Tim Bushe: architect and hedge cutter

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 19 seconds

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Meet Tim Bushe the architect with an unusual ability to turn privet, box and yew hedges into works of art. Interview by Nicola Baird

Tim Bushe with his trainee guide dog puppy, Renee.

Tim Bushe with his trainee guide dog puppy, Renee.

Tim Bushe, latte in hand, trainee guide dog lying quietly by his feet in Clissold Park keeps finding humour in his situation – the fact that most people now know him as the hedge cutter of Highbury. “I’m appropriately named for hedgecutting,” he points out, “but if you look for me on the internet it’s all hedgecutting, not my image as a serious architect.”

That’s a shame as Tim is the quintessential architect. He has taught at The Bartlett Institute, part of UCL http://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/architecture; set up his own Islington architectural practice, Tim Bushe Associates, first at York Road and then at St Alban’s Place, behind the Screen on the Green cinema next door to Angus Deayton “We saw all the scripts for Have I got News for You in the bins”. Now he runs Walker Bushe Architects, with his partner former student Richard Walker, from an office on Highbury Fields. And Tim’s got a motorbike that can go at 154 mph parked outside his house (architects always seem to have motorbikes).

Tim Bushe: "I thought elephants because it is a very big hedge."

Tim Bushe: “I thought elephants because it is a very big hedge.”

Of course you may know Tim’s architecture already – Wagamama at Angel and Fleet Street; the Laboratory Spa & Health Club by Alexandra Palace, or have visited Bierodrome when it was open on Upper Street. But many people know his infamous elephant hedge on Ambler Road (see pic) or the train hedge outside his Balfour Road home. Tim’s also cut hedges locally to look like cats, knots, trains, owls, a large chicken (Penn Road), a cannon and is currently creating two Chinese dragons on Finsbury Park Road.

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“I spent seven years at art college (he’s a Muswell Hill lad who went to Hornsey College of Art) and in the first four years I was painting, doing graphic design, technical illustration and stained glass windows. I even made a statue at the Tottenham church of St Pauls that unfortunately looks more like Karl Marx.

“Hedge cutting started as a bit of a joke,” he says. “My wife Philippa wanted me to do a cat, but a train seemed easier. Then I noticed that cutting hedges has a very nice positive effect on the locality. It’s also a way for Tim, who’ll be 60 this year, to help raise £5,000 for the charity Hft that supports his youngest sister, Martha, who has Down’s Syndrome. He suggests £250 for a cut and £75 for each of the next three shapings. After that you should be able to keep your hedge suitably trimmed… See how to donate here http://www.justgiving.com/tim-bushe

tim bushe_cat“I was doing a cat at the weekend and cars were almost crashing into each other as people stopped to look at the hedges. It’s like performance art… I wonder if I should put a charity box down to collect as I cut?”

If you’ve seen Tim at work – in 2012 he did a public hedge cutting at Ambler Street during the Chelsea Fringe, and is due to appear again on Sunday 2 June 2013 – you’ll know he makes it look easy. Blink and you miss what his hedge trimmer (a cheap Black & Decker model) is creating.

Anyone tempted to have this Tim Bushe design clipped into their hedge?

Anyone tempted to have this Tim Bushe design clipped into their hedge?

“You need to think three-dimensionally,” he says admitting most of the designs are done on a whim, although he’d “like to do a Loch Ness monster (see sketch). We need to explain this speed to our architecture clients too: it’s like the Whistler Syndrome. [Holker: “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?” Whistler: “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”]

As more people see  Tim’s hedges and want their own, he is kept busier, especially in early summer. “I wanted an apprentice but when my neighbour Mickey fell off a ladder cutting his privet hedge I offered to make his hedge into something interesting. Now he’s going to help the charity by offering to do the boring bit – sweeping up the hedge clippings.”

Out and about in Islington

“I like Wagamama – we wanted to fit a noodle-like ceiling but in the end introduced an acoustic ceiling that’s now standard for all Wagamama restaurants. The family – Philippa and he have three grown-up children Bryony, 25 who is artist in residence at De Montfort University, Felix, 23 who is in his first year of architecture at London Met but in his second sabbatical year trying to make it as a rock star with the bands The Wireless and Zen Arcade; and Laurence, 21 who is studying History at Warwick University – like eating together at Jamie’s Italian http://www.jamieoliver.com/italian/islington. I also like going to The Little Angel Puppet Theatre.” http://www.littleangeltheatre.com/lat/.

Being pointed out as the hedge cutter of Highbury still makes Tim laugh, but a more recent mix-up came about because he and Philippa (they met at art college) help train guide dog puppies. “I got a blind person’s discount to go into Henry Moore Foundation near Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, because I was with the dog and when I went to pay my reactor-glass lenses had gone very dark.”

Right now the couple are on their second puppy trainee, eight-month-old Renee, a yellow Labrador who will be with them until November. This seems like a brilliant way of having a part-time dog with a special access-all-areas pass from cafes to shops.

She’s a very cultured dog,” Tim says with a grin. “She’s been to the Tate Modern – everyone looks at the dog and not what’s on the wall – and most recently the Bowie exhibition at the V&A. ” Then he points out the big glitch: “but having a guide dog puppy means someone can’t work, because you can’t leave the dog alone for more than three hours at a time. That’s a big donation to the Guide Dogs.”

Here’s hoping the topiary spectaculars we can enjoy locally may inspire you to make a similarly generous donation to Tim Bushe’s hedge fund. Or maybe even have a go yourself…

Book or donate to the hedge fund at justgiving.com/tim-bushe. See the feature in the Daily Telegraph, here, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/9551112/Hedges-to-marvel-at-get-the-street-in-shape.html

More architecture info at http://www.walkerbushe.co.uk/

You can rent Tim’s own-designed “upside down “house in Sussex – where there’s nothing to disturb you but birdsong through the Modern House website.

Over to you

What made you move to Islington or get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to feel safe, make friends or something to be proud about? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.