I had to pick the flowers to photograph because I was too embarrassed to show the very poor foliage in its garden setting. R. augustinii is a lovely lilac, as close to blue as rhododendrons get. I think it is delightful in bloom, which is why we continue to give it garden space even though the plant itself leaves a lot to be desired in our conditions. We used to produce two different clones commercially for rhododendron collectors because it is highly prized. I planted several out at the time but I think this is the last one. It is much assailed by the bronze beetles which are attempting to eat it to death. Every leaf – and there aren’t that many of them – is badly notched. The beetle is worse in the shade but if we had this plant in full sun, it would likely up and die on us even faster.
It originates from the Chinese areas of Szechuan and Yunnan, along with southern Tibet where the climate will be both drier and colder in winter than here. It was named for Augustine Henry (1857-1930) who was a medical officer in Chinese Customs but presumably keen on plants because he moved on to be Professor in Forestry in Dublin. The flowering is unusually early this year. It normally blooms in early October but sometimes plants can get a little out of sync with the seasons.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.