Roses in Portland, Oregon

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A red rose
A rose at Portland, Oregon's International Rose Test Garden

The city of Portland, Oregon is ideal for growing roses outdoors due to its location within the marine west coast climate region, its warm, dry summers and rainy but mild winters, and its heavy clay soils.[1][2][3] Portland has been known as the City of Roses, or Rose City, since 1888, after Madame Caroline Testout, a large pink variety of hybrid tea rose bred in France, was introduced to the city. Thousands of rose bushes were planted, eventually lining 200 miles (320 km) of Portland's streets in preparation for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905.[4]

The Rose City Park neighborhood in northeast Portland was formed in 1907, the same year of the first annual Portland Rose Festival. During World War I, nursery owners in Portland began planning a large rose garden to protect European rose species from the war. The garden was established in Washington Park as the International Rose Test Garden in 1917. Today, the Portland Rose Festival takes place each June with a carnival, parades, and navy ships docked along the Tom McCall Waterfront Park to promote the city. The International Rose Test Garden is currently one of the oldest public rose test gardens in the United States, covering 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) with over 8,000 rose plants, and more than 550 different species. In 2003, Portland adopted the "City of Roses" as its official nickname.


In 1888, Georgiana Burton Pittock, the wife of Oregon newspaper publisher and business tycoon Henry Pittock, invited friends and neighbors to display their roses in a tent set up in her garden in the area now known as Pittock Block. In 1889, lawyer and civic leader Frederick Van Voorhies Holman helped found the Portland Rose Society.[5] The rose cultivar Mme. Caroline Testout, a hybrid tea rose variety named after a French dressmaker, was introduced by French rosarian Joseph Pernet-Ducher in 1890. The cultivar gained popularity, and by 1905 Portland had 20 miles (32 km) of rose-bordered streets, with about half-a-million rose bushes planted, attracting visitors to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.[4][6]

In 1915, rose hobbyist and Oregon Journal editor Jesse Currey convinced city officials to establish a rose test garden to protect hybrid roses grown in Europe during World War I. Portland's Park Bureau approved the idea in 1917, allowing rose enthusiasts in England to send roses to Portland for preservation. City landscape architect Florence Holmes Gerke began designing the International Rose Test Garden and accompanying amphitheatre in 1921. The garden was dedicated in June 1924 with Currey as the first curator. He served until his death in 1927. A stone bench in the garden honors Currey's work as founder.[4]

City of Roses[edit]

Former Portland mayor Harry Lane
Portland mayor Harry Lane said in 1905 that the city needed a "festival of roses".

The official and most common nickname for Portland is the "City of Roses", or "Rose City". According to Charles Paul Keyser, Portland Parks Superintendent from 1917 to 1950, the first known reference to Portland as "The City of Roses" was made by visitors at an Episcopal Church convention in 1888.[7] The city's first annual rose show was held the following year, and by 1904, the Portland Rose Society began sponsoring fiestas to accompany the shows. The nickname grew in popularity after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, when mayor Harry Lane suggested that the city needed a "festival of roses".[8] The first Portland Rose Festival was held two years later and remains the city's major annual festival a century later. The Portland Rose Society, which offers educational programs on "rose culture" and advocates the use of roses in the landscape, remains in operation today.[4]

In Portland, the nickname is often attributed to Leo Samuel, who founded the Oregon Life Insurance Company in 1906 (known today as Standard Insurance Company). Samuel grew roses outside his home and placed a pair of shears outside his garden, so people could snip a rose from his garden to take for themselves.[9]

On June 18, 2003, the city council unanimously approved a resolution adopting "the City of Roses" as the city's official nickname.[7][8]


refer to caption
The International Rose Test Garden in 2010.

Many rose gardens are found throughout Portland, the most prominent of which is the International Rose Test Garden. Peninsula Park became the city's first public rose garden in 1909 when it was purchased for $60,000 ($2,034,667 in 2024[10]) with funds raised in a 1908 bond measure.[11] Designed by Emanuel L. Mische, the 2-acre (0.81 ha) garden contains 8,900 plantings featuring 65 rose varieties. Mme. Caroline Testout, the official rose of Portland, was grown at Peninsula Park. In 1913, the park was chosen as the location for an annual rose show, where it remained until Washington Park was selected as the location of the International Rose Test Garden in 1917.[4][11] The park remains a popular Portland tourist destination, with more than 9,500 rose bushes representing over 600 varieties.[4][12]

