International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park
Self Guided Tour (May 2018)
Directions: Directions between stops are shown in italics.
The tour will start at the handicap ramp which is to the right as you leave the Rose Garden Store, just beyond the blue telescopes, in front of the restrooms.
The 4.5-acre International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park is the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States.
In 2006, World Federation of Rose Societies presented the Garden of Excellence Award to the International Rose Test Garden, part of Portland Parks and Recreation. Only sixty-two rose gardens in the world have achieved this distinction and only ten in the United States.
Purpose. The primary purpose of the garden is to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties. In the beginning, hybridists were encouraged to send roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing.
Upkeep. A strong contingent of volunteers supplement paid staff to maintain this garden. Admission is free, though we encourage visitor donations at several boxes in the garden. As you walk through the garden, you will see that Portland, “The City of Roses,” is just about perfect for growing roses, due to the mild winters and long growing season.
History. Portland’s identity with roses began in 1888 when Georgiana Burton Pittock, wife of pioneer publisher Henry Pittock, invited her friends and neighbors to exhibit their roses in a tent set up in her garden. Thus began the annual rose show. Georgiana and her friends established the Portland Rose Society in 1889. Jesse A. Currey, a former Rose Society president, chose the garden’s site and convinced city fathers to inaugurate a rose test garden in 1917 with the support of the American Rose Society, City officials, and civic-minded citizens. At that time, Portland had 20 miles of rose-bordered streets – a strategy to draw attention to the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. As a result, Portland was dubbed “The City of Roses.”
Quick Facts About the Garden:
- Over 700,000 people visit each year.
- Over 10,000 individual rose bushes bloom from late May through November, representing over 610 different rose varieties.
- The display consists of modern hybrid tea, grandiflora, miniature, floribunda, David Austin, and landscape roses with a smaller collection of old garden shrub roses. Continuous deadheading (removal of old blooms) by volunteers keeps the roses blooming into the fall.
- The majority of the roses in the garden are commercially available. About 10-20 varieties are replaced each year with some of the best new roses released on the market. Most of the roses removed are given to local rose societies for pruning demonstrations.
- In mid -November, a group of park staff and volunteers prune the roses to 36”- 48” in height. Work is completed in one day.
- In mid-February, a group of park staff and volunteers prune the roses to 18”- 24” in height. The work is usually completed in a little over a day.
- The first spraying for black spot occurs when new growth is about 3 inches, then about every 2 weeks thereafter.
- The entire rose garden gets fertilized twice a year: mid-April and July
Stop No. 1: Rose of Antiquity
Go to the handicap ramp. Before going down the ramp, go to the large shrub rose on your right a few feet away labeled Rose canina.
- Rosa canina, the dog rose or common brier, is a European species. The plant you see here was grown from a cutting of a 1000 year old plant located next to a Cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany. Its age is recorded in cathedral documents.
Stop No. 2: Rose City
Proceed down the handicap ramp and enter the rose garden on your left. Stop at the first lamppost on the left just as you enter the rose garden. Look for the marker ‘Mdme. Caroline Testout’ in the bed that contains the Royal Rosarian Sign.
- In 1901, a local lawyer named Frederick V. Holman wrote a newspaper article entitled “Make Portland the Rose City.” A quote from the article says, “For obvious reasons we cannot compete with San Francisco as the ‘foggy’ or ‘wicked’ city, with Tacoma as the ‘sleepy’ or ‘Sunday’ city, or with Seattle as the ‘raw’ or ‘hurrah’ city, but we can if we will give to Portland the name of the ‘Rose City’.” (Frank L. Beach is also credited with coining the phrase “Portland, City of Roses”.)
- For the1905 Lewis and Clark Expo, Holman suggested making the whole city attractive for the event by having citizens plant roses. They planted 22 miles of roses along the curbside along the parade route. ‘Madame Caroline Testout’ was the only rose available in such quantities. It is estimated that 50,000 roses were planted. By 1917 more than 200 miles of parking strips were planted with the ‘Madame Caroline Testout’ Rose.
Stop No. 2A: Royal Rosarian Garden
Follow the brick path around the garden.
Established in 1912, the Royal Rosarian founders modeled their mythical Realm of Rosaria after the government of England’s King Henry VII, whose rise to the throne ended the War of the Roses. Members are “knighted” into the organization under their chosen variety of rose, which is then their “namesake” rose. Members wear a dress uniform of white with white gloves, shoes, and a white straw hat. One the Garden’s most popular photo spots is alongside the Royal Rosarian statue. He doffs his straw hat to welcome all to The City of Roses.
The highest office in the Royal Rosarians is that of Prime Minister. The brick pathway honors all past Prime Ministers of the Royal Rosarians. Beside each name in the walkway is their “namesake” knighting rose. Many old favorites, which are no longer available in commerce, may be found in the Royal Rosarian Garden.
- In 1917, the Royal Rosarian garden was developed as a part of the International Test Garden.
- Royal Rosarians are ambassadors of goodwill for the city of Portland. Everywhere they go, they promote the city by planting a rose and sharing their famous quote, “For you a rose in Portland grows”.
- Additional information is available at royalrosarians.com
Stop #3: Beach Fountain
After going down the steps stop at the fountain.
- Set in a sunken section on the upper level of the garden, the Beach Memorial Fountain was dedicated in June 1975. The stainless steel sculpture, designed and built by Portland artist Lee Kelly, was a gift from the family of Frank E. Beach (1853-1934), the man who is said to have christened Portland “The City of Roses”.
Stop # 4: Information Kiosk
Continue north, up 3 steps, and look to your left for the kiosk that contains information about the garden.
- At the main entrance to the garden, surrounded by elevated miniature rose beds, is the information kiosk. This garden enhancement was developed in 1978 and was funded by the F.L. Beach family. The kiosk includes an alphabetical listing of all the roses in the garden along with a key to locating their planting bed.
Stop #5: Testing Roses
From the kiosk, head east on the path (towards downtown). Go down the steps. (Notice the roses planted on the slope. These are all floribunda roses.) Stop on this level.
The beds next to the walk are AARS winners. The roses being tested are in the beds behind the winners and are marked with numbers instead of names.
- In 1938, the AARS chose Portland for trials for domestic and foreign varieties. This was the very first test garden. In 2012, the AARS was replaced with the American Garden Rose Selections (AGRS) which is a garden trial partnership between the American Rose Society (ARS) and the rose industry.
- Portland is one of eleven test sites across the country. This allows for a variety of growing climates and conditions.
- Roses are not sprayed with fungicides and do not receive any special care beyond what a home gardener would provide.
- Two judges rate the test roses’ performance based on attributes such as disease resistance, vigor, bloom abundance, fragrance, and general impression.
- Evaluations operate on a two year cycle; climbing roses are tested for three years.
- Visit com for more info and a complete list of winners.
- Portland is also a testing site for the Award of Excellence (AOE) testing program, which is an American Rose Society sponsored miniature rose trial. Other independent rose testing includes Weeks and Star Rose Grower’s trials. IRTG is one of five test gardens nationally for David Austin Roses (near the tennis courts).
Stop #6: Rose Queen—Queen’s Walk
Continue on the walk and down the next flight of stairs (more floribunda roses on the banks) and continue forward to the brick walk.
The Rose Festival Queen’s plaque is located in the center of the brick area.
- The first Rose Festival was held in 1907 and is the second largest natural plant material parade.
- The Queen’s Walk was established in 1952 with the first plaque placed in 1953. The chosen Queen participates in the installation of her own plaque.
- The queen is selected from 1 of 15 local high school Princesses A panel of judges selects the Princess from each school after giving consideration to their academic achievement, civic involvement, and participation in school activities. At one time, the Portland residents would vote on the Rose Queen and pay 1 cent to vote.
- While you are on the Queen’s Walk, look up to the tall conifers surrounding the garden. At one time, 80% of Oregon was covered with Douglas Fir, the state tree. The Washington Park area was cut over timberland. In the 1800’s a landslide occurred from the site now occupied by the Japanese Garden and the area was condemned for residential use. City Park, now called Washington Park, was created in 1871. It has grown from its original 40 acres to over 410 acres with 15 miles of trails.
Stop #7: Portland’s Best Rose
Walk south (toward the right as you are facing down the hill) on the Queen’s Walk. Note the plaques. On your right look for the roses that have a name and a year.
These are winners of Portland’s Best Rose, marked with their name and year selected.
- This event is held during the Rose Festival.
- 180 people from the community judge 35-40 rose varieties that have been commercially available for 5 years or less.
- It is the best rose on that day that wins the competition. Depending on the temperatures during the spring, there might be a minimal display of roses to judge. Past history in the garden has seen the earliest bloom on April 1st and the latest on June 7th.
- The categories include best overe all, most fragrant, best grandiflora, best floribunda, best shrub, and best hybrid tea.
Stop #8: Shakespeare Garden
Continue south on the Queen’s Walk. This will lead you into the Shakespeare Garden.
- In 1946 the LaBarre Shakespeare Club donated the Shakespeare Garden. It was dedicated as a garden to give the ‘eye a place to rest’ from all the color of the rose garden.
- It was originally planted with plants that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays
- Roses, all of which are named after Shakespearean characters, are the only tie-ins to the original Shakespeare Garden concept.
- White poppy, a native of the California foothills, is located at the NE entrance (as you enter the garden) on the right.
- Mt Fuji cherry tree is on the left as you leave from the NW entrance.
