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I last saw John Cushnie in mid-December recording a special Christmas edition of Gardeners' Question Time (GQT) at The Museum of Gardening History in Lambeth Palace.

He was well - and in full flow. He was a handsome man and a very big presence. There was no sign at all of anything wrong - so his death on New Year's Eve comes as a very big and unwelcome shock.

GQT has an alchemy. It is not merely a programme of gardening experts about trees and plants. That is the core of the matter - but it is also about character and wit. And John Cushnie had those qualities in abundance. He did not do vanilla. His answers - delivered in that instantly recognisable Northern Ireland brogue - were, of course, always informed - but they were laced with acerbic wit and warmth. He spread joy during the programme recordings - a joy which was transmitted to the audience at home.

And thus it was during that particular recording. John was asked to sum up the 2009 gardening weather in Northern Ireland. He immediately went into a fluent riff about the unfortunate timing of the hot spells, wet spells and dry spells. Everything had come at precisely the wrong moment. Potatoes had been a calamity - but he had managed to grow a few things successfully even so. As per normal everyone was laughing.

Then someone from the audience produced a sample in a plastic bag of a plant that she wanted to preserve. John was apoplectic - about the state of the plant - and his advice was trenchant - along the lines of "Get rid of it - now. Entirely. Forever. Awful." This was a common Cushnie response to a plant specimen - or even genus - that aroused his ire. And there were quite a few of those...

All the banter ('crack' seems the right word for John) was never at the expense of the knowledge. He knew a tremendous amount about a tremendous amount of horticultural life and that showed too.

We will miss him a great deal.

Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4

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  • Comment number 26. Posted by rightwhino

    on 19 Feb 2010 15:33

    Once again listening to GQ and enjoying it, but am missing John Cushnies
    voice and his answer's so very much.
    Today a lady asked what she should say to her husband when he tells her off for buying so many Gardening Books, I would have loved to have heard John's reply.
    Miss him so much.

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  • Comment number 25. Posted by sybilsguru

    on 12 Feb 2010 15:13

    Very sad about John's passing. Friday afternoons won't be quite the same again. I trust he's been put on the compost! Were it not probably illegal, that's where I'd like to end up, feeding the garden.

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  • Comment number 24. Posted by Everything Stops 4 Tea

    on 19 Jan 2010 20:40

    I'll be working on a new area of the garden this year and have space for several trees. Up until now, I'd been undecided as to what to plant, but the death of John Cushnie has made the decision for me.

    I've ordered three Betula jacquemontii for planting this coming autumn in memory of John, as he'd often said that this was one of his favourite trees. John was someone I'd never met, but whose voice was as familiar as any friend or family member. Thank you, John for the invaluable advice ... and the laughter.

    Flo Whitaker

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  • Comment number 23. Posted by PGoodlad

    on 12 Jan 2010 20:17

    In my kitchen, I'm nurturing an aloe cutting that I 'harvested' from Risco Bello, a private garden on Tenerife at the end of November during the GW cruise that John Cushnie was leading. Typically John both chided me for taking it, but also wanted to get it off me as it was 'a very good specimen'. He, of course, had encouraged us to collect such souvenirs, and honestly, it was just lying on the ground! It's doing very well, and every time I look at it, I'm reminded of John and his wicked spirit.

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by judith simpson

    on 11 Jan 2010 14:23

    I shall miss John Cushie for his wit and humour that he brought to Gardener's Question Time . He made me laugh out loud , whilst listening in my kitchen or garden , with his comments , regarding the plants and trees that were pass their best , by advising the questioner to dig it up and buy a new one . I loved the program when he was on it , and I shall miss him . He was a great guy .I had the privilege of meeting him at the first open day in Sparshatt and he was all that I expected . A down to earth , knowlegable person with a great sense of humour . My condolences go out to his family . He will be missed .

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Joshmerryweather

    on 11 Jan 2010 13:04

    I was no particular fan of John Cushnie as i find the north of ireland accent irritating, but of course his untimely death in the prime of life is a very sad occasion. I was listening to GQT on sunday and was reminded that John hated all things green, not just the brussell sprout. I wonder if this was one of the reasons for his early death. As it is for so many people of scots descent, wherever they may live....? RIP

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by svam

    on 10 Jan 2010 15:42

    I was so shocked and saddend to hear of the death of John Cushnie. Whenever he was on GQT he made me chuckle - because he was so honest about all gardening queeries. He didn't mince words about his thoughts on useless plants - and us useless gardeners.I'll miss his Co.Down lilt and great wit. My condolence to his family and friends. svam x

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by BARBARA WAIN

    on 10 Jan 2010 14:59

    Such a shock today to hear of the loss of John Cushnie Sundays programme will never be quite the same

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by Christine Linley

    on 9 Jan 2010 10:32

    Last Saturday I opened the paper to find both a list of Johns New Years Resolutions and his Obituary, I was in a total state of shock. John was a unique person, always ready to tell the truth in spite of the consequences. I will miss him very much and would like to give my condolences to his family.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by richard watkins

    on 4 Jan 2010 14:02

    What a terrible shock it was to hear of the passing of john cushnie such a warm hearted intelligent man who always brought a touch of humour to proceedings on GQT. A tragic year for gardeners who lost geof in march and now john on the last day of the year, my deepest sympathies to his family.

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