In 1888, Georgiana Burton Pittock, wife of pioneer publisher Henry Pittock, invited her friends and neighbors to exhibit their roses in a tent set up in her garden. Thus began the annual rose show for Portland Rose Society. Jesse A. Currey, a former Rose Society president, convinced city fathers to inaugurate a rose test garden in 1917 with the support of the American Rose Society, City officials, and civic –minded citizens. At that time, Portland had 20 miles of rose-bordered streets – a strategy to draw attention to the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. As a result, Portland was dubbed “City of Roses”. The garden was a perfect opportunity for enhancing that reputation.
Founded in 1917, Portland’s International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. In the beginning, even though World War I was raging in Europe, hybridists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing and to keep the fresh hybrids safe from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe.
THE GOLD MEDAL GARDEN
The primary purpose of this garden is to serve as a testing ground for fresh rose varieties. The City of Portland Gold Medal Awards are issued annually to the best introductions. The 1st "Gold Medal" rose award was given in 1919, making it the oldest rose testing program of its kind in the United States. Portland is the only North American city to issue such awards. These award winning varieties are planted in the Gold Medal Garden.
The terrace above the Shakespeare garden was originally planted in old garden roses. By 1959, so many Gold Award roses had crept into the terrace that it became known as the Gold Award Garden and the old garden roses were moved to another area of the garden.
With the support of the Portland Rose Society, today’s Gold Medal Garden was constructed in 1969 commemorating 50 years of Gold Medal awards in the City of Roses. In 1991, the Portland Rose Society donated the gazebo to the Gold Medal Garden, a popular spot for weddings and a wonderful vantage point from which to view the award winning roses.
Click here for a PDF of Gold Medal roses
Portland Rose Society >>
INTERNATIONAL ROSE TEST GARDEN
The International Rose Test Garden is also one of 24 official testing sites for the internationally respected All-America Rose Selections (AARS). The All-American Rose Selections is a non-profit association of rose growers and introducers dedicated to the introduction and promotion of exceptional roses. Since 1938 the AARS seal of approval has graced outstanding fresh rose varieties that have performed the best in the test gardens located throughout the country and representing all climate zones. AARS testing began here in Portland in 1940.
Roses currently under test in the garden are not named but are designated only by a number. The fresh varieties are submitted by the hybridizers to the AARS, who then distributes them to the test gardens identified only by their code number. Four plants of each entry are evaluated for two years on 14 different characteristics consumers desire in a garden plant including plant habit, vigor, disease resistance, color, flower production, form, foliage, and fragrance. About 200 rose cultivars are under test each year.
MINIATURE ROSE GARDEN
The garden is also one of only six testing grounds for the American Rose Society miniature rose test program. The national annual winners from both ARS and AARS associations are displayed in the middle of the garden along the center aisle.
A popular spot found within the garden is the Shakespeare Garden. Dedicated in 1945, this garden donated by the LaBarre Shakespeare Club was originally designed to include only herbs, trees and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Some of the trees have done so well in this garden, that their extensive shade has made it impossible to grow many of those original sun-loving plant varieties. The garden continues to honor the Bard with roses named after characters in his plays.
The informal design features graceful trees, brick walks and hundreds of annuals and perennials besides roses. Over the years, this garden has been the site for hundreds of weddings. A favorite spot for picnics, its shady lawn quickly transports visitors to faraway lands.
The focal point of the garden is a brick wall with a plaque featuring Williams Shakespeare’s image and his quote, “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best.”
ROYAL ROSARIAN GARDEN
The Royal Rosarian Garden honors the Royal Rosarian civic group, which serves as the official greeters and goodwill ambassadors for the City of Portland.
Royal Rosarians take part in many Rose Festival events and are very visible in their distinctive off-white uniforms and straw hats. They produce knighting ceremonies, appear in the Grand Floral Parade and escort the royal Court during its Rose Festival reign. The Rosarians welcome visiting dignitaries from around the world, host hundreds of out-of-town visitors, march in parades throughout the region, and perform ceremonial rose planting in honor of worthy individuals – both in Portland and during Rosarian ambassadorial trips to distant cities throughout the world. They are also involved in many other projects in service to the community. All services rendered by its members are volunteered without charge or cost.
Established in 1912, the Royal Rosarian founders modeled their mythical Realm of Rosaria after the government of England’s King Henry VII, whose rise to the throne in 1485 ended the War of the Roses. Members are “knighted” into the organization under their chosen variety of rose, which is then their "namesake" rose. Since 1924, an annual knighting ceremony has taken place in the picturesque, natural amphitheater at the International Rose Test Garden, surrounded by roses and rhododendrons. Men are thereafter addressed with “Sir” preceding their name while women are dubbed “Dames” of the realm.
The highest office in the Royal Rosarians is that of Prime Minister. The Royal Rosarian Garden is home to a planting of their “namesake rose” honoring all past Prime Ministers of the Royal Rosarians. Many old favorites, which are no longer available in commerce, may be found here.
The formally designed garden also features a stone bench honoring Jesse A. Currey, founder of the International Rose Test Garden.
At the foot of the Rose Garden is the Queen’s Walk. It was established in 1952 to honor all past, present and future Queens of Portland’s Rose Festival.
The Portland Rose Festival, Oregon’s premier civic celebration, has been a Northwest tradition since 1907. Carrie Lee Chamberlain, the governor’s daughter, reigned as Queen Flora over the Festival’s inaugural year. From 1908 to 1913 a king, Rex Oregonus, ruled over the festival. The identity of this king was kept secret until revealed at the festival’s annual ball. In 1914, Thelma Hollingsworth was the 1st elected Queen of Rosaria. Various methods and criteria were used to select the Queens through 1930.
Beginning in 1931, the Queen has been a Portland high school senior. Each of 14 local high schools selects one ambassador (previously called princesses) who together comprises the Rose Festival Court. One court member is chosen to be the Portland Rose Festival Queen. The Queen reigns over all Rose Festival events and represents the City of Roses in her ambassadorial travels to communities near and far.
One of their greatest and longest lasting honors is when the plaque bearing her name and signature is installed in the Queen’s Walk. The reigning Queen gets a special place of honor, with her plaque being placed in the center of semi-circle of bricks which overlooks the City of Portland from the Rose Garden. Each year, at the end of her reign, the out-going Queen’s plaque is moved to the walkway to join the other monarchs who have gone before her, to make room in the overlook for the fresh Queen of Rosaria.
Click here for list of all Rose Festival Queens since 1907.
Click here for more information on the Portland Rose Festival and Portland Rose Festival Association.
FRANK L BEACH MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN
Frank L. Beach, a rose enthusiast credited with dubbing Portland as the “City of “Roses” was honored in 1974 with the dedication of this Memorial Fountain in the rose garden.
The fountain was designed by artist Lee Kelly.