Stopping to Smell the Roses at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland
Portland might be known for hipsters, coffee, and bicycles, but just up the hill from downtown, there is a formal English rose garden that would surprise any visitor. The International Rose Test Garden is tucked into the sprawling Washington Park, which also contains a Japanese Garden, a zoo, a children’s museum, a veterans’ memorial, and miles of walking and bike trails.
The International Rose Test Garden has more than 10,000 rose bushes and about 650 different varieties of roses. The roses in the Test Garden are evaluated on characteristics like disease resistance, color, shape and even fragrance. Portland’s love affair with roses began in 1905 when Portland’s streets were planted with rose bushes for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. Today people can still see how Portland earned its name as the City of Roses by visiting the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park.
We visited Portland and the International Rose test Garden in mid-September. While the peak bloom may be from July to August, there were still thousands and thousands of blooms—so many blooms that the air smelled like a dream. The fragrant scent is even more surprising when you consider that the garden is located in the middle of Oregon’s largest city.
We have never seen so many perfectly manicured rose bushes—and in so many colors and varieties. Red and pink and white roses. Yellow, orange, purple, and even black roses. Multi-colored roses that look like a sunburst. Some were huge with curling loose petals, while others had tightly wrapped blossoms. There are roses growing in long, precise lines of bushes and roses climbing trellises. Make sure to check out the names on the small placards. You will not be disappointed by names like Big Momma, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Hotel California, or Little Chap.
Besides the aisles of orderly award winning varietals of roses in the Royal Rosarian Garden, there is also the Shakespeare Garden. Shakespeare said, “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best,” and you can almost picture Hermia or Helena pining unrequited love among the blossoms.
Finally, don’t miss the Secret Garden. Nestled into the north side of the park, the secret garden is a small oval of green lush lawn ringed with hedges and graceful trees. Although the Secret Garden is devoid of roses, it’s a peaceful spot that would be perfect for spending an afternoon reading a book. There is a beautiful mossy staircase covered with vines that leads to the picturesque and swanky Arlington Heights neighborhood above. (Pro-tip—park in Arlington Heights and walk down through the Secret Garden when visiting the International Rose Test Garden to avoid paying for parking.)