Gold Medal Petals! Our Visit to the International Rose Test Garden

Photos by Ryan Benoit

No matter how much we fawn over our intergalactic passion flowers and the sultry party dresses of our fuchsias, our hearts will always somersault at the sight of a romantically formed garden rose. That’s why our recent trip to Portland’s International Rose Test Garden was like a walk in the clouds. That is, if clouds were made of roses — roses of every color, height and habit you can think of…

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

As promised, here’s our tour of the garden. Located in Portland, Oregon’s, Washington Park and founded in 1917, the 4.5-acre space is the oldest public rose garden in the U.S. Over 10,000 plantings of over 500 varieties of roses grow here in a climate that’s friendly to their demands: lack of temperature extremes, mild, dry summers and rainy winters.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Outside the entrance to the International Rose Test Garden, public tennis courts are blockaded by roses like this darling climber.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Love, love.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

The garden is, as the website says, primarily “a testing ground for new rose varieties.” These new varieties, submitted by hybridizers and labeled only with numbers, are evaluated over two years on 14 criteria, including fragrance, vigor, disease resistance, form, habit and foliage. After which you might find them for purchase at your local grower!

Sections to wander include the Gold Medal Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, the Miniature Rose Test Garden, and the Shakespeare Rose Test Garden, which was reserved for a wedding party, as it so often is, the day we visited. The tiered landscape of the garden (which includes a grassy amphitheater) transmits a sense of descending into a colossal, fragrant bowl of flowers.

And that doesn’t even include the rose-spangled public tennis courts nearby!

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

"The Lady's Blush" International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

The Lady’s Blush, an English rose.

The Lady's Blush, English Rose at the International Rose Test Garden

The Lady’s Blush shrub.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Dark and shapely in the background, the iconic conifers of the Pacific Northwest give this rose garden a unique charm. On the right: the Lagerfeld grandiflora, whose silvery-lavender blossoms brushed the tops of our heads.

Lagerfeld Grandiflora. International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Leaf mustache among the Lagerfelds. (It happens.)

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

The bright tissuey petals are all the more stunning against a backdrop of Portland’s dark, stoic conifers. Rose varieties we saw included: the sunny, fluffy, pink-tipped, citrus-scented Good as Gold hybrid tea; lanky climbers whose flowers hung from overhead like crown-shaped fruit; the yellow and pink wall of blossoms that is the Rose of Hope floribunda; and the towering, silvery-lavender flowers of the Lagerfeld grandiflora.

So, what is the difference between hybrid teas, grandifloras and floribundas? Here’s a quick guide to these types of modern garden roses, with the help of SF Gate and Madame Wiki. (Rosarians, let us know if we’re mistaken):

Hybrid teas: Believed to have been cultivated since 1867, the hybrid tea is the most popular rose on the market, and was created by the cross-breeding of Hybrid Perpetuals and tea roses.  They’re generally upright, and usually bear large single flowers on tall upright stems.

Tahitian Sunset. Hybrid Tea. International Rose Test Garden.

Tahitian Sunset, a hybrid tea with an anise scent.

Floribunda: A cross between hybrid teas and polyanthas, this variety was introduced in 1907, combining the beauty and color range of the former with the cluster-forming habit of the latter. Shrubs tend to be stiff, small and bushy.

Rose of Hope Floraibunda at the International Rose Test Garden

The Rose of Hope. True to its floribunda category, blossoms grow in ‘sprays’ or clusters.

Rose of Hope Floraibunda at the International Rose Test Garden

I mean…

Grandiflora: This class was created in the middle of the 20th century; like hybrid teas, grandifloras have an upright habit with large flowers — but grandifloras are also known for their clustered blossoms and impressive heights reaching upwards of 7 feet.

Below, stop to smell the roses with us…

—TH

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Rose Test Garden Rose

Rose Test Garden Rose

“Rose Test Garden Rose”

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

"Sedona" Hybrid Tea. International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Sedona hybrid tea.

Good as Gold Hybid Tea rose.

Gold medal winner in the ‘Best Hybrid Tea’ category, this Good as Gold rose has a citrusy scent.

Shreveport Grandflora rose

Shreveport grandiflora.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Ryan’s parched after all this rose action.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

We wind our way down the Gold Medal Garden.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Welcome to the winners’ circle!

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Shakespeare Garden

The Shakespeare Garden is a popular location for events and wedding photos. It was booked the day we visited.

Queen Elizabeth Grandiflora Rose

Queen Elizabeth Grandiflora Rose

Queen Elizabeth grandiflora.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

The serene emerald bowl of the amphitheater is a great place to take a blanket break.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Some of the roses (near the tennis court) were already fruiting rose hips when we visited. High in vitamin C and lycopene, rose hips are used in jellies, jams, soups, pies, syrups, soups and teas.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

As for the bees…let’s just say the bees were not displeased.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

A bee in a rose outside the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, OR.

Un-bee-lievable.

  • Leaf mustache is a framer!! 🙂

    • HA! That ‘stache is one part Dalí, one part silent-movie villainess!