Tucked under tall banks of trees along a residential stretch of North Rosa Parks Way awaits a community oasis that’s nearly untouched by time. Peninsula Park is a true gem of the Piedmont neighborhood, with emerald green lawns, playgrounds for toddlers and older kiddos, a rainbow-hued splash pad for hot summer days and one of the city’s most beautiful destinations: Peninsula Park Rose Garden.
Know Before You Go
Much of Peninsula Park is wheelchair accessible, including the rose garden, thanks to brick-laid ramps added in 2008 to provide access to all.
(Tip: The grassy paths between flower beds are not easily accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.)
This iconic garden is set below street level and into the earth below, giving visitors the sense of being far away from the bustling city. Summertime brings blooming roses (and plenty of visitors), but the beauty of this historic park is clear year-round.
History of Peninsula Park & Rose Garden
Before it was acquired by the city of Portland in 1909, this 16-acre (6.5 ha) park was home to a private roadhouse, horse racing track and auto park owned by Portland businesswoman Elizabeth Young (also known as “Liverpool Liz”). Developed as part of Portland’s “City Beautiful” movement (which was sparked by the desire to improve the city’s public spaces for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905), Peninsula Park became the site of the city’s first community center and one of its first public playgrounds.
Today, the park features an outdoor swimming pool, as well as tennis courts, horseshoe pits, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, reservable covered picnic shelters and a truly beautiful public rose garden.
Peninsula Park Rose Garden
The City of Roses is home to several rose gardens, including the famed International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, but the stately Peninsula Park Rose Garden’s underdog status make it perfect for a quiet afternoon amongst the flowers — even at the height of blooming season (generally mid-June through October).
The park’s elegant sunken rose garden — the only one of its kind in the state — was designed in 1912 by Emanuel Mische in the style of a formal French parterre knot garden. The gardens surround a wide central fountain and are meant for strolling, ideally under a parasol. (Mische must have known what he was doing, because he later became Portland’s first parks superintendent, and the park retains its glory more than a century later.)
The garden’s flower beds feature 5,000 different rose plants of about 60 varieties, all laid out in a symmetrical pattern. Visitors can explore the intricate design and discover new rose varieties with an annotated map of the garden from Friends of Peninsula Park Rose Garden (PPRG), the nonprofit tasked with preserving the legacy of the garden. Friends of PPRG also hosts public rose care classes and a spring speakers series, along with volunteer gardening opportunities throughout the year. (Guided tours for groups of 10 or more are available for a nominal fee per person. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.)
In addition to the roses themselves, the garden’s original fountain, intricate brick walkways, early 20th century street lamps and octagonal music bandstand overlooking the garden (which is on the register of National Historic structures) make for an old-world escape from modern life that smells as good as it looks.
Visiting Peninsula Park & Rose Garden
Peninsula Park is free to visit and is open daily from 5 a.m.–midnight. The rose garden hours are 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. and the splash pads are open daily from May through August from 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Round out your floral explorations of the Rose City with a visit to Southeast Portland’s lush Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. The park boasts more than 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas, with blooms from late February -June.
Portland International Rose Test Garden
The oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States, the Portland International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park features more than 10,000 roses, great views of the skyline and the Cascades.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
This year-round wonder taking up an entire city block houses an authentic Ming Dynasty style garden built by Suzhou artisans. Lan Su Chinese Garden offers a peaceful escape in Portland's historic Chinatown district.
Beyond picnics and verdant strolls, Washington Park offers up a zoo, two museums, a spectacular rose garden, an arboretum, one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in the world, all lined by one of the largest urban forests, Forest Park.
Portland Japanese Garden
A haven of meticulously maintained, tranquil beauty, proclaimed one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden offers meandering streams, intimate walkways and an unsurpassed view of Mount Hood.
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