WEEKEND: GARDENING: Artistic Approach to Natural Wildlife Haven; COMBINING THE ART OF HORTICULTURE WITH THE CREATIVITY OF SCULPTURE, DRAWING AND PAINTING

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Byline: ANN EVANS

ANN EVANS visits a naturally beautiful patch that doubles as an art gallery.

A LOVE of nature, an interest in wildlife and a fascination with art, have all helped make Julia and Tony Prior's Cutting Gallery a garden with a difference.

Leaving aside the house and basement art studio which they planned and built, their 1 1/2 -acre garden really is a work of art.

Forget formal borders, manicured lawns and exotic plants. Imagine instead an English woody hillside, with winding pathways and flights of steps cut into the earth leading you gently higher to where overhanging tree branches frame the wonderful views of the Warwickshire countryside.

Every now and then, among the Ash and Maple trees you may spot one of Julia's sculptures. Perhaps a startled deer, or a leopard slinking down a tree, maybe a gibbon midway through swinging from branch to branch, you might even catch sight of the demon hare.

As a skilled artist, and painter of pet portraits, Julia makes her garden sculptures from tree stumps, branches and creepers. She has a great love of horses and lots of her work portrays these and other animals.

The couple moved into their home in the 1980s and originally it was just a rising piece of overgrown land, a few old workshops, and right on their doorstep, the disused Rugby Cement quarry.

For the first couple of years they lived in a caravan with the first of their two sons until they had built their house.

"When we first looked at the garden it was just spoil heaps covered in bramble," says Julia who studied Fine Art at Bristol University. "It wasn't until we started to clear away the brambles and scrubby trees leaving the Ash and Maple, that we began to see the shape of the land, and how it rose and fell away. So then we were able to put in pathways and steps.

"The soil was basically cement, we've wheeled in barrowloads of soil and compost. We want to keep it wild, but we also like the contrast of having it a little bit formal near the house. …