A Visit to the International Rose Test Gardens in Portland, OR

As spring starts moving into summer, I find myself anticipating a visit to the Portland International Rose Test Gardens. This year I started feeling this way in early May, probably because Portland has seen unseasonable warm, summer like temps and it’s got me thinking about summer days.

The International Rose Test Gardens are one of many beautiful places to visit in the city of Portland. If you are visiting  (especially April through October) or live here and haven’t made a visit yet, I highly recommend making some time to visit these amazing gardens. Located in Portland’s Washington Park the gardens are about 4.5 acres and filled with over 7000 rose plants. There is a lovely open air amphitheater and when the weather warms up it is regularly filled with families picnicking and enjoying the beautiful roses, and views of Mt Hood on clear days.

Rose Garden Amphitheater

Rose Garden Amphitheater

On my first visit to the Rose Gardens I read that in 1917 a group of Portland nurserymen came up with the idea for an American rose test garden. Portland had a group of volunteers and 20 miles (32 km) of rose bordered streets, largely from the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition. Portland was already calling itself “The City of Roses” so this was leveraged to enhance the reputation. Between Portland Parks & Recreation and the American Rose Society, the garden soon became a reality.

Rose Garden

Rose Garden

As the name states, this garden’s primary purpose is to be a testing space for all varieties of roses. They have been holding a competition and giving a “Gold Metal” rose award since 1919 which makes them the oldest rose testing program in the United States. Because this is a test garden, you can’t just go to the florist and just pick up any type you like as a gift. The roses currently under test in the garden are not  named but are designated only by a number. The new varieties are submitted by the hybridizers to the All-America Rose Selections (AARS), who then distributes them to the test gardens identified only by their code number. Four plants of each entry are evaluated for two years on 14 different characteristics consumers desire in a garden plant including plant habit, vigor, disease resistance, color, flower production, form, foliage, and fragrance. About 200 rose cultivars are under test each year.

I love to walk through the garden and look at all of the different colors. The garden looks like a watercolor paint palette. At every turn you’ll see people taking selfies with the roses behind them and putting their noses into the blooms to take in the aroma the exude.  I’m on a personal mission during each visit to find the rose(s) that have the most fragrance. So far my favorite is called the Neptune Rose—a lovely lavender color with the most beautiful fruity, rose aroma. It immediately sends me back to childhood and reminds me of my great grandmother and the roses she had on her kitchen table.

Love the fragrance of this rose.

Love the fragrance of this rose.

 

Another favorite garden I like to spend time in is called the Shakespeare Garden. This garden claims to house all of the plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Many of the plants are labeled and identify which sonnet the plant reference is found. There are benches throughout the garden and on a sunny day they will be claimed by those wanting to enjoy the weather and the colorful views.

Shakespeare Garden

Fair Bianca-The Taming of the Shrew

The focal point of this garden is a brick wall with a plaque that quotes William Shakespeare, “Of all flowres methinks a rose is best.”  It seems a fitting quote and when you are walking through the gardens, it’s hard not to feel that roses are the best! So take a stroll through the gardens and “stop and smell the roses” literally and figuratively.

 

Shakespeare Garden

Shakespeare Garden

 

 

 

 

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