The Rose Test Garden, acquired in 1917, includes a fountain, gift shop, paths that are paved, public garden area, rose garden, statues and public art for tours, visitors, a vista point and a wedding site. Residents and city officials reserve it for various events.
Portland Oregon, known as the “city of roses,” includes the rose test garden area as part of the culture and major attractions. In 1888, Georgiana Burton Pittock, the wife of publisher Henry Pittock, invited her friends and neighbors to show off their beautiful roses in a tent set up in her garden and so began the Portland Rose Society.
Madame Caroline Testout was a late 19th century French dressmaker from Grenoble and proprietor of fashionable salons in London and Paris. She purchased silks from Lyon, which was an important center for rose cultivating and breeding. The nurseryman Joseph Pernet-Ducher was called “The Wizard of Lyon,” due to the success he had in creating hybrid tea roses.
Madame Testout was an astute businesswoman and understood the value of good publicity. She asked Perner-Ducher to name one of the new roses he created after her. He considered her choice of seedling to be mediocre. The “Madame Caroline Testout” rose made its debut at the salon’s 1890 spring fashion show. It was not strongly scented, but did have great success with the name well-to-do customers as well as the gardeners. The roses produced abundant silky, rose-pink flowers. The new variety shot up in popularity and spread onward to America.
Portland now has nearly half a million bushes of “Caroline Testout” roses that are planted along the sidewalks. By 1905, visitors were privy to the 200 miles of rose-bordered streets which helped attract even more visitors to the Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. Portland was then dubbed the title, “City of Roses.”
In 1915, Jesse A. Currey, rose hobbyist and Sunday editor of the Oregon Journal, convinced the city officials to set up a rose test garden to serve as a safe haven during WWI for the hybrid roses that were grown in Europe. Rose fanatics feared that the unique plants would be destroyed in the bombings. The Park Bureau approved the garden idea in 1917 and by early 1918, hybridists from England began to send their roses. In 1921, Florence Holmes Gerke, the landscape architect for the city of Portland, began designing the International Rose Test Garden and the amphitheatre. The garden was dedicated in June of 1924 and Currey was appointed as the garden’s first rose curator. He served in that capacity until his death in 1927.
Today, there are garden galore and various species of roses throughout the gardens. Visit the Royal Rosarian Garden, home to the namesake roses of all the past Prime Ministers of the Royal Rosarians, a civic group which serves as the official greeters and goodwill ambassadors for the City of Portland.
The Shakespeare Garden was located at Crystal Springs Lake in southeast Portland, but was moved to Washington Park to give way to the Eastmoreland Golf Course. The garden honors Shakespeare, with roses named after characters in his plays. The focal point of the garden is the Shakespeare Memorial, a brick wall with a plaque featuring Shakespeare’s image and his quote, “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best.”
Established in 1975, the Miniature Rose Garden is one of six testing grounds for the American Rose Society miniature test program. The national annual winners from the ARS and AARS associations are put on display in the middle of the garden along the center aisle.
Rose experts from around the world attend a one-day judging in June and select the best rose from thousands of submissions. Portland remains the only North American city to have such an award. The award was given to the International Test Garden as the “Garden of Excellence” in 2006 from the World Federation of Rose Societies.
There are 9,525 rose bushes, representing a total of 610 varieties. The garden is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.. There are guided tours for groups of 11 or more during the year for a nominal fee per person. Phone (503) 823-3664 to make arrangements.