- Originally the garden was planted with plants mentioned in the Bard’s plays. However, some of the trees, such at the Scarlet Oak, have done so well that their extensive shade has made it impossible to grow many of those original sun-loving varieties of plants.
- The Shakespeare Garden is a popular spot for weddings and other ceremonies.
Stop #9: Gold Medal Garden
Walk to the front of the Shakespeare Garden and exit to your right (north). You should be back in the Rose Garden. Turn left (west) and go up two sets of stairs. On the level between the second set of stairs and before you go up the third set of stairs turn left (south) and you will enter the Gold Medal Garden.
- At one time, this was the compost area for the zoo.
- The Portland Rose Society was established in 1889.
- The garden was designed in 1969. The Portland Rose Society donated the gazebo in 1992.
- 1919 was the first Gold Medal award given by the Portland Rose Society.
- Plaques along the gazebo wall recognize all of the presidents of the Portland Rose Society.
- The roses are scored for 3-5 years by a committee of 8 people from the Portland Rose Society and Portland Parks and Recreation, using the same criteria as the test roses. Roses chosen for consideration for planting in the Gold Medal garden are those that are doing the best in other parts of the rose garden. All award winners from 1919 to the present can be found in the garden.
- This garden is the only place in this country that has a Gold Medal program. It is recognized internationally.
Stop # 10: Rose Breeding in Europe
Go to the Peace Rose Bed in the Gold Medal Garden. This bed is located east (the other side of the garden from the gazebo) of the fountain in the Gold Medal Garden and overlooking the Shakespeare Garden.
The ‘Peace’ rose: A rose with a rich history.
On June 15, 1935 Francis Meilland cross-pollinated two roses from which were produced the following year a weak seedling of dubious qualities. But a few eyes of that seedling were budded in 1936, and by fall one of the plants had developed into an especially fine specimen with lush green, glossy foliage. It had magnificent blooms of the most delicate ivory-yellow brushed with pink at the edges. It had no name but was simply called 3-35-40.
In June 1939, rose growers from 7 nations visited Meilland’s nursery and admired seedling 3-35-40. Budding stock was made available. In September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and WW II started.
By November, the Nazis were closing in on southern France. The American consul, who loved roses, told Meilland that that he was leaving the country and that he could take some budwood to America if he received it within two hours. Meilland quickly parceled up a package containing budwood from 3-35-40. The budwood was on the last plane out of France.
Prior to this, Meilland entered into a contract with a rose grower in the United States. Jackson & Perkins had first crack at introducing ‘Peace’ in the United States, but had turned it down because Meilland was demanding a 33 percent royalty instead of the usual 15 percent—a decision J&P later regretted.
Despite the war, in 1942 Meilland introduced this rose in France by the name ‘Mme A. Meilland’ (in memory of his mother, Claudia). He also received word that the rose was being sold as ‘Gloria Dei’ (Glory to God) in Germany and as ‘Gioia’ (Joy) in Italy.
During the German occupation, the Meilland family had to remove their roses in order to grow crops for food.
In 1944, a month after France was liberated, Meilland received word that the rose was being grown in test gardens all over the United States and the American Rose Society found the rose to be exceptional.
The Conard-Pyle Company introduced this rose in America under the appropriate name of ‘Peace’ on April 29, 1945, coincidentally the same day Berlin fell to the Allies and the war was pronounced over. That June, when the 50 members of the United Nations met for the first time at the United Nations Building in San Francisco, each found a blossom of the rose in their room.
‘Peace’ was give the All-American Award on the day Japan surrendered, and the rose received a gold medal from the American Rose Society on the day Japan signed its peace treaty.
It is estimated that in the next nine years, more than 30 million ‘Peace’ roses were planted world wide. The money from the sales allowed Meilland to rebuild his stock of roses and quickly return to business. Today, the Meillands are still creating roses.
Weeks Roses grow about 40,000 ‘Peace’ roses a year and it is the number-two seller, exceeded only by Mr. Lincoln. It is the only rose introduced in the 1940’s that is still popular today.
As the famous hybridizer Sam McGredy once said, “For the record, ‘Peace’ is the greatest rose of my time. It’s as nearly perfect as a rose can be.”
In 2018, the US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring the Peace rose. The photograph for the stamp was taken by former Portland Rose Society president, Rich Baer.
One thing unique about the ‘Peace’ rose is that it “sports” very easily (a branch will produce a different rose). ‘Chicago Peace’ gold medal winner in 1962 is one of those sports.
Exit the Gold Medal garden through the arch and walk uphill to where you started. Or, better yet, spend the day wandering around the garden and be sure to visit the Rose Garden Store and help support the efforts of the International Rose Test Garden!
Thank you for visiting!
Consider visiting the Rose Garden Store for some lovely gifts and mementos of your visit to the International Rose Test Garden. Proceeds support Portland’s Rose Festival Foundation.