and bedding plants persisting well into November. However, the first frosts in late October put paid to the most sensitive plants, notably dahlias, nasturtiums and begonias.

The garden team are busy now tidying up the herbaceous beds in preparation for next year – lots of weeding, pruning, dividing and mulching to be done. Leaves are now dropping regularly; most of these are picked up by our sit-on mower and collected in two large wire ‘cages’ to produce leaf mould for next year. We have just had our annual bonfire, close to Guy Fawkes Night, to burn non-compostable material collected over the course of the year.

We could still use some more help in the garden. If you have spare time on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday mornings, you are very welcome to join our garden team and help with a range of tasks.

Our vegetable beds and fruit trees performed well, considering the rather extreme weather this year. The last of the apples and summer vegetables have been picked and sold or processed into jams, chutneys and relishes. Our thanks to Andy Jackson for keeping us supplied with a range of preserves throughout the year. His courgette relish is always in demand!

Our bees have not been so active this year, with just one hive coming through the harsh winter and spring weather. Although they appeared active through the hot, dry period, there was clearly not much nectar available, and so did not build up adequate honey stores during the main season. However, they were very active in September and October, bringing in lots of ivy nectar and pollen, so there may be a small surplus of honey to extract.

The garden hosted two very successful events in October. The Apple Day was well attended, blessed with some good autumn sunshine. Large quantities of apples were processed into juice, with has proved very popular with visitors. There are still a few bottles left if you haven’t tried some yet! Thanks to everyone who brought their apples along and to the volunteers for helping out on the day. The event was perhaps a little late in the season for the main crop of dessert apples. It is planned to hold it earlier next year, which should produce a greater mix of varieties for juicing. The generous grants from SCDC’s Community Chest and Cambridge University Rag Appeal to purchase the equipment are gratefully acknowledged.

Our popular Spooky Saturday was again very well attended, with plenty of activities to entertain lots of children on a rather cold morning. Some very impressive pumpkin-carving and face-painting was on show! Thanks again to all the visitors and volunteers for making this event so successful.

The Christmas wreath-making workshop will be held on Saturday 1st December in the Long Barn in the garden. Tuition will be given and all materials provided, plus mulled wine and mince pies. What’s not to like! Book a place to make your own wreaths. Details are in the Diary and on posters in the High Street.

Our museum volunteers are making good progress sorting and archiving the large volume of material in the house. Additional material is still coming in, with a batch from the Parish Church archives, mostly accounts and invoices. The two storage rooms on the second floor are almost full and attention is now being given to sorting out their contents. A number of photographs, paintings and posters in the collection have been re-framed. Some of these will be hung in the permanent exhibition rooms to refresh the wall displays.

Building work along the passage to the car park continues, effecting necessary repairs to the exterior walls, windows and rainwater goods in the adjoining property. Scaffolding will remain in place until work is completed, but this does not impede access for visitors to the garden or museum. Parking is available to the rear of Tucker Gardner for the time being.

Visitors will see that the ‘infamous’ Pink Shed has now been demolished, as it had become hazardous. This will be replaced by a new building to house a garden museum and shop. This is a very exciting project for us, made possible by a generous anonymous donation. It is planned to start work on the new building in the New Year. Mike Redshaw

Published in December 2018–January 2019 Sawston Scene

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