Sel­fridges’ top­i­ary dis­play

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Cover Story -

You might be feel­ing all shopped out at this time of year, but it’s worth vis­it­ing Ox­ford Street just to see Sel­fridges’ win­dows. The win­dows were “dressed” on Jan­uary 8 and the theme, which will last for seven weeks, is Bright Old Things – fea­tur­ing older peo­ple who have started do­ing some­thing new. One win­dow fea­tures a 3D gar­den­ing car­toon, the work of Tim ‘Trim’ Bushe. Tim stud­ied sculp­ture be­fore train­ing as an ar­chi­tect; he has be­come known for his cut­ting-edge work at the Lab­o­ra­tory Spa and Health Club at Alexan­dra Palace, Waga­mama and much more. He got into cut­ting ex­tra­or­di­nary hedges in London seven years ago. It is done purely in his spare time to raise money for two char­i­ties: Hft (for­merly the Home Farm Trust), where his sis­ter, who has Down’s syn­drome, is cared for; and Guide Dogs for the Blind (he is cur­rently hom­ing two trainee guide dogs, Jess and Naomi). Sel­fridges ap­proached Tim. He, with 13 oth­ers, were each al­lot­ted a win­dow 5m wide, 3.5m deep and 4m high (16ft x11ft x13ft) – not far off the size of a small Chelsea gar­den, but (un­like Chelsea) with just a few nights to set up the en­tire piece. Tim had no par­tic­u­lar brief from Sel­fridges and its bud­get was con­sid­er­ably smaller than for a Chelsea gar­den. He de­cided to go for a hu­mor­ous top­i­ary car­toon, which con­sists of a black-and-white line draw­ing of a Tu­dor-style house in the back­ground, with the front wall in the fore­ground em­bel­lished by two re­clin­ing top­i­ary cats. A third cat is re­act­ing with arched back at the ap­pear­ance of a guide dog trot­ting along the pave­ment. All is two di­men­sional, ex­cept for the three cats, which are dark green and 3D. In the au­tumn, I re­ceived an email from Tim ask­ing where to buy top­i­ary, but he quickly re­alised, given bud­get and time lim­i­ta­tions, that the real thing would not be pos­si­ble and would re­strict his artis­tic en­deav­ours. In­stead, li­ais­ing with Propa­bil­ity (propa­bil­ity., which con­structed the dis­play, he went for carved poly­styrene forms and then laid ar­ti­fi­cial box fo­liage (from bloomin­gar­ti­fi­cial. over it. It comes in a mat­ting for­mat in squares 25cmx25cm/10in­x10in (£2.85 each), which can then be clipped to­gether and is fine for out­side use. You of­ten see balls, geo­met­ric shapes and other top­i­ary forms made like this on bal­conies in London. Tim’s works of ele­phants, gruffa­los, steam trains and much more are gain­ing renown in London as peo­ple track him down and call him in to trans­form their hedges. His col­leagues at work see “bor­ing” hedges that need the “Tim treat­ment” and get him in­volved. One such is over­looked by their of­fice, which they are de­ter­mined he should trans­form. Th­ese liv­ing sculp­tures not only cre­ate an un­for­get­table land­mark but also seem to pull the com­mu­nity to­gether. Peo­ple come and help sweep up, chat and sug­gest other hedges. The only prob­lem is that this does tend to make the job take longer. Talk­ing of time, Tim is amaz­ingly speedy. He once went to a top­i­ary demon­stra­tion where a skilled topi­arist demon­strated the tech­niques in­volved us­ing hand tools. “Wow,” he thought, “I would spend one minute do­ing what the ex­perts take half an hour over with shears and se­ca­teurs.” With his sculp­tural back­ground, Tim be­lieves that to cre­ate strik­ing top­i­ary you need to be bold, not ten­ta­tive. When he starts work on a hedge, he usu­ally does a sketch of the pro­posed idea. Then he at­tacks the hedge with a Stihl 45cm (18in) elec­tric hedge cut­ter. The new cre­ation looks like the fin­ished ver­sion almost in­stantly, so the fa­mous ele­phants “mirac­u­lously” ap­peared although they were brown and leaf­less in the first in­stance. “You must ‘get it’ the first time you cut it,” he says. New shoots sprout quickly, es­pe­cially with privet, which is his most common can­di­date. He has re­cently done a hippo in Tufnell Park; at its first show­ing, it dis­ap­pointed the owner as it had be­come a brown lump, but Tim is con­fi­dent that as the new growth emerges and it is more finely tuned, it will play beau­ti­fully to the au­di­ence. If any­one is look­ing for a vo­ca­tion, Tim would love an ap­pren­tice, some­one prefer­ably from a sculpt­ing back­ground. His work­load is in­creas­ing, as once he cre­ates the pieces he then has to main­tain them and, as we know with privet, that is a good cou­ple of cuts each year. I am a bit of a topia-holic and find it bril­liant to in­ject some of hu­mour into a gar­den. In my court­yard, I have three large (about 15m long by 3m wide, or 50ft x10ft) box “nests”, stuffed with 30 clipped birds. I have re­cently added a new one, which my mother gave me for Christ­mas. It is plonked in its po­si­tion in its pot which, be­ing raised up above the rest, as if perch­ing on a branch, makes it far more eye-catch­ing. I will re­move just the base of the pot to main­tain the height but en­able it to root through, then dis­guise the pot with a cou­ple of rooted box cut­tings. Yew top­i­ary seems to grow larger and faster than box, and I of­ten put this in large con­tain­ers, too, as it makes it more prom­i­nent. Yew hates be­ing con­tainer­ised, so for th­ese I al­ways re­move the pot base (us­ing a small disc cut­ter if ter­ra­cotta) and po­si­tion the pots where the plants can root through to the soil be­low. Re­cently I have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with Phillyrea. This is a slow­grow­ing ever­green that was popular in years gone by, but for some rea­son (prob­a­bly as it is not easy to prop­a­gate) it has gone out of fash­ion. It is a great plant for top­i­ary: dark green, tight fo­liage, glossy and supremely hardy. I bought about 100 rooted cut­tings of Phillyrea lat­i­fo­lia some years back and have been “play­ing” with them. It is also easy to trans­plant – a real virtue. Phillyrea angustifolia is a slightly lighter green, and also ex­cel­lent. Both tol­er­ate ex­po­sure, drought and highly al­ka­line soils. To con­tact Tim Bushe, call 020 7697 0707

Cut­ting hu­mour: ar­chi­tect Tim Bushe’s eye-catch­ing win­dow dis­play at Sel­fridges, part of the Bright Old Things se­ries, fea­tures hu­mor­ous top­i­ary set against line draw­ings of a Tu­dor-style house

Priv­ets on pa­rade: cloud­pruned Phillyrea angustifolia; Bushe gives hedges the ‘Tim treat­ment’ with a herd of ele­phants; the Bright Old Things cel­e­brate ma­ture tal­ent at Sel­fridges

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