Plant Collector: Vireya Rhododendron Satan’s Gift

Satan. I'm afraid it is vireya rhododendron "Satan's Gift", not Santa's Gift

Satan. I’m afraid it is vireya rhododendron “Satan’s Gift”, not Santa’s Gift

The trouble with vireyas is that they have an aversion to frost so they are really only a garden option for those in mild, coastal areas. Inland (where frosts are much greater), you need to be a careful gardener willing to give them protection and maybe bring them under cover. But they can be such a rewarding plant with their extended flowering habits. This one is Satan’s Gift, one of the best varieties named by the late Felix Jury and certainly the showiest and the most fragrant.

Felix was a complete agnostic so the word Satan merely evoked hot colours to him but over the years, we have seen more religious people struggle with the name. Indeed, we have seen it offered for sale as Satin Gift, Jury’s Gift and the hilarious Santa’s Gift. (Note to such people: it is fine to shun a plant because you don’t like its name, but it is not okay to rename that plant to something you find more acceptable). We were once told that it was the only plant in Eden Gardens in Auckland, a memorial garden, without a name plaque. We just think it is a splendid cultivar to have in the garden.

This is a cross between two different species (konorii x zoelleri) which gives it hybrid vigour. It is particularly bushy and well furnished and flowers more than either of its parents.

Besides not liking the cold, vireya rhododendrons need great drainage. The fastest way to kill one is to keep it with waterlogged roots, whether in a container or the garden. In the wild, most are epiphytes and grow up in the trees.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.