The groundhog has spoken; we’re in for an early spring. Regardless of how reliable you think Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are, we could all use a little more sunshine in our life; especially considering that we live in a city where it rains for ten months out of the year. As we emerge from our winter hibernation, shed our infinity scarves, and stare hopefully at a future in the mid to upper 50’s, we are reminded that there are a wealth of incredible things to do in the great outdoors. Our City of Roses has a secret garden of its own nestled in Washington Park in the southwest hills. Just a short drive north of the Oregon Zoo will take you to The International Rose Test Garden. This incredible location, over a century in the making, is home to well over 10,000 roses of over six hundred varieties. It began in 1888 when Georgiana Pittock founded The Portland Rose Society with some of her friends who shared her love of the beautiful flower. The garden was officially recognized as a protected location in 1917. As the war was raging in Europe, our city became a refuge for plant species that were sent from England to be protected from destructive conditions. A simple stroll through the garden will reflect the haven-like atmosphere of this floral oasis located just west of the Vista Ridge Tunnels.
This location’s rich history is rivaled only by its stunning present state. One glance will reveal acres of gorgeous buds among whimsical walkways and artistic features that give our city’s floral symbol the admiration it deserves. You can stroll around the grounds for hours without glancing at the same thing twice. As any observer would soon notice, the plants are individually marked by a placard that gives its name as well as a number. This number not only serves as identification but can be noted and used to purchase roses at the on-site shop. Among the flowers themselves, you will also find rose products and souvenirs to browse.
Aside from the expanse of roses of every color and variety imaginable, there is also a miniature rose garden. Also, the test garden is home to Portland’s Shakespeare Memorial. Among garden trellises, a beautiful, rustic brick wall, and crimson flora is an engraved portrait in the likeness of the world-renowned poet and playwright as well as an inscription that reads “Of all flowers methinks a rose is best.”
This beautiful tribute to the late, great genius is incredibly at home in the garden, but it wasn’t always there. The monument was formerly located in Southeast Portland but was moved in 1945 to make room for the expansion and construction of the city. The memorial grew along with the garden, eventually including a sundial which stands to this day. If you visit, it is certainly a facet of the area that is very much worth exploring.
One of my favorite times to see the garden is in early spring. If thousands of roses weren’t enough, imagine the fresh smell of rain and the beauty of dew drops on the brand-new buds. You’ll have the best chance of seeing the flowers in full-bloom from the months of April to October but every season brings its unique aesthetic to the garden. From winter frost to the vibrant summer afternoons to the mellow autumn leaves to the rebirth of spring, you honestly can’t go wrong.
So, are you due for a trip to Washington Park? Methinks yes. Not only is this location just ten minutes from downtown, but it’s also entirely free! The trip won’t cost you a dime, but the experience is priceless. It’s the perfect day out for the rose-lover, a great family-friendly frugal outing for the kids, and an incredibly romantic date idea. Whatever you’re up to, it’s easy to fit this rosy rendezvous into your plans. Get out there! The season of spring activities is in full bloom, and the International Rose Test Garden is the perfect place to kick it off.