John Cushnie, the landscape designer, garden writer and broadcaster, has died of a heart attack. He was thought to be in his late sixties.
He was probably best known as a panellist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time (GQT), where his brand of twinkly-eyed banter amused audiences around the UK for 15 years. However, his broadcasting career had spanned 39 years, beginning with Radio Ulster and latterly including appearances as the Hedge Man on Radio 2's The Chris Evans Show. He was also a regular contributor to The Daily Telegraph's gardening section.
Despite a lecturing schedule that took him around the country, he never strayed far from his real love, which, he always maintained, was getting his hands dirty in the garden. He ran a landscape-design business from his native Co Down until his death.
Cushnie's charm lay in his idiosyncratic combination of straightforward advice and unpredictable reaction. He was at his most entertaining when teasing some poor gardener who had come along to the show clutching a moribund twig, or with a question about pests or disease, but it was always done with humour and kindness. In an online chat with BBC Northern Ireland listeners, for example, he told a woman who complained about being bitten by raspberry beetles: "Forget your itch! What about the poor raspberries?"
Yesterday, Mark Damazer, the controller of BBC Radio 4, described Cushnie as a "towering figure" on GQT. He said: "He was, of course, a brilliantly knowledgeable panellist, but, much more than that, he laced every programme with warmth and joy. His trademark acerbic wit was deployed with terrific timing against a wide variety of plants he did not like – and it was always done with an affectionate twinkle in his eye, with an exuberance of voice and with unrelenting sympathy for fellow gardeners. His untimely death is a terrible shock and everyone on the programme and his millions of fans will miss him hugely."