Armchair photo tours: The International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park in Portland

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Photos by Cheryl Landes

The International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park in southwest Portland, Oregon, is among 11 American Garden Rose Selections (AGRS) test sites.

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The idea for the garden in Washington Park began in 1915, when Jesse A. Currey, Sunday  editor of the Oregon Journal newspaper and rose hobbyists, convinced Portland city officials to start the garden as a safe place to test hybrid roses grown in Europe. This was during World War I, and rose lovers were concerned that these roses would be destroyed from the bombings in Europe.

The Park Bureau approved Currey’s idea in 1917, and hybridists began to send roses from England to Portland in early 1918.

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Florence Holmes Gerke, the City of Portland’s landscape architect, began designing the International Rose Test Garden in 1921. It was dedicated in June 1924. Currey served as the garden’s first rose curator until his death in 1927.

The garden consists of a series of gardens with different themes. The Royal Rosarian Garden, which is part of the original test garden’s design, contains roses named after all past prime ministers of the Royal Rosarians. The Royal Rosarians are goodwill ambassadors and the official greeters for the City of Portland.

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The American Rose Society (ARS) maintains a miniature rose test garden. Miniature roses receiving the annual national awards from the ARS and AARS are displayed in the middle of this garden along the center aisle.

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In 1919, the city began issuing an annual Gold Award for the best new rose variety. These roses are on display in the Gold Medal Rose Garden. The garden was dedicated in June 1970, and the Portland Rose Society donated the pavilion overlooking the garden in 1991.

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The Rose Festival Queens Walk has a brick walkway with plaques for all all of the women who were crowned queen of the Portland Rose Festival since its inception. Each plaque displays the name of one queen and the year she was crowned.

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The Shakespeare Garden started at Crystal Springs Lake in 1945, but it was moved to the International Rose Test Garden to allow room for the new Eastmoreland Golf Course. Originally the garden contained only flowers, trees, and herbs mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays. Today,  the garden also has roses named after the characters in his plays.

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This garden also has a memorial to Shakespeare, which consists of a plaque with his image and his quote, “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best.” The plaque is in the center of the picture below.

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Other highlights include a fountain and stainless-steel sculpture in a sunken section at the upper level of the garden.

The Frank Beach Memorial Fountain was dedicated in 1975. Beach is credited for Portland’s nickname, the “City of Roses”, and the first person who proposed the idea for the annual rose festival.

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Oregon artist Lee Kelly designed and built the Water Sculpture, a gift from the Beach family in memory of their father.

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The International Rose Test Garden’s address is 400 SW Kingston Avenue in Portland. For more information, visit the garden’s page on the Portland Parks and Recreation’s website.

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Limited metered parking is available at the garden. The best way to travel there is to either take public transit or drive to the Oregon Zoo and take the free shuttle to the garden. The city parking lot at the Oregon Zoo is also metered, but credit cards are accepted.

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Several buses stop at the zoo, as well as the blue and red MAX trains. If you take the MAX, get off at the Washington Park stop and take the elevator to the street. The elevator exit is across the street from the zoo. Get details about the bus and train schedules at trimet.org.

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For more information about Washington Park, visit ExploreWashingtonPark.org.

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The other 10 rose test gardens are in:

  • Orangeburg, South Carolina
  • San Jose, California
  • Farmer’s Branch, Texas
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Kennewick, Washington
  • Westfield, Massachusetts
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Glencoe, Illinois
  • Ames, Iowa
  • Lexington, Kentucky

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