Tim Bushe, co-director of WalkerBushe Architects, trades a pencil for a pair of secateurs
Four years ago, Tim Bushe’s wife Philippa asked her husband to turn his architectural skills to sculpting the hedge outside their house in North London into the shape of a cat. A steam train, he thought, was less time consuming and more achievable and the result is a characterful Thomas the Tank Engine chugging out from his front door.
Following the train’s success, he knocked up a cat for a neighbour, then sculpted some elephants, and ‘although it started as amusement for my wife and kids it seems to have taken on a life of its own,’ says Bushe. ‘I have many more requests for hedges than I have time to contemplate at the moment.’
The joy of topiary is something of a mystery, even to an architect whose surname suggests that he was born to cut hedges. ‘I still don’t fully understand why odd shaped hedges seem so attractive to so many different people,’ he says, ‘it’s an activity that seems to cross all cultural divides and age groups. My biggest fans seem to be taxi drivers and white van drivers.’
Bushe believes that ‘topiary in its most interesting and quirky form, can have a beneficial transformative effect on urban streets.’ Though, ‘it’s not in the same league as good architecture’s ability to transform lives, it can certainly sit alongside and contribute positively to the overall townscape.’
It’s not the only thing his work and play have in common. Architecture and topiary both have a long gestation period. From planting the hedge to the fourth or fifth cut could be twenty years depending on the type and shape, and of course maintenance is key. But ‘unlike architecture,’ says Bushe, topiary is ‘a very direct expressive medium, akin to performance art.’
His approach is fairly gung-ho, shunning frames and supports ‘so the hedge tends to dictate what’s possible in most cases.’ Nor does Bushe care much for fiddly details: ‘partly through laziness and partly because the topiary shapes always look better when they are over-scale and simplified.’
Bushe is now employing his skill to raise money for Hft, a national charity providing local support for people with learning disabilities and their families. Bushe’s own sister Martha was born with Downs Sydrome, and the charity have looked after her for years. In his efforts to raise £10,000, Bushe suggests a donation of £200 for the first hedge design and major shaping cut and £75 for subsequent trims and shaping.
Although topiary remains a pastime for Bushe, he has the ambition of working on 'a very large Yew hedge somewhere where it would have really big architectural impact.'
He adds: 'It would have to be somewhere public as an important part of the deal for me is that they are done for everyone to enjoy.’