The Ladd's Addition neighborhood contains four diamond-shaped rose gardens originally designed by William Sargent Ladd in the 1890s. Emanuel Mische designed landscaped areas in the park in 1909. Mische planted roses in the diamond gardens giving it a "stained glass effect". The park was acquired by Portland Parks & Recreation in 1981 and currently features 3,000 roses representing sixty varieties that were popular in the early 20th century.[13]

Other rose gardens surrounding the Portland metropolitan area include Esther Short Park in Vancouver, Washington, Avery Park Rose Garden in Corvallis, Owen Rose Garden in Eugene, and Heirloom Roses in St. Paul.[14]


The Portland Rose Festival is an annual civic festival held during the month of June. Events, including multiple parades, a carnival, fleet week, and the crowning of a queen,[3][15] are organized by the volunteer non-profit Portland Rose Festival Association with the purpose of promoting the Portland region. Coinciding with the festival is the Annual Spring Rose Show, considered to be one of the largest and longest-running in the nation.[16] The Portland's Best Rose event, sponsored by the Portland Rose Society, began in 1996. The competition includes 100 judges ranking varieties in a blind contest.[14][17] One day prior to the competition, the public is invited to vote for the People's Choice award recipient.[14]

Local namesakes[edit]

Neon rose sign at the Visitors Information Center.

Rose City Park is a neighborhood and park in northeast Portland.[18] The neighborhood formed in 1907, the year of the first Portland Rose Festival.[19][20] The headquarters of the rose festival are at the Visitors Information Center, also known as the Rose Building. The building was designed by architect John Yeon in 1948 and served as a chamber of commerce office and visitor center, city offices, and a restaurant, as well as the rose festival's headquarters.[21] Located along Tom McCall Waterfront Park, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 and features a rose garden and neon rose sign.[22][23][24] Other namesakes include murals depicting roses painted on sides of buildings in Portland,[25] and the private company Rose City Transit, which provided most mass transit service in Portland from 1956 to 1969.[26]

The Moda Center, formerly known as the Rose Garden, is home to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Roses have long been associated with sports in Portland. The Moda Center, known as the Rose Garden for many years, is an indoor sports arena in the Rose Quarter, a sports and entertainment center in the Lloyd District neighborhood.[27][28] The venue was one of the last National Basketball Association (NBA) facilities to have its naming rights sold.[29] In addition, three professional sports teams were named the Portland Rosebuds during the first half of the 20th century; they were two professional men's ice hockey teams that played home games at the Portland Ice Arena and one Negro league baseball team in the West Coast Baseball Association that was also known as the "Portland Roses".[30][31] The first hockey team played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1914–1918.[32] During the 1915–1916 season the Rosebuds became the first American team to participate in the Stanley Cup finals.[32] The second hockey team played in the Western Hockey League's fifth and final season (1925–1926).[32] Other teams have incorporated the "Rose City" nickname into their brand. The Rose City Rollers, an all-female roller derby league within the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, was established in 2004 and supports four local teams and two traveling teams.[33][34] The Rollers support a junior league known as the Rosebuds.[35] Two women's professional football teams have been named the Rose City Wildcats, the first formed for the 2001 season of the Women's American Football League[36] and the second for the 2011 season of the Women's Spring Football League.[37] A women's soccer team named the Portland Thorns FC was formed in 2012 by the Portland Timbers and have played in the National Women's Soccer League since 2013.[38][39]


Portland born recording artist Esperanza Spalding has a song called "City of Roses" on her album Radio Music Society.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Holman, Frederick V. (1908). "Where Rose Is Queen: How the City of Portland, Oregon, Decks Itself in Royal Array – The Annual Blossom Festival". Sunset. 21. Southern Pacific Transportation Company: 105–109. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
  2. ^ Holman, Frederick V. (1910). Leonard Barron (ed.). "Where Roses Run Riot". Garden & Home Builder. 11. Doubleday, Page and Company: 228–229. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Dresbeck, Rachel (2011). Insiders' Guide to Portland, Oregon. Globe Pequot. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-7627-6475-4. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "International Rose Test Garden – Washington Park". Portland Parks & Recreation. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  5. ^ Flores, Trudy; Griffith, Sarah (2002). "Portland Rose Festival, 1910". Oregon History Project. Oregon Historical Society. Archived from the original on March 8, 2014. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  6. ^ Chasing The Rose, Andrea di Robilant, Knopf, 2014, p. 91
  7. ^ a b Stern, Henry (June 19, 2003). "Name comes up roses for P-town: City Council sees no thorns in picking 'City of Roses' as Portland's moniker". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon: Advance Publications. p. D1.
  8. ^ a b "City Flower". City of Portland Auditor's Office. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved May 13, 2023.
  9. ^ Fodor's Travel Publications (1997). The Pacific Northwest's Best Bed & Breakfasts (3rd ed.). Fodor's Travel Publications. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-679-03265-6.
  10. ^ "Consumer Price Index (Estimate) 1800-". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Archived from the original on August 22, 2012. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Peninsula Park & Rose Garden". Portland Parks & Recreation. Archived from the original on August 6, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  12. ^ Cheesman, Shannon L. (July 8, 2011). "'Portland's hooked on roses'". Portland, Oregon: KATU. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  13. ^ "Ladd Circle Park & Rose Gardens". Portland Parks & Recreation. Archived from the original on August 6, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  14. ^ a b c Pokorny, Kym (May 27, 2011). "Roses are a no-show for Portland Rose Festival". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  15. ^ Fong, Dominique (June 11, 2011). "Rose Festival events preview: Portland's best rose, milk carton boat races". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on August 16, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  16. ^ Frazier, Joseph B. (May 3, 2009). "Portland authority". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington: Cowles Publishing Company. Archived from the original on April 4, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  17. ^ "Portland's Best Rose". Portland Rose Society. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  18. ^ Woolsey, Matt (July 29, 2008). "In Depth: America's Most Overpriced ZIP Codes". Forbes. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  19. ^ Weisensee, Erika. "Portland Rose Festival". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Portland State University. Archived from the original on May 20, 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
  20. ^ "Rose City Park Neighborhood Association". City of Portland, Office of Neighborhood Involvement. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
  21. ^ "Site Information". Oregon Historic Sites Database. September 24, 2010. Archived from the original on April 28, 2011. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  22. ^ "Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 9/20/10 through 9/24/10". National Park Service. October 1, 2010. Archived from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  23. ^ "Rose Building Open House". Portland Rose Festival Foundation. Archived from the original on July 31, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  24. ^ Theriault, Denis C. (October 13, 2010). "It's Historic—Even With Randy Leonard's Neon Rose". The Portland Mercury. Index Publishing. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  25. ^ Friesen, Mark (13 May 2007). "Rose collage". Archived from the original on May 21, 2014. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  26. ^ Graf, Tyler (November 9, 2007). "The tracks of time". Daily Journal of Commerce. Portland, Oregon. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  27. ^ Morgan, Jon (September 17, 2002). "Naming stadium for Unitas costly, not unprecedented". Baltimore Sun. Tribune Company. Archived from the original on October 10, 2004. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  28. ^ "Portland neighborhoods, locations and districts (Portland, Oregon - OR, USA)". World Guides. July 22, 2012. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  29. ^ "Sports Facility Reports (National Basketball Association)" (PDF). Sports Facility Reports. Marquette University Law School National Sports Law Institute. p. 25. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 4, 2012. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
  30. ^ "Portland, Seattle Colored Nines Tangle Tonight at Bengal Field". Lewiston Morning Tribune. June 16, 1946. p. 4. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  31. ^ "Negro Nines Set for Tilts Here". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington: Cowles Publishing Company. June 12, 1946. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  32. ^ a b c Mancuso, Jim; Petterson, Scott (August 15, 2007). Hockey in Portland. Arcadia Publishing. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7385-4804-3.
  33. ^ "About the Rose City Rollers". Rose City Rollers. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  34. ^ "FAQ". Rose City Rollers. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  35. ^ "Rose City Rollers Youth League and Partners Celebrate Global Youth Day". Rose City Rollers. 14 April 2010. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  36. ^ Evans, Jayda (July 10, 2001). "Get ready for pro women's football". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. ISSN 0745-9696. OCLC 9198928. Archived from the original on July 1, 2015. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  37. ^ "Rose City Wildcats". OurSports Central. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  38. ^ Siemers, Erik (December 13, 2012). "Timbers name new women's club Portland Thorns". Portland Business Journal. Archived from the original on March 10, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  39. ^ Arnold, Geoffrey C. (December 13, 2012). "Portland Thorns: Women's professional soccer team unveils name, logo". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  40. ^ Kin, John (February 23, 2013). "Esperanza Spalding: Song For A 'City Of Roses'". NPR. Retrieved April 6, 2023.

Further reading[edit]