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Testing roses is serious, but what results!

  • D.F. Braun

    The garden of Washington Park in Portland, Ore., is a mecca for rose lovers. The International Rose Test Garden has 4.5 acres of more than 8,000 plantings of approximately 550 varieties.   Amazing.

    Roses have been shown here annually since 1888, but it wasn't until 1917 that roses from Europe were sent to Portland's garden for testing. During World War I rose hybridists wanted to keep their new hybrids safe from being destroyed by the ravages of war. It was at that time that the primary purpose of the garden became to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties.

    The City of Portland Gold Medal Awards have been issued annually to the best introductions since 1919, making it the oldest testing program of its kind in the United States and the only city to issue these reports.

    The rose entries are judged for two years by a local panel of Rosarians. The garden is also one of 24 official testing sites for the All-American Rose Selections by a group of leading commercial rose growers and hybridizers in the United States since 1940.

    The roses under test are not named, but designated by code numbers. Four plants of each entry are scored for two years on 14 different points including plant habit, vigor, disease resistance, color, form and fragrance. About 200 cultivars are under test each year. When the trial is over the best roses are introduced and the others destroyed. There are no prizes for "also rans."


    Lest this lengthy description take away from the beauty of the garden, time spent in this magnificent setting above the city and the Willamette River is idyllic.

    As you stroll through the garden you may find it hard to believe that all roses are tended by only one year-round gardener (two during the summer) and more than 500 hours yearly by enthusiastic volunteers. Many separate rose gardens are open to the public and maps are available for each of them making easy viewing:

    - The Shakespeare Garden contains roses named after characters in his plays and is popular and available for special occasions, particularly small weddings.

    - The Miniature Rose Garden is one of only six such testing grounds for the American Rose Society. The elevated beds at the entrance are popular for their unique varieties.

    - The Royal Rosarian Garden is home to the planting of a "namesake" rose honoring each past Prime Minister of the Royal Rosarians. Established in 1912, the Royal Rosarian founders modeled their mythical Realm of Rosaria after the government of King Henry VII, whose rise to the English throne ended the War of the Roses. Members were "knighted" into the organization under their chosen variety of roses, which then became their "namesake" rose.

    Since 1924 an annual knighting ceremony has taken place in the picturesque natural amphitheater at the International Rose Garden surrounded by roses and rhododendrons. Men are thereafter addressed as "Sir" and women are dubbed "Dames" of the realm.

    - David Austin roses may be found next to the Japanese Garden, which is near the parking lot, an ideal start for your journey. You'll have many choices of stops for a picnic lunch in this magnificent park.

    The International Rose Test Garden is located in Washington Park at 400 SW Kingston Ave. at Portland. The garden is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 499-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.