Oregon Road Trip: Portland’s International Rose Test Garden Passes with Flying Colors

Our family road trip in July had finally brought us to Portland. Last week I lamented on how I was a little burnt out on Japanese gardens. We had visited a lot of them in the past two years, including some of the best in Kyoto. It was time to move on.

However, right after we visited the Portland Japanese Garden, we hopped down the steps in Washington Park to check out the International Rose Test Garden. We were there, we had a great parking spot; Mike and I figured why not? We might get a few new ideas for our own garden.

Let’s just say I had the opposite reaction to the Japanese garden.

I was blown away.

Seattle has a test rose garden on the south end of the Woodland Park Zoo. Portland’s rose garden is at least double, no triple, the size of the one in Seattle.

What an incredible public space for the city inhabitants and visitors to enjoy!

Color burst from every crevice. Rows of orange, red, purple, cream and gold struck my retina, overwhelming my eyeballs with saturated color.

I can’t even describe the scent. Imagine one beautiful bouquet of roses. Got it? Ok, now imagine walking down a street and catching a wave of that bouquet every few feet. The smell drifts through your nose; sweet, spicy, soapy.

Yes, it can smell a little like the inside of a Crabtree & Evelyn store from time to time, but it was not overpowering. It was a welcome break from the car exhaust we had inhaled on the drive from Cannon Beach to Portland.

Our visit was pretty simple. We stalked a few monks visiting the Gold Medal Garden. Dek ran around the amphitheatre. Mike and I walked away with a few new names of roses that we would look for next spring at the flower nurseries to add to our collection.

Tip for husbands: If you have a nice rose or cut flower garden in your backyard you can just clip a few stems anytime the woman in your life starts to complain you never give her flowers. It took Mike 12 years to learn that one.

If we had thought ahead we could have brought a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawn while doing a little people watching. We had no time to stop though. I’d promised Dek that we would go to the zoo. We were off to explore a few new animals.

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written by Keryn Means

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13 comments

  1. That garden looks amazing! What a way to spend a gorgeous summer afternoon!

  2. Simply beautiful! If I had a green thumb and my own house, I’d have a beautiful flower garden with a fountain. I also loved the picture of the harpist. That must have been beautiful to listen to while wandering the gardens.

  3. My garden hasn’t had the attention it deserves this summer. Looking at your photos makes me realize I need to add some roses next year. Love the orange ones – and hope they had a scent to match their colour.

    • Leigh- I was on the hunt for a true orange rose. Really hard to find. But if you wat orange and a scent to die for look for the Hot Cocoa rose. I have one at my house that I found at the Seattle rose garden. It is by far my favorite rose ever!

  4. Why can’t we grow roses like that in Kirkland? Ours have black spots all over the leaves – the few remaining this summer. Maybe the answer is to just visit roses when in Portland. . .it is the place it appears. Or travel less and garden more?

    • Jackie- I was talking to a gardener friend of mine about the black spots. Apparently it is caused by too little water and sunshine. Some of my roses have it, some do not. It’s weird. I thought I watered them all the same, and ones in shade, that you would think need more sun, look fabulous. Who knows. All I know is that Portland has full time gardeners taking care of theres. I love my plants, but I love travel more :-)

  5. Absolutely beautiful! I love all the variety and colors. I’m imagining the heavenly scent too. We visited this garden many years ago but it was in March so it didn’t look as lovely as this. Great husband tip!

  6. I so love Roses ~ especially Red ones. My late Grandma used to love roses, yellow was her favorite one.

    It looks so pretty at the Internationl Rose gardens :)

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