A riot of colour and delicious smells the International Rose Test Garden in Portland is one of the City's late Spring highlights
One of Portland’s nicknames is the City of Roses, and this town has long been an incubator for the scented beauties. Nearly a century ago, a farsighted citizen convinced the local government to set up a rose test garden during World War I to preserve the species of European roses that might be decimated by the bombings. Thus, in 1917, the International Rose Test Garden was born and lives on as the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. What does that mean for you? If you visit from April through October you can walk among 7,000 luscious rose bushes; June is when they’re most bountiful. The garden is free, open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
The garden itself is located in the City’s Washington Park, a large urban green space that is also the home to many of Portland’s main attractions including the Portland Zoo and the Japanese Garden. The Rose Garden is opposite the Japanese Garden, and it is straightforward to combine the two in a two or three-hour visit!
Parking is limited in the area around the Rose Garden so we decided to use public transport. On the way there we decided to take the number 20 bus from outside Powells Bookshop travelling west towards Beaverton. After passing Providence Park, the home of the Portland Timbers, we hopped off at 23rd Street and crossed the street to Washington Park. You should be aware that Washington Park is built on a hill and we had a pretty steep climb up many stairs to reach our destination. There is an alternative path that winds its way up the hill, avoiding the stairs but this is also quite steep. The nice this about this route is that it took us via the Holocaust Memorial, which is worth spending a few minutes exploring and reflecting on the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on the Jews living in mainland Europe during World War II.
From the Jewish Memorial, you can follow the road another 1/2 mile uphill to the Rose Garden, or do what we did catch the free shuttle bus. Additionally, the number 76 bus also stops here and will take you on to the Rose Garden.
The International Rose Test Garden is spectacular, especially when we visited in early June. There are hundreds of different types of roses, from bushes to shrubs to trees with hundreds of varieties on display. The colours are incredible and the fragrance of several varieties was scrumptious. From our brief investigation, the yellow flowers are the most fragrant but it is worth checking out the others for yourself.
We spent a good hour milling among the many beds and rows of roses before heading off. On this visit, we decided not to do the Japanese Garden – having been there not too long ago.
Returning to downtown Portland we decided to take a different route back (which you could take to get you there in the first place). We caught the free shuttle bus (or alternatively the number 76 bus) to the top of Washington Park where the Zoo and Children’s Museum is located. From here you can take the MAX Light Rail back down the heart of downtown Portland.
If you love gardens and especially roses you will be delighted if you get the chance to visit these amazing gardens. There are flowers in bloom from April to October but the zenith of the floral displays are in the Spring- especially in June.
About the International Rose Test Garden
Getting to and around Portland
Portland is a very easy city to get to. The Portland International airport is located on the east side of the city and is served by numerous airlines including some low-cost carriers. It is a relatively small airport and easy to navigate get around. There is an extension of the Portland light rail service that is close to the airport that will take you right into the heart of the city.
Getting to Portland by car is also easy with major freeways running from the North, South (Interstate 5) and the East (Interstate 84). Seattle is about 175 miles north of Portland and San Francisco is 640 miles to the south.
There is an excellent public transport system serving the Portland metro area, including light rail and busses. It is also a walkable city, so when we visit we usually like to walk as much as possible.
Best time to visit Portland
The best time to visit Portland is from June to August, when consistently warm weather allows the city’s outdoorsy culture to thrive. Plus, summer is when the city’s roses (especially at the International Rose Test Garden) are in full bloom. However, this is also the peak tourist season, so you’ll have to book at least a couple months in advance to ensure availability and the best room rates. If you’re looking to score a bargain on a hotel, consider a winter trip. Chilly temperatures repel sightseers, but Portland’s proximity to Mount Hood makes it a great destination for winter sports enthusiasts. No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll find a variety of niche local events to choose from.
Where to stay?
1. SOCIETY HOTEL
The Society Hotel is located in the heart of Portland’s China Town. The building was built in 1881 by the Seaman’s Friends Society as a safe haven for sailors. Several years after The Seaman’s Friends Society opened as a hotel, the business began to dwindle, and the building was eventually rented to the Portland Hospital for one year. In 2013 a group of entrepreneurs purchased the building with the intention of revitalizing it into something lasting and that would have a positive impact on the area.
The hotel is located in Chinatown and is only a 10-minute walk from the fashionable Pearl District and 20 minutes from the main downtown areas.
2. HI PORTLAND NORTHWEST
We recently stayed at the HI Portland Northwest hostel during a short visit to Portland. I had booked us into a private room which was fantastic with double bay windows on two sides of the room.
Apparently, this is considered the 3rd best hostel in the world and you can see why. The common facilities, from the lounge to the community kitchen are wonderful. There is also a cafe that serves great food and craft beers!
The hostel is located only a few minutes from the popular Pearl District and other shopping areas
3. THE VINTAGE HOTEL
The Hotel Vintage – a Kimpton Hotel is located at 422 SW Broadway, on the corner of Broadway and Washington. The hotel is centrally located in the heart of downtown Portland – just 6 blocks from the waterfront and in the heart of downtown Portland’s shopping, dining, entertainment and business district. One block away is Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square and access to MAX, our convenient light rail system. Pioneer Place Mall is located one block away and has 70 speciality shops. Close to several theatres, Portland’s art museum and restaurants.