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Where do new varieties of roses come from? Ask the people at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, high up on a hill overlooking the city. This is where new rose varieties are tested. But, for the residents of Portland, it’s also the favourite spot for a picnic – or to propose.
Awards are presented each year for the best new roses during the City of Portland Gold Medal Awards. The varieties nominated are judged based on their strength, resistance against diseases, colour, petals, leaves, shape and scent. The prize-winners are allotted a spot in the Gold Medal Garden. There is also a section of the garden devoted to miniature roses.
Portland has a long rose tradition. In 1888, Georgiana Burton Pittock, the wife of a prominent publisher, began an exhibition – in a tent in her garden. Together with friends and neighbours, she established the Portland Rose Society. This association of rose lovers opened the current ‘test garden’ in 1917, which is now the oldest rose garden in the United States.
The garden is part of Washington Park, an oasis of green overlooking the city and its environs from atop a long, narrow hill. During clear weather, the views are spectacular and you can see as far as Mount Hood. Closer by, you can admire the 7,000 rose plants of around 550 different varieties. The roses have a long blooming period, from April to October. The most magnificent display of colours and scents is around June, when they reach peak maturity.
One of the most popular spots in the garden is the Shakespeare Garden, established as a donation from the LaBarre Shakespeare Club. The club thought it would be nice to have all herbs, trees and flowers that play a role in Shakespeare’s plays all in one place. The trees in particular have thrived magnificently. Yet they have created so much shade that many of the varieties originally planted have failed to survive. Naturally, there are also roses in this part of the garden, of varieties named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays.