The University of Cambridge opens its doors from 15 – 28 October for the 11th annual Festival ofIdeas which this year explores the theme of “extremes”. Celebrating the arts, humanities and social sciences, a packed programme of over 200 events includes talks, exhibitions, films, debates and performances held in galleries, museums and lecture theatres across the city. There’s something here for everyone, whether your interest lies in politics, history, the arts, literature or music or whether you just want to open your mind to new ideas and to question the status quo. Most events are free, some need to be booked in advance which you can do through the Festival website.
In this season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, don’t miss Apple Day at the stunning forty acre Cambridge University Botanic Garden on 21 October. It’s a wonderful celebration of all things appley with tastings, advice on cultivation, children’s activities, free guided garden tours and a marquee full of locally produced edibles. Come hungry as you’ll find a wide choice of refreshments from a variety of food trucks and the Garden Café. And if you have a mystery apple tree in your garden, you need the apple identification service. Just bring along a couple of apples with a leaf and stalk attached and who knows, you may bring a lost heritage variety to light!
Bridge the Gap is a circular walk through the beautiful gardens of six Cambridge colleges. Now in its 17th year and happening on Sunday 9 September, this event is a great day out for families, friends and groups of work colleagues, allowing entry to the grounds of these historic colleges, some of which are not normally open to the public, whilst raising money to support the valuable work of two local charities, Arthur Rank Hospice Charity and Romsey Mill.
I met with Georgina Forbes, Fundraiser for Romsey Mill, to find out more. The action starts and finishes on Parker’s Piece where you can register from 8.30am, have a coffee and some breakfast from one of the food trucks as well as collect a backpack filled with water, fruit and goodies provided by the event’s sponsors. You’ll also be given a brochure with a route map and information before heading out (there are three different waves of departures through the morning).
The route is approximately 5 miles long and takes in Emmanuel, Christ’s, Sidney Sussex and Trinity colleges before heading along the Backs to St Catherine’s and Pembroke colleges and then on to the Museum of Zoology which is celebrating its reopening.
There will be marshals to show you the way, Blue Badge guides in the colleges to answer your questions and the route is wheelchair and pushchair enabled. You’ll find music along the way (think brass, folk and jazz bands) and refreshments at St Catherine’s College. Back on Parker’s Piece, Cambridge 105 will be broadcasting from a 50 foot stage, there’ll be music courtesy of Cambridge City Brass and you might even want to join in the dancing with Cambridge Lindyhop. You’ll also find a soft play area for kids and various competitions happening plus that all important tea tent offering home made cake.
This year’s fundraising goal is £50,000. Thanks to the generosity of the event’s sponsors, all overheads are covered so 100% of your entry fee is shared equally between the two Cambridgeshire charities. Arthur Rank Hospice supports people who are living with a life-limiting illness and those who need end-of-life care. Romsey Mill is a Christian charity creating opportunities with young people, children and families, many of whom are facing significant challenges in their lives.
Around 130 volunteers make this event happen with many different roles available. If you’d like to join them, contact Tasha.Hills@arhc.org.uk for route volunteering and firstname.lastname@example.org for volunteering on Parker’s Piece.
To take part in Bridge the Gap, you simply pre-register on the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity website (see the link below) or you can turn up at Parker’s Piece and pay on the morning. Group tickets are available at discounted rates and children go free when accompanied by a paying adult.
Growing Spaces is a wonderful project which creates, plants and maintains edible gardens in the city which can be harvested by anybody …. anybody at all and the food is free!
The Growing Spaces team, run by Sandra Cortijo, plants these gardens in unloved and underused public spaces in Cambridge (having first received permission from the landowner!). There are currently six gardens dotted around the city – you can check out their locations on the website. “Each garden has its own story,” Sandra tells me. “They’re generally not high maintenance but they are regularly checked, so they’re kept healthy and tidy.”
If a volunteer can commit to giving some extra care during a growing season, the group will plant vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes and beans. If not, they’ll plant herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme alongside fruit bushes.
Growing Spaces gardens for and with the community. Volunteers supply seedlings and nurseries often donate plants while YMCA volunteers build frames for the raised beds. The team installs, fills and plants these tall raised beds on the same day. To make sure that their edible gardens thrive, they have perfected the “lasagna method” of filling the beds with layers of cardboard, branches, hay, paper, soil, dried leaves, grass cuttings and mulch. This creates a nutrient rich permaculture that decomposes over time and needs less watering. You’ll find full details of this “lasagna method” on the Growing Spaces website under the “Resources” tab.
The group organises cycle tours of its gardens, so people can see what’s growing and where. It also has a free gardening club where people of all ages get together to grow their own vegetables and herbs. The team runs a fresh produce swap and share stall at events like the Pumpkin Festival, giving everybody a chance to share their excess allotment or garden produce or just to come and choose some fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs for free.
Growing Spaces is part of Transition Cambridge, an organisation which “aims to help the city make the transition to ways of life that are more resilient in the face of rising energy prices and a changing climate”. A grant from the Council got the Growing Spaces group started and Sandra got involved in 2013. Growing up, Sandra had always gardened with her mother and grandparents at home in France but had then stopped. “I relearned gardening with this group,” Sandra says “and really, no knowledge is necessary. We try things out and see what works best.”
If you’d like to volunteer to plan and plant with the team or if you know of a space in the city that needs care, just email Sandra through the Growing Spaces website.
The old apple tree at the end of our garden was laden with fruit when we moved into our house two years ago. So much so that we put big bowls of the delicious, sweet apples at our gate for passers by to help themselves. But we had no idea what variety these apples were and would still be none the wiser if it were not for the Cambridge University Botanic Garden’s Apple day, a fabulous celebration of all things appley, which is happening again on Sunday 22 October.
There’s something for everyone at this event. Over two dozen varieties of locally grown apples will be available for tasting and you can buy your favourites. Experts will be on hand to advise you on apple cultivation – what to grow, how to plant and how to prune for a bumper crop. A marquee on the Main Lawn will be full of locally produced edibles and there will also be a wide choice of refreshments from a variety of food trucks and the Garden Cafe, which will offer plenty of apple themed dishes alongside its normal menu.
Experts from the East of England Apples and Orchards Project will offer an apple identification service so if you have a mystery tree in your garden, just bring along two or three apples, ideally with a leaf and stalk attached to help with identification. Who knows, you may bring a lost heritage variety to light!
Younger visitors will be able to get creative with craft activities led by local paper cut artist Vanessa Stone and Cambridge Sustainable Food. There will be mini gardens to visit and mini lawn mowers to play on plus live music on the Main Lawn as well as a performance from the Cambridge Morris Men. Tour guides will lead free specialist seasonal garden tours which you can sign up for on the day.
For Apple Day, you can book tickets in advance, either online or at the Ticket Office, the advantage being that you get fast track entry. But tickets will also be available on the day at The Ticket office and under 16s get in free! I can testify that the forty acre Botanic Garden, which is home to one of the region’s largest tree collections, is a magical place in every season, a really peaceful oasis in a busy city so for future visits, you might like to become a Friend of the Garden – membership offers you free access, regular updates and exclusive events.
And as for our mystery apple tree ….. the experts identified it as Laxton’s Superb, a late Victorian dessert apple dating back to 1897. It’s nice to think that we have our own little piece of appley heritage at the end of the garden!