Ever spotted a topiary elephant in north London? It’s probably the work of the aptly named Tim Bushe, who’s spent seven years cutting suburban hedges into fantastic sculptures…
‘About seven years ago, my wife Philippa asked me to cut our front hedge into the shape of a cat. I’ve worked as an architect for 30 years, but I’d never done anything that ambitious with my hedge trimmer, so in the end I just turned it into a cylinder. But then our neighbour fell off his ladder and knocked himself out while cutting his hedge. Philippa went over to help him and told him: “You should let my husband do it.” So I did, and this time I cut the cat she wanted.
Then a local gardener mentioned that she had an enormous hedge in Finsbury Park, on the corner of Ambler and Romilly Roads. The hedge was about 15 feet high and the garden behind it was full of needles: people had been shooting up in it. It was pretty unpleasant, but I looked at it, and it seemed to me that it could become a herd of elephants. So that’s what it became.
The impact was amazing. I couldn’t go back there without people thanking me. Some parents bring their children from miles away to see the elephants. Even the Arsenal fans walking past it on their way to matches are very deferential.
These days I maintain about 20 hedges, mostly privet. The good thing about privet is it is very fast growing, so mistakes can be rectified. The downside is it needs to be cut three times a year. At this time of year my heart sinks slightly, because I know they are all going to start growing again.
Most people don’t understand how I can possibly do it, especially in my current state. I had a motorbike accident just after Christmas and ended up breaking three vertebrae, so I’m training people up to cut hedges under my direction.
The hedge sculptures take about three or four years to properly form their shape. I mainly cut animals – there are two very large fish in Canonbury – but I’ve also started doing figures. Last year I started a Henry Moore reclining nude in Holloway, but it’s headless at the moment and the boobs are in the wrong place. I’m also working on a giant resting head in the style of Ron Mueck.
For me, it is important that the hedges I cut are in urban locations and front gardens, available for everyone to see. Hedges are more effective at absorbing pollution than trees, and I like to raise awareness of endangered animals too. I’m tempted to do a little herd of rhinos next, to remind people what glorious creatures they are.
When I started cutting hedges I was just messing about, but over time I realised the huge positive impact they have on a neighbourhood. Kids like them; trendies from Shoreditch like them; builders are always sticking their heads out of their vans and saying how much they love them. I have this little fantasy that if people across London sculpted their hedges, it would cheer everyone up. I’ve also started trimming to raise money for the charity HFT, which looks after my sister Martha, who has Down Syndrome.
In February 2017, my wife Philippa died of breast cancer. She was a local art teacher and a force of creativity. When she encouraged me to cut the cat hedge, I don’t think she realised I was going to turn it into a career, but she secretly liked the attention it got. When she was ill, she could sit in the living room and look at the cats. The hedges are her legacy, really.’ Interview by Julia Rampen
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