For more than 100 years, the International Rose Test Garden in Portland has been an epicenter of interest and education for garden lovers and rose aficionados. One of 11 national test sites dedicated to roses, this not-for-profit garden works tirelessly to share the beauty of its roses. Additionally, the Rose Garden strives to educate the public on the care and history of roses and to promote the inclusion of roses in public and private gardens.
In addition to being an enormous draw for rose lovers world-wide, the garden is popular among visitors looking for free things to do in Portland. Tucked into the sprawling expanse of Washington Park, the Garden is only one of several major attractions that visitors can visit in one convenient location.
While casual visitors can stroll the rose-lined paths or take a guided tour, rose enthusiasts are invited to volunteer for a more hands-on experience in planting, pruning and deadheading under the supervision of Garden managers.
Portland’s Love Affair with Roses
The Rose Garden in Portland reflects the city’s long and storied history with roses. Private exhibitions held by some of Portland’s most famous residents are recorded as early as 1888. During the city’s Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration in 1905, more than 200 miles of Portland’s streets were lined with Testout Roses.
When World War I broke out, Oregonians were concerned that precious rose variants might be lost to the bombings in Europe. These concerned citizens petitioned the city to create a test garden to safeguard rose specimens for generations to come. The massive effort that followed culminated in the beginnings of the modern Garden that graces the city today.
Visitors will find that the International Rose Garden in Portland is comprised of numerous smaller gardens, each dedicated to certain types of roses. These include the:
- Royal Rosarian Garden. This pays tribute to former Royal Rosarian members and Portland goodwill ambassadors.
- Shakespeare Garden. This garden features plants, flowers and trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as roses named after characters in Shakespearean works.
- Miniature Rose Garden. This delightful garden focuses exclusively on miniature roses.
Separate sections of the Garden also highlight Gold Award-winning roses. In and among these areas, visitors can expect to find:
- Climbing roses.
- David Austin roses.
- Floribunda roses.
- Grandiflora roses.
- Hybrid tea roses.
- Landscape shrub roses.
- Miniature roses.
- Polyantha roses.
- Shrub roses.
- Tree (or standard) roses.
Altogether, the Rose Test Garden in Portland contains more than 7,000 individual plants of over 500 distinct varieties. A comprehensive map and key are available on the grounds for visitors with specific interests. The map makes it easy to find and explore different varieties or special characteristics that will appeal to any flower enthusiast.
When to Visit
Although the Garden is open year-round, the best time to visit the Portland rose garden is between May and September when the majority of the roses are in bloom. Similarly, while standard Portland Rose Garden hours are 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, roses are at their best between dawn and dusk.
Concerns about visiting during a given Portland Rose Garden season will be more important for visitors hoping to get hands-on experience with the plants by volunteering. Volunteers wishing to help specifically with planting, pruning or deadheading should contact the Garden in advance to ask about when such help will be needed and plan accordingly.
Visitors with specific interests visiting during the particularly busy spring and summer seasons may also wish to check with the Garden in advance, as portions of the Garden can be reserved for private events. These events may cause sections of the Garden to be temporarily closed off to the public. While this is not a cause for concern for most visitors, given the size and scope of the property, it may be worthwhile for visitors interested in exploring certain areas of the Garden during their stay.
Planning Your Visit
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, annually, the Rose Garden in Portland Washington Park offers free tours to the public each day starting at 1 p.m. Visitors wishing to participate are asked to arrive at least 10 minutes before the tour start time.
Private group tours are available for parties of 11 or more and must be scheduled in advance to ensure that a guide is available. A modest fee will apply.
As with all attractions at Washington Park, parking for the Garden is severely limited. Visitors are strongly encouraged to use MAX and TriMet public transit services and to take advantage of the free Washington Park shuttle service. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes during peak seasons. Walking and bicycle paths also make access to the Park easy and inexpensive and allow visitors to avoid parking hassles.
Guests are also encouraged to wear sturdy, comfortable footwear for their visit. While Garden paths are largely paved and the property is ADA-compliant, the International Rose Test Garden in Portland covers nearly five acres of space. Although benches and picturesque resting points provide an opportunity to relax, visitors can expect to spend most of their visits on their feet walking around. Comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate clothing can make the trip more enjoyable for children and adults alike.
Peninsula Park Rose Garden
It is important for visitors to be aware that the Peninsula Park Rose Garden in Portland and the International Rose Test Garden are two separate and unaffiliated gardens. Located in the Piedmont neighborhood of Portland, the Peninsula Park Garden is also a nonprofit dedicated to honoring Portland’s longstanding history with roses. The Peninsula Park Garden’s goal is improving the general quality of life in the city by making a beautiful, well-maintained garden accessible to the public.
The Peninsula Park Garden is smaller than the International Garden, with approximately 5,000 plants of just over two dozen varieties. It, too, welcomes volunteers during limited hours and is available for rental for private events. While it is worth a trip, should review information carefully when planning a trip to either garden. This will ensure that they are getting accurate information about the correct garden, as mistakes are common and can cause tremendous inconvenience and disappointment.