JARS v62n1 - New Greenhouse for RSF Vireya Collection <

New Greenhouse for RSF Vireya Collection
Jeff Bell
Lake Forest Park, Washington

The Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington, now has a new home for its vireya collection. The original 30-year-old propagation house has been transformed by volunteers into the new vireya greenhouse. The new greenhouse is approximately 600 square feet of planting and display beds for the permanent collection and an area for propagation and research. A Tropical House near the gift shop is planned in the future for public display.
Vireyas are tropical or subtropical evergreen rhododendrons that comprise about a third of the Rhododendron genus with more than 300 species. They are found in South Pacific concentrated around New Guinea, Borneo, and nearby islands. Even though they are called tropical, vireyas grow as epiphytes on cloud-moist mountain slopes with warm days and cool nights. They thrive in bright light and constant breezes with temperatures ranging from 40°-50° F. Since most vireyas lack hardiness in much of North America, they can be cultivated in greenhouses where growing conditions can be simulated.
Since a new propagating house was built in 2003, a committee was formed to explore the possibility of using the old propagation house as a public exhibit for vireyas. Members included the garden management, Steve Hootman, Rick Peterson, and Dennis Bottemiller, as well as Fran Rutherford, Ben Hall, E. White Smith, Paul Thompson, Bob Zimmerman, and Chip Muller. They decided that because of its location, the greenhouse was better suited to house the permanent vireya collection and be used for propagating. The public would later get a vireya display bed in the Tropical house. The project was approved by the RSF Executive Board.
Deconstruction began in early March 2006 when volunteers emptied the old propagation greenhouse. A group of RSF volunteers named the "Thursday Crew" led by Paul Thompson worked several months over a series of Thursdays and Saturdays completing the rest of the demolition. Carolyn Gius of Horticultural Services, Inc., who had constructed the new propagation house was contracted to remove the old fiberglass roof and walls and install triple-walled polycarbonate panels, an automatic shade curtain, new gutters, a mist controller, and a greenhouse controller with multiple stages for heating and cooling. The Thursday Crew then built the new display beds, propagating benches, plumbing, and wired the heating and cooling system. The plants were in their new home by early October 2006. By April 5, 2007 the new glass door entry way and ramp were installed.

Front of new vireya greenhouse at the 
RSF Botanical Garden. Volunteer Rollo Adams collecting pollen.
Front of new vireya greenhouse at the RSF Botanical Garden.
Photo by Jeff Bell
Volunteer Rollo Adams collecting pollen.
Photo by Jeff Bell
The 'brains' of the new vireya greenhouse.
The "brains" of the new vireya greenhouse.
Photo by Jeff Bell

Generous financial support from rhododendron enthusiast Fran Rutherford, Ben Hall, Chip Muller, and E. White Smith, made the new vireya Greenhouse possible.
What's next?
The next big project is the new Tropical Greenhouse planned to be built near the Gift Shop for public display of vireyas from the permanent collection. Until the Tropical Greenhouse is built, contact the RSF office for an appointment to tour the new vireya greenhouse.

Jeff Bell is a volunteer with the Thursday Group at the RSFBG and vice-president of the Seattle Rhododendron Society. Jeff's career path includes television, film editor, garden designer and instructional designer. He works in his own garden on weekends in Lake Forest Park, Washington.