The city of Portland is inextricably linked to the colorful rose. One of our most popular attractions is a century-old International Rose Test Garden, our NBA team plays in an arena once known as the Rose Garden, and Portland’s official nickname is the City of Roses. We even have an official rose: the Madame Caroline Testout, a hybrid tea rose first grown in Peninsula Park and noted for its vibrant pink hue.
If you’re planning a spring or summertime visit to Portland, follow our guide and chances are you’ll see (or smell) these colorful flowers — whether in a public garden or on residential streets around the city.
The History of Roses in Portland
Portland’s mild winters, rainy springs and warm summers make the city a prolific place to grow roses — but that’s not the only reason the colorful flower has become a local icon.
Portland’s love affair with roses began in 1888 when local philanthropist and business leader Georgiana Burton Pittock invited friends and neighbors to showcase their rose blooms in her garden. The event led to an annual rose show for local gardeners and, in 1889, inspired the founding of the Portland Rose Society, a civic organization dedicated to celebrating and cultivating its namesake flower. Within a few years, rose bushes lined roughly 200 miles (321k km) of Portland city streets; at that point, there was little doubt that Portland was indeed the City of Roses (or the Rose City, depending on who you ask).
A few years later, amid World War I, Portland launched a garden to preserve hybrid roses that many feared might be destroyed by frequent bombings in Europe. English hybridists sent the first roses in 1918, and the International Rose Test Garden was officially dedicated in June 1924; today, the park is among Portland’s most beloved attractions in the heart of Washington Park.
Where to Find Rose Gardens Around Portland
Wondering where to see roses on your next adventure around town? We’ve got you covered with this round-up of Portland rose gardens and what makes each so unique. Peak bloom usually arrives between late May and mid-June, though some rose varieties blossom well into summer.
International Rose Test Garden
Portland’s most prolific blooms can be found at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, where more than 10,000 bushes blossom between late May and October each year. Nearly a century after the garden’s founding, it hosts more than 600 varieties of roses across 4 acres (16,000 sq m) of specialty gardens (including the Gold Medal Garden, plotted exclusively with award-winning roses, and the Shakespeare Garden — envisioned initially as a home for plants mentioned in William Shakespeare plays). Above the garden’s roses are photo-worthy views of the downtown Portland skyline and Mount Hood.
Peninsula Park Rose Garden
Peninsula Park has been a North Portland landmark for more than a century, thanks in part to its wide variety of attractions; over the decades, it’s hosted a horse track, campground, public art pieces and more. But Peninsula Park is also home to the city’s first public rose garden — and is where Portland’s official rose (Mme. Caroline Testout) was first cultivated; today, nearly three dozen beds surround a picturesque fountain.
Ladd Circle Park and Rose Gardens
The heart of the X-shaped Ladd’s Addition neighborhood in inner Southeast Portland is Ladd Circle Park & Rose Gardens. At the center of the neighborhood is a circular garden home to camellias, perennials and other flowers; roughly a half-block away, visitors can peruse a series of four rose gardens that date back to the early 1900s. Each rose garden is oriented to the points on a compass — meaning they’re directly north, south, east and west of Ladd Circle. Today, 60 varieties of roses — with more than 3,000 plants in all — cover the 1.6-acre (6k sq m) park.
Views of Mount Hood and Portland’s skyline aren’t the only breathtaking attraction at Pittock Mansion, the former home of rose-loving Georgiana Burton Pittock. A few rose gardens dot the grounds around the estate, coming alive with blooms of pink, red, white and orange between late May and late June.
This is less a specific site than a general recommendation to keep your eyes peeled while biking to brunch, window-shopping or walking to a local brewpub. It took a citywide effort for Portland to earn its status as the City of Roses in the early 1900s. That work continues unofficially today with front-yard gardens in neighborhoods across the city — especially in heavily residential areas on Portland’s east side.
Visiting the Portland Rose Festival
According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, Portlander Harry Lane gave a speech in 1905 at the Lewis and Clark Exposition, arguing that Portland needed a “festival of roses.” Local leaders heeded his call, the Portland Rose Festival debuted in 1907 and more than a century later, the city’s official festival remains a civic institution.
These days, the Portland Rose Festival comprises dozens of events and typically kicks off Memorial Day weekend and runs through mid-June. Events include the nighttime Starlight Parade (with illuminated floats and local marching bands), the CityFair festival (featuring carnival rides, live entertainment, fair food favorites and more), and the Spring Rose Show — which traces its roots to Georgiana Burton Pittock’s first showcase in 1888 and today spotlights more than 4,000 blooms. Check out the Portland Rose Festival event calendar for the full rundown of happenings around the city.
The undeniable star of the festival, however, is the Grand Floral Parade — a Portland institution for more than 115 years and a genuine spectacle featuring 20 or so colorful floats decorated almost entirely with flowers and other natural materials. (Only seats and standing areas are exempted.)
In the days leading up to the parade, nearly 3,000 pounds of fresh roses and other flowers are shipped from markets throughout Oregon and along the West Coast; at that point, hundreds of community volunteers work tirelessly to cut flowers, place them on each float and glue seeds, grains and mosses to the rest of the surfaces. Just hours before the parade begins, and about one month after construction began, the floats are towed on local highways to the starting point at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, culminating in a stunning celebration that kicks off Portland’s season of roses.
Peninsula Park & Rose Garden
Discover outdoor fun for the whole family — plus thousands of blooms — at Oregon’s oldest public rose garden.
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.
Just north of Portland's Belmont neighborhood sits Laurelhurst Park, one of the city's most scenic escapes with over 300 trees, a duck pond and an array of free public events.
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.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
This year-round wonder houses an authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden built by Suzhou artisans, offering a peaceful escape in Portland's historic Chinatown.
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.
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