International Rose Test Garden
Encompassing 4.5 acres of roses, manicured lawns, other formal gardens, and an outdoor concert venue, the International Rose Test Garden is wedged onto the steep slopes of the West Hills in Washington Park. In addition to intoxicating scents and incredible floral displays, the garden also offers the classic view of Portland—Mount Hood rising above the downtown office towers. Bring a camera.
Portland’s moderate climate is a perfect habitat for roses, and as early as the 1880s society women held rose exhibitions. Portland’s reputation as the City of Roses was cemented in 1905 during the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. In anticipation of 3 million visitors to this world’s fair, the city gave away thousands of roses for planting, particularly the pink cabbage rose Mme. Caroline Testout, which can still be seen outside older Portland homes. When the exposition opened, Portland had 200 miles of rose-bordered streets to impress visitors.
However, Portland’s iconic rose garden in Washington Park was born of World War I. After combat began in 1915, Oregonian editor and rose enthusiast Jesse A. Currey convinced city officials to establish a rose garden to serve as a safe haven for European hybrid roses, as Curry feared that these prized plants would be destroyed during bombings and warfare. After Portland established its civic rose garden, appreciative rose growers from across Europe sent samples of their roses to Portland for safekeeping.
In 1940 the rose garden became an official testing site for the All-America Rose Selection (AARS, www.rose.org), one of 24 gardens nationwide to test new rose varieties for plant habit, vigor, disease resistance, color, flower production, form, foliage, and fragrance. Today, the rose garden features over 6,800 rose bushes representing 557 varieties, both old and new. A charming annex to the rose garden is the Shakespearean Garden, which includes only herbs, trees, and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
From the last Saturday in May through the third Saturday in September, free tours of the rose garden are led by trained volunteers at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday and 1 p.m. Saturday–Sunday. Meet at the sign outside the Rose Garden Store. Donations are gladly accepted for the tour.
Just above the rose gardens are a set of tennis courts, beautifully situated beneath towering firs, and up a flight of steps is the terminus for the 30-inch narrow-gauge Washington Park and Zoo Railway, which links Washington Park with the Oregon Zoo, both popular family destinations, with a trip through Washington Park’s dense forests; note that riders who take the train from the rose gardens must pay zoo admission in addition to train fare.
Just beyond the rose gardens is the Rose Garden Children’s Park, a large and elaborate play area with quite fantastic play structures. Not your average playground, this joyful park opened in 1995 at a cost of $2 million.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel