Thursday, May 14, 2015

Portland International Rose Test Gardens

Portland, Oregon, my home town, has many nicknames. One of the earliest is The City of Roses. That moniker started in part in 1888 when Georgiana Burton Pittock and her friends had such a love affair with roses that they exhibited the flowers in garden tents. Thus, the Portland Rose Society was born and so eventually was the incredibly popular Portland Rose Festival.


This sparked rose fever in Portland, and in 1915 the idea of a rose test garden was introduced in Washington Park, on the west side of downtown, to serve as a kind of safe haven for roses during World War I for fear of these beauties vanishing in Europe. England began sending roses our way in 1917, and in 1924 it was open for business, so to speak. Today, there are more than 10,000 rose plants on about 4.5 acres with over 500 varieties of roses. The garden serves primarily as a testing ground for new roses, hence the name "test" gardens. This is the oldest continuously operated public rose garden in the nation, the Portland International Rose Test Garden.



The Gold Medal Award is presented annually to the very best introductions in the rose world. The first was given in 1919, so this is the oldest program of its kind in the country. Portland is the only North American city to issue such an award. 


So let's look around a bit at Portland's International Rose Test Gardens, where I visited this past Mother's Day weekend with my husband and mother-in-law.


I've been many times, but it never fails to delight me. No matter when you go this place is a beautiful park nestled above downtown Portland worthy of a visit. Any time of year Washington Park and the Rose Gardens are a treat.



Right now the roses are just beginning to wake up.


It was not peak bloom time. There were twinkles of blooms scattered about; it was still lovely and serene and actually quite hot. In a couple of weeks this place will be an explosion of color (and people).



Even without roses in view, the grounds of Washington Park in general are stunning. When I lived downtown Portland I really appreciated this park as an extension of my home. You can just see the city skyline above the treeline here.


A perfect place for a picnic or a stroll, and many people were doing just that this Mother's Day weekend.


Yum, yum, butter!


Climbing roses, clipped yews plus many surrounding fir and deciduous trees add to the ambiance of this formal garden. Add to that terraced rose beds and it feels more European than Pacific Northwest.


A few maintenance facts: The entire garden gets fertilized once a year in mid-April, everything is pruned in mid-November and again in mid-February. Most of the roses here are commercially available. They have a no-fuss kind of attitude towards maintaining such a huge quantity of roses, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn if you are interested in volunteering and live in the area. Many Master Gardeners do just that. It was one of the options made available to me when I went through the program in 2013.






With Douglas firs as a backdrop, anything looks incredible. Here rhododendrons in full bloom overshadow the not-quite-in-bloom roses, but no matter. The scene is lovely all the same.


This is a fun garden, the miniature rose test garden.


The amphitheater is another favorite spot for picnicking or a summer concert. Or photographing your children.





I spy the husband and my mother-in-law, too, visiting from Idaho. I wonder what she thinks of all of these roses. I bet she likes them.


Ah ha! I think they both like them.


The colors! Juicy. The ironic thing about Portland and roses is that roses really do demand sun, 6 - 8 hours a day, so the wet Pacific Northwest is not actually the ideal place to grow them, especially in the shoulder season, the winter nor in the shade. But, we've been dubbed The City of Roses, so we'll go with it. Just give them plenty of air circulation in a sunny site. In fact, my mother-in-law was asking me about natural methods of powdery mildew control on her own roses, so I thought it would be appropriate to share that information here.

Cultural controls are the best method. Good air circulation, choose the right varieties for your area, plant in an appropriate location (not in shade or wet location - and right plant, right place!), and clean up diseased leaves on the ground (do not compost it, throw it away). This can over-winter in the soil and cause many problems in the coming years. Make sure it's a sunny site, you won't have any luck forcing a leggy sun-loving rose to languish in the shade covered in black spot. Don't forget to prune, roses need it. If you have aphids, they like new growth so check how much nitrogen the rose is getting - are you seeing a lot of rapid growth on your rose? Could it be getting too much nitrogen? Spray off aphids with a blast of water, this will knock them to the ground and do the trick in most cases. Repeat regularly until they are gone. You'll also want to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs and green lacewings to eat the aphids, so if you spray pesticides for insects, you'll be killing these, too, so it's best not to spray pesticides. Try water, it really works.

For more information, here's a link to a PDF from Oregon Sate University's Master Gardener's site about roses and rose care that has many helpful tips. A spray with baking soda combined with liquid soap is supposed to work if you catch powdery mildew early, and vinegar, too - 2 - 3 tablespoons mixed with a gallon of water, are helpful against powdery mildew. Powdery mildew comes in many forms for many reasons, one of which is not enough water in the soil and too much humidity. Check with your local extension service for conditions and controls for your specific area. Sometimes the best thing is to let it go. If it's not meant to grow where you are, maybe it's too much trouble.

Moving on:

The Rose Festival Queen's Walk has honored the Rose Festival Queens with a plaque on the brick walkway every year since 1907:




There are a few visible on the left.




 Sunny and hot! And who maintains these beautiful beds of roses? Deadheading and a lot of the care for these roses is done with an army of volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, please see the bottom of this post for details.


The Shakespeare Garden was originally designed with plants and trees mentioned in works by Shakespeare. However, in the subsequent years trees have taken over and the once sun-loving plants are now in a shady grove.


A rose! A rose! My kingdom for a rose!
(husband editing here)

For me, it's nice to see a mix of plants beyond roses. 








Very romantic place. 






Another fabulous sculpture by Portland artist Lee Kelly.



And as you are leaving, the restrooms have their own versions of eco-roofs. I love it!


This is my memory of the day with the husband and mother-in-law. A perfectly sunny weekend day spent among the flowers.

Glorious. Whether or not you love roses, it's a park worth visiting with vistas of the city and fresh air for all. You can have a picnic in the amphitheater and let the kids run around on the grass. It's a good way to appreciate a bit of Portland history in the form of plants. It has wheelchair access, paid city parking, picnic areas, an amphitheater, weddings are groovy, it's just an all around cool city park. If you are in Portland, it's a wonderful respite in an increasingly busy city. Other activities nearby are: The Japanese Gardens, Hoyt Arboretum, Forest Park, The Oregon Zoo, The Children's Museum, The Forestry Center, The Oregon Jewish Museum and Holocaust Memorial and Vietnam Veteran's of Oregon Memorial. Many of these places are free. Come visit us!

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!

From their website: Volunteer opportunities are available in both garden and non-garden work. Garden tasks include deadheading, planting, pruning, sign painting, and garden improvement projects. Non-garden tasks include strategic planning, fundraising, updating educational materials, leading garden tours, maintaining inventory records, and coordinating volunteer efforts. Contact the Rose Garden, 503-823-3636 or Volunteer Services, 503-823-5121.

17 comments :

  1. Brings back great memories Tamara! It was also that sunny and bright when we were all there :)

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    1. Good, I am glad for that! Sunny bright memories are often the best ones.

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  2. I didn't think I would enjoy this garden last year at the Fling because roses are fine but don't make me swoon -- but it really was a great place! My biggest problems with my roses are: 1) deer 2) rose slugs (sawfly larvae). Man, rose slugs make a plant ugly! (I'll trade them for powdery mildew any day!)

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    1. Yes, I'm with you on that, Alan. It's the place that makes me swoon to be honest. Good luck with your rose slugs! Ugggg...sounds awful.

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  3. Beautiful, romantic and extendic rose garden in Portland, thank you for the stroll around. I am looking forward to our Festival of the Rose test gardens of Westbroek Park in The Hague in July.

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    1. Thank you Janneke! Your festival sounds lovely, well - any festival in The Netherlands sounds great to me! Cheers!

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  4. It is a beautiful park, and one of the first gardens we visited on our first visit to Portland a few years ago.

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    1. Really? One of the first because you wanted to see it or because you just happened upon it? I wonder if it has a reputation outside of Portland? The park itself is lovely, though - one I as a native Portlander really do cherish.

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  5. What a beautiful day to share with family! Thank you for sharing...I really enjoyed it last year at the GBFling.

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    1. Oh, it was so nice! Thank you for reading and commenting, too Laurin! So glad you liked it at the Fling!

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  6. I can't imagine a more pleasant afternoon than one that combines sunshine and beautiful roses. Thanks for sharing your visit.

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    1. Sunshine, lollipops and ...oh wait, wrong song. Sunshine and roses...well, that pretty much screams summer then, doesn't it? :)

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  7. oh man, I haven't been over to the rose garden in years...maybe decades?? I need to go back. Thanks for reminding me!

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    1. Oooh, do go - bring Chimo on a leash and have a picnic with the fam - !!

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  8. I remember how wonderful the Rose Garden was from the Fling, and how I could have spent hours there--hopefully I will get to visit Portland again. Sounds like you had a great day with family--what could be better?

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    1. Yes, it was wonderful (well, everyone told me how hot it was, I was getting ready for the Flingers to come over that day to my garden and I remember how HOT it was). BUT it was a glorious day all the same. It was lovely this day too with the family - indeed! :) Thanks for reading and revisiting with me!

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  9. It's such a pretty spot. We go for a picnic every year with the kids, my sister's family, and my mom and step-dad. It's a good annual tradition.

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