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. Though, as a child I would get lost in building and rebuilding road networks amongst the dug-up potato beds, and improvising stories, characters and other worlds, against the backdrop our one-acre plot in rural Aberdeenshire.

Half a century later, my partner Catharine and I have our very own grown-up garden with mature trees, shrubs and everything. This one calls out. It says ‘tend me, fix me, weed me, nourish me and landscape me! My 10-year-old self-re-emerged; I’ve been landscaping, building paths, sheds, and raised beds while Catharine worked magic planning and planting.

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.

Through 2021, with working from home the new normal, I made a daily drawing for 100 days in our garden, searching for stories, characters, contexts, and histories. Each directly observed from life and taking around half an hour in fibre pens on brown paper. I next developed these drawings into backdrops for an improvised and deliberately clunky narrative animation about the trials of a family of gardeners pitted against a ‘Garden Inspectorate’ hellbent on closing their garden down, reflecting our present world as it leaps from one existential crisis to another.

It took a little longer to figure out how the garden drawings might be developed into painting. ‘The Road Builder’ a work from my 2021 Open Eye Gallery show, depicted my childhood-self getting lost in modelling roads amongst our raised bed gave me clues to stage and re-enact memories and ghosts from the past. These stories are mainly improvised as I work, fleeting memories, cultural tropes and from my working life. I like to play with the sometime ludicrous bureaucracy we all experience through audits, health and safety, online feedback and sharing good practice. These paintings are modest in size and often involved as they’re stating point a mechanic squaring up of one of the drawings onto a panel enabling me play with placing characters within to suggest a dramatic.  Most of the works are based around my current home in suburban south Edinburgh, several about a friends Victorian house in Finsbury Park and one using the funicular railway on Hastings East Hill in East Sussex as its starting point I make moodboards as a guide for colour, tone and light placement, applying richly mixed and saturated oil colour applied over pencil drawings, often using the smallest of brushes.

The ‘Ghosts in the Garden’ exhibition at The Open Eye Gallery in April 2024