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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…