Rhododendron augustinii & The Kaponga ManTuesday, April 10, 2007
Yesterday morning when I looked through the window of my living room I saw masses of blue/lilac buds on a shrub that is dear to my heart. Perhaps ten years ago Kaponga (New Zealand) born plantsman (this is the term he prefers to describe himself) Alleyne Cook showed up in my garden with a pot that had a sorry stick emerging from it. "Alex you must have Rhododendron augustinii in your garden. Cook pronounces botanical names his own way and refuses to acknowledge the syllable that separates the two Is in the species name augustinii. We argued about it but then we both love to do that.
Rhodendron augustinii and Rhododendron racemosum are the first rhodos to bloom in my spring garden. This species rhodo is extremely popular as it is one of the few that approaches the colour blue. Strange as it may seem the island of Rhodes is named after the Greek word for rose or rhodon. Rhododendrons were perhaps given that name because of a similarity to the colour of roses. But both rhodos and roses share an inability to produce a pure blue flower.
Alleyne Cook told me, "Everybody thinks his or her augustinii is different so there are countless named cultivars." I tried to nail Cook down with some basic info on augustinii and he was most forthwith. It has all to do with the colour of the flower's throat. The perceived colour of this rhodo has a lot to do with it. If the throat is yellow or green the overall shift of the flowers will be from red to the blue spectrum while if the throat is maroon the shift will be towards the lilac. And then there are augustinii that are darker and others that are lighter.
Cook found a variety in his garden that was between two that were very dark and it had a yellow green throat. He named his plant Rhododendron augustinii 'Marion McDonnell' after his friend, Vancouver's "Blue Poppy Lady", Marion McDonnell. You can see him here proudly posing with her in his garden.
It is always a pleasure to visit or be visited by the Cooks. They are a perfect blend of charm with punctilious erudition.