Portland's famous Rose Garden leaves visitors in awe of the colors, intoxicated by the perfume

Posted: Friday, June 28, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Harry Landers wears his pruning shears in a holster at his hip -- a gardening gunslinger. He has to be quick on the draw in a garden filled with almost 10,000 roses that require trimming every day.

The site of the verdant showdown is Portland's International Rose Test Garden, where Landers is the sole horticulturist.

Landers squints against bright sun at 4 1/2 acres of plants that have been under his care for 13 years. Some of them he knows well enough to consider family -- including a rose named Secret ''who is very temperamental and doesn't like to be pruned very hard,'' said Landers.

About 800,000 people stroll through the rose garden each year, most of them in June, when the flowers are in full bloom. Landers prepares all year for the influx of visitors.

''It's amazing -- the people and their reactions to the garden. It makes me so proud,'' Landers said. ''I don't mind the hard work when it is received so well.''

Owned by the city, Portland's rose garden is one of the largest and best-known test gardens in the world. About 550 varieties of roses reside here. More than 100 of them don't even have names yet.


Harry Landers, horticulturist for the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Ore., looks over Abbaye de Cluny, a hybrid tea rose, at the garden June 4, 2002. Landers works with a team of 29 volunteers and a crew of community service workers to keep the more than 500 varieties of roses at the garden neat and trim.

AP Photo/Don Ryan

June's invasion of the rose garden by flower aficionados coincides with Portland's Rose Festival. The festival includes the second-largest rose parade in the nation, the Grand Floral Parade.

This city's rose parade is bested only by Pasadena's Tournament of Roses in the number of floats. The parade attracts about 2 million visitors each year and pours $80 million into the local economy.

Portland has been known as the ''City of Roses'' for about a century.

It started in 1905, when rose clippings were handed out during a centennial celebration marking Lewis and Clark's arrival on Oregon's coast.

Residents then planted roses along miles and miles of city streets, and they