Rio Rita was bred by the late Os Blumhardt, one of this country’s foremost plantsmen and plant breeders in his time. It was named for the irrepressible Rita Watson and it always makes us smile because the flower is so well suited to the bold personality and immaculate grooming of the namesake. Rita was very keen on vireya rhododendrons and her North Shore garden boasted some of the best grown plants we have ever seen in a garden situation though we were told she subsequently gave up growing vireyas and took up line dancing instead. Rio Rita is a leucogigas hybrid (crossed with Dr Sleumer) and the flowers are voluptuous and fragrant. There are five flowers to a truss and this photograph is of two trusses side by side, which is why it looks quite so full. Each flower is about 10 cm across, which is large.
Most vireyas don’t have a set flowering season because they come from the equatorial areas where day and night length is pretty much the same all year. This means you can have some in flower all the time if you have sufficient plants and different varieties. However, they won’t tolerate more than a degree or two of frost and wet feet will kill them very quickly. As a guide, the bigger and more lusciously fragrant the flowers are and the larger the leaves, the more susceptible they will be to cold temperatures and less than ideal conditions. This means that Rio Rita is by no means the easiest vireya to grow well, let alone keep alive at all, but if you have the right conditions, it certainly puts on a show.