By R. Ward Harrison, Editor

July 21, 1950

A native of Charlton County and a lifelong resident of this community, Arnold Ralph Johnson was born in 1901 at the old Johnson family homestead about five miles west of Folkston where he grew up to manhood on his father’s farm near Bethel Church.

He is a son of the late Judge J.H. Johnson and Mrs. Annie Gay Johnson, the latter now being a resident of this city and is a member of a large family of brothers and sisters, most of whom reside in this community.




by Lois Barefoot Mays

May 11, 1994

Mr. Ralph Johnson died last week – the man who almost single-handedly made Folkston a Jewel of South Georgia each spring.

The camellias and azaleas around most of the homes here can be traced back to plants Mr. Ralph lovingly rooted and grew to a setting-out size in his nursery on South Third Street.

But then, what could you expect of a farm boy who moved to town to make his living? He had been raised on the old Johnson Homeplace west of Folkston in a family known for its close ties and outstandingly responsible citizens. And when the new highway came through, wiping out his restaurant and motel business, he did what his real calling was; he established a plant business so he could again be outside planting and growing crops. This time it was not the corn and sweet potatoes of the Johnson farm but it was every imaginable color of azaleas and many varieties of camellias. And instead of the calls of the crows and hawks of the farm in the background, he heard neighbors visiting and the busy sounds of small town traffic.

Clipping sprigs of camellias and azaleas by the thousands each late spring, he rooted them, and then transplanted them into large cans which eventually were planted around hundreds of Folkston homes. This wasn’t for him! I believe he would have done this if he had known he would never get paid for it.

Any daylight hour would find him watering, fertilizing, and just plain enjoying watching the new growth coming on his babies. One of his greatest fulfillments had to be when all these little sprigs had grown into small plants and exploded with spring-time blossoms underneath the screen canopy of his nursery.

A soft-spoken, gentle man, he would watch as customers picked out their favorites and he would smile as they reacted with astonishment at the low price he charged. Many times he added extra plants without cost. In his heart he knew this was what he was meant to be – the granddaddy of the flowers of spring for Folkston.

When selling one or one hundred plants, he made the customers promise they would dig a big hole and put in plenty of peat moss before they put their new plant in the ground. If he thought the plants would be mistreated, he wouldn’t sell them.

A new business owner in town came to buy some azaleas to set out next to his new concrete building. The plants would be in a very small space between the building and concrete parking lot. When the owner said he was going to put the azaleas in place without bothering with the peat moss, Mr. Ralph refused to sell him anything. He knew they would die in a short time and he couldn’t stand for that to happen.

There couldn’t have been a more beautiful place than Folkston, Ga. this spring – it was like a fairy land. But Mr. Ralph couldn’t enjoy it because he was ill.

The beauty of the camellias and azaleas this spring was like a benediction on the life of this wonderful human being was was loved by his family and cherished by his many friends.

At the cemetery Tuesday afternoon as we were saying farewell to him, there was no singing, only the hush of the quietness of sorrow. But the resident mocking bird began his flawless melody and sang through the sad service, a fitting tribute to this farm boy with a vision for Folkston.

Goodbye, Mr. Ralph, you are still in the hearts of your family and friends and we will see you and love you all over again every spring from now on.

--Lois B. Mays

Charlton  County Archives