Portland and roses seem to go naturally together but exactly where the connection of roses to this beautiful city came from appears to branch out in many different directions. We know that the climate in Portland, Oregon is just perfect for this most intoxicating flower and it certainly thrives in our drenching rainfall that we receive throughout much of the year. Who knew that such seasonal deluge could produce an enticing fragrance and elegance all wrapped up in this unique flower we call “the rose“. This group of plants can be found lining the fences of neighborhoods, cascading over arbors and acting as the center gem in countless PDX residential gardens. But where in Portland history did this exclusive and affectionate official nickname come from? Why is Portland called the Rose City?


The City of Roses Gets Its Name

International Rose Test Garden in Portland ORThe diversity of some of the history around where this nickname came from ranges from the story of Episcopal Church attendees visiting for a convention in 1888 to the Portland mayor’s idea of celebrating a rose festival, to even the amazing climate that is so agreeable for this delicate plant.

We think the most reliable source is the evolution of the name from 1889.

Portland was a bustling, growing city in 1889 and the wife of Oregonian publisher Henry Pittock (founder of The Oregonian) initiated an invitation to her friends to view her roses in their garden. The Portland Rose Society was founded from those early beginnings. Soon you could find them planted all over, along neighborhood streets and bordering the front yard of Portland homes. The city became captivated by this cultural, woody perennial flower. Then in 1905, Portland celebrated the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. The Portland Rose Society decided to promote 20 miles of rose-covered streets in preparation for the exhibition. After the Centennial Exposition the name, City of Roses caught on and even the mayor wanted to continue to honor that by launching the first ‘festival of roses’ in 1907.

Everything Is Coming Up Roses In PDX

Rose Garden in PortlandThe wonderful thing about this unusual but culturally historic name is that we can experience it throughout our Portland area. The International Rose Test Garden is just one spectacular place to view these classical buds and stroll along row after row of heirloom blooms in the 4.5-acre property. You will be able to spot the championship roses from every year of competition from as far back as the early 1920s.

Rose Garden's Darkest Color Rose Ink SpotCool Facts About The Rose Garden – You May Not Know

  • It is considered the oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States.
  • The darkest color in the rose garden is called the Ink Spot and the edge of the pedals are a deep black-red color.
  • The rose test garden contains a brick walkway with hand-signed bronze stars honoring the crowning of each Rose Festival queen since 1907.
  • The Shakespeare Garden located within the grounds has rose varieties that are named after various characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
  • The Rose City garden features more than 10,000 roses and the best times of the year to view these gardens is from May through September.
  • The Miniature Rose Garden is one of only six testing areas in the country for the American Rose Society.
  • An estimated 500 hours are required to maintain the rose gardens by volunteers that are rose lovers along with one year-round gardener on-site (two during the summer months).

Here are a few of our favorite pictures from the Rose City’s International Rose Test Garden.

Rose Garden Fountain in PDX Rose Garden with Yellow Rose and Bee  Rose Garden with Pink Rose Rose Garden in Portland Peach Roses in Sunlight

The Rose Festival – Blooms Annually In Portland

Once the word got out that Portland was now coined the “City of Roses” it took little time to start the planning for the first Rose Festival, where the message launched a movement to bring more visitors into the Portland area during the summer months. The push to make PDX the Summer capital of the world was underway. After all these years since 1907, the festival was able to sustain itself and produce award-winning events. The Rose Festival has been the leader in the community to spotlight the valuable aspects of volunteerism, patriotism and environmentalism culture within the rose city. It is a wonderful exhibit of food, parades, parties, fireworks, music, and races!

Rose Garden in Portland White RoseIn review, it is easy to see why the Rose City stuck and still today many refer to our little Mecca of the world, just as that. In a way it makes us smile to know that the efforts of a small community of aristocratic rose lovers actually where the catalyst to this now monumental naming and so we are grateful for their efforts because the enjoyable beauty of the rose is world-renowned as being highly sought after and admirably loved, just as our own Portland and the City Of Roses is.

*Image Source: Lisa Erickson Robertson

Now you know why Portland is called the rose city!