The Reluctant Gardener

About Ghosts in the Garden

Still image, ‘The Garden Inspectorate’ Animated Short, Robbie Bushe 2022

Robbie Bushe, Garden in Aberdeenshire, circa 1972-3

Robbie Bushe RSA drawings painting art narrative edinburgh Scottish John Moores painting prize 2020

‘The Road Builder (Oxgangs)’ 2021, oil on canvas

I have always been a reluctant gardener, but love playing in the garden. As a child I would get lost in building and rebuilding mini road networks in the recently dug up potato beds, a precursor to my fascination for civil engineering, town planning and reconstruction. After years as an adult avoiding them, I now have my own garden I share with my partner Catharine in Edinburgh – and bitten off more than we can chew. One’s own garden calls out to you, it wants you to tend it, fix it, weed it, design it, nourish it, trim it, landscape it and if you do not, it lets you know how bad a gardener you are quickly. It keeps growing, leaves keep falling and the look of neglect keeps you awake at night.

So, in 2021, with the pandemic ongoing, I made a new drawing each day for 100 days of our garden to search for stories, contexts, and histories which I could develop both into paintings and animations. I completed the 100 drawings, each taking around half an hour, all directly observed from life from June to September 2021 on brown paper pages and fibre pens. Whether this activity enabled me to re-assess what needed doing in the garden or not, it made me look and imagine.

It was not until the late Spring of 2022 that I picked these up again developing figurative narratives, all set in our garden. Covid had already made our world smaller, and in a year when it looked like things were opening up, the energy crisis, Ukraine, Brexit and populism, all seemed to make my garden world all the more a sanctuary.

The stories in my paintings are mainly improvised as I work, fleeting memories, cultural tropes and from my working life within in Higher Education. I like to play with its ludicrous bureaucracy, audits, health and safety culture, ‘sharing good practice’ and treating everyone with ‘dignity and respect’. The short animation ‘The Garden Inspectorate’ mixes the anxiety of the visit by a team of auditors hell bent on sucking then life out of gardening, imposing doctrine by committee and not in the field. The work finishes with darker overtones reflecting our fears for the war in Europe as the world leaps from one existential crisis to another.