It’s easy to see why Portland, Oregon is nicknamed the “City of Roses” — all it takes is one visit to its famous International Rose Test Gardens. Located in Washington Park, you’ll also find a zoo, forestry museum, Japanese garden, and miles of forested hiking trails in this beautiful area in Portland’s West Hills. The Gardens feature more than 10,000 plantings in 500 fragrant varieties, and is the oldest public garden of its kind in the United States (established in 1917). Whether you’re a green thumb or a wannabe, a stroll here is especially nice during peak bloom season— usually April through October, depending on Mother Nature. And if you like to shop, visit the Rose Garden Store, a non-profit museum store, for a wide variety of rose and garden themed items.
The primary purpose of the International Rose Test Gardens is to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties. It also served as a safe haven for hybrid roses grown in Europe during World War I. Rose lovers feared that these unique plants could be destroyed as a result of the war, so foreign hybridists from many countries sent roses to Portland. The City of Portland Gold Medal Awards is issued annually to the best introductions. This site is also one of 24 official testing sites for the internationally respected All-America Rose Selections (AARS), a non-profit association of rose growers dedicated to the introduction and promotion of exceptional roses. AARS testing began here in Portland in 1940. Roses currently under test in the garden are not named. They are instead designated by a number.
Don’t know the difference between a floribunda. grandiflora or polyantha rose? That’s OK; you’ll still enjoy the color and fragrance and the lovely setting. Views of Mount Hood and the city below are exceptional on sunny days. Covering four and a half acres, there is plenty of room to get some exercise and walk through the various gardens-within-a-garden. In the Shakespeare Garden, the roses are named after characters in the Bard’s plays. The elevated beds in the Miniature Rose Garden feature unique varieties and is one of only six such testing grounds for the American Rose Society. The formal Gold Medal Garden is filled with award winning roses, walkways, a central fountain, and a gazebo. The Royal Rosarian Garden has paid tribute since 1924 to the goodwill ambassadors and official greeters who serve in Portland’s annual Rose Festival events. As each rosarian is knighted, they adopt a rose variety as their namesake. A rose is planted in this garden for each of the highest ranking Rosarian Prime Ministers.
If you agree with Shakespeare that “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best” you’ll find Portland’s International Rose Test Garden a must-see the next time you visit the aptly nicknamed City of Roses!
IF YOU GO:
Washington Park International Rose Test Garden
400 SW Kingston Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
The International Rose Test Garden is open from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm, every day, year-round. Free admission. Metered parking lots and street parking. Free guided tours are offered from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. For more information on tours, call 503-823-3636
Approximately 70 percent of the garden is accessible. Please be aware that the ramp was built well before the current ADA requirements, and is steeper than the new ADA standard.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com