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Established in 1917, the oldest public rose test garden in the U.S. offers a dazzling display of Portland’s favorite flower. Some 8,000 roses representing 525 species grow in fragrant, formal terraces overlooking downtown Portland and Mount Hood. The city’s fondness for the genus Rosa dates back to 1887 and the founding of the Portland Rose Society, the oldest such group in the U.S. In 1907, rose-loving citizens began a campaign to nickname Portland the “City of Roses,” which it’s been called ever since.

From the parking lot, steps descend to an information kiosk surrounded by elevated beds of miniature roses. Extending east, and covering two broad terraces, is the American Garden Rose Selections garden. The roses being tested here are given a code number rather than a name; four plants of each variety are evaluated for 2 years by an official judge using 13 different criteria. The city of Portland annually awards the best-performing roses with a gold or silver medal. Winners are then given fanciful (and sometimes cutesy) names and moved to the Gold Award Garden, located on the terraces below the Beach Memorial Fountain. The fountain is a walk-through, stainless-steel sculpture designed by Portland artist Lee Kelley and named for Frank E. Beach, who spearheaded efforts to nickname Portland the "City of Roses." Queens’ Walk, on the lowest promenade, is inset with bronze markers for every Rose Festival queen since 1907. Annual and perennial flowers named in Shakespeare’s plays are planted in the Shakespeare Garden, in the lower southeast corner. The small Rose Garden Store, 850 SW Rose Garden Way ([tel] 503/227-7033), is open in the summer and packed with rose-inspired products.

Portland Rose Festival

The Portland Rose Festival (www.rosefestival.org), held every year in June, coincides with the peak blooming time of the roses in the International Rose Test Garden. It is one of the largest floral-themed extravaganzas in the country, with two parades, the crowning of a Rose Queen (a high school competition), and a fun fair set up in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This Portland tradition dates back to 1907.