John Challis recounts his arrival in Herefordshire and why he and his wife, Carol, decided to buy Wigmore Abbey. Arriving there in the late ’90s, they threw themselves into the task of restoring the abbot’s lodging – the only habitable part remaining of what had once been a great monastery.
They always had an interest in gardening and once they’d got on top of the house restoration, they went out to have a proper look at the land around them, where they uncovered extensive gardens that were badly neglected and overgrown. John and Carol soon found that they had to strip everything back, and start again with a more or less clean palette on which to create their new garden.
Their activity was interrupted when the BBC proposed that Wigmore Abbey would be the perfect location for the Only Fools & Horses spin-off, The Green Green Grass. Delighted with the prospect of not having to drive to work, John and his former OFAH co-star, Sue Holderness, quickly recreated Boycie and Marlene as the out of place country ‘squires’ in a show that ran for four series.
Since then, John and Carol persevered with the task of recreating the gardens reaching a point where visitors have come from far afield to see it. It was even chosen to be featured on one of Alan Titchmarsh’s Chelsea Flower Show programmes. Wigmore Abbey, The Treasure of Mortimer is a charming, personal book, lavishly illustrated with photos of the interior and the gardens through the seasons, taken by renowned photographer, Alex Ramsay