Lynton Johnson believed gardeners should make more use of grasses, as seen in this grass garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin.
Lynton Johnson believed gardeners should make more use of grasses, as seen in this grass garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin.

Johannesburg - Lynton Johnson, a horticulturist, landscaping lecturer, national landscaping judge and the Talk Radio 702 radio gardening expert for 24 years died on 20 June, 2014 and recently the gardening industry paid tribute to him.

Born in Durban on June 19, 1944, he matriculated from Ixopo High School, KwaZulu-Natal in 1963.

He studied horticulture at the Pretoria Tech before moving to the Boksburg Parks Department (1964-1966).

After two years at Eckards Nursery, Bedfordview (1967-1969), Johnson joined Calder’s Nursery, also in Bedfordview, as a design landscaper (1969-1971).

In 1972, he joined the Kempton Park city council as chief horticulturist and remained there until 1995.

With 23 years of experience in gardening in frost zones on the East Rand, Johnson was an expert on gardening for winter.

“All gardens can be planted to anticipate the cold of the winter months, if you plan ahead”, he said. “Experiment a little. Don’t take it for granted that you are in a cold area and nothing will survive, unless it is bare and bleak in winter.

“Some of the plants will have a different look in winter but will still attract attention.

“For instance, the ornamental grasses add colour to a winter garden in shades of bronze, silver, maroon and red,” he said.

“Berried plants brighten up the winter months. Consider the crataegus, cotoneaster and heavenly bamboo. There is also a range of flowering plants, such as proteas, pin-cushions, ericas, flowering fruit trees such as quinces, citrus in a wide variety, almonds and apricots, not to mention spectacular exotics like camellias, azalea varieties or indigenous plants such as hypoestes and sutherlandia.

“The list goes on and one, if you are prepared to think and plan,” added Johnson.

Landscaping lecturer

During the era of the Rand Show (1984-2000), Johnson won 25 gold medals and was awarded the WAS floating trophy for landscape design and implementation three times.

Johnson went on to serve as a national examiner for landscape design at the Pretoria Technikon, and in 1986 became a lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology in landscape design and plant material studies.

One of his most famous lectures was on how to move trees in winter.

“The trick with tree transplanting is to not damage the bark as this causes die-back and opens infection sites.

“Another tip is to mark the north side of the tree before you move it, and keep the tree facing north when you replant it”, said Johnson.

“Why? Imagine that you could slice a tree through the centre. All the north facing cells of the tree are fat and happy.

“They have no idea about hardships. On the south side of the tree are all the cells that live in the cold shadows. They know about hardship.

“Place those north facing playboy cells into a new south facing home in the cold and dark… and your tree has a good chance of taking a nose dive,” he said.

“It is also more difficult to transplant an evergreen tree than a deciduous one. This is because the leaves require moisture and nutrients all year round in evergreen trees, whereas deciduous trees are dormant in winter – which means less chance of trauma.”

Judge and broadcaster

Between 1990 and 1998 Johnson served on the judging panel of the Institute of Landscape Architects of South Africaand the Interior Plantscapers Association of South Africa.

He was the national co-ordinating judge for the South African Landscapers Institute (Sali) Awards of Excellence (1988-1995) and was on the Gauteng Sali panel of judges (1988-2007).

Johnson became the gardening expert on Radio 702 Talk Radio in 1990 and over a period of 24 years answered thousands of gardening queries from loyal listeners until his last broadcast in late May this year.

A regular author of magazine features from 1965, Johnson was also the author of three books, The Wayward Lemon and the Garrulous Gnome (1996), New Life for Old Gardens (1998) and the A-Z of Gardening Maintenance (2005).

In 2008, the South African Green Industries Council inducted Johnson in their honours roll – the highest award that can be bestowed on a member of the green industries.

Johnson leaves three sons.


Now is a good time to plant trees with striking branching patterns or bark.

Conifers are useful windbreaks in very cold gardens. They are evergreen, frost hardy and need little maintenance, but do require regular watering throughout the year. Spread insecticide granules around the base to control cypress aphids.

Primulas make a dainty carpet of white and mauve under trees and between other shade-loving annuals. Primroses and primulas need their roots to be moist and cool and a mulch of coarse compost or leaf mould will help. White flowering primulas are useful for lightening shady spots.

Roses that are not doing well can be dug up and planted in fresh soil in a place where they receive six hours of sunshine a day. While it is too soon to begin pruning, particularly in those areas that experience very cold winters and heavy frosts, it is time to check pruning equipment in preparation for next month and to make sure these are sharpened. Blunt secateurs, loppers and pruning saws will bruise and damage plants and disease may result.

Saturday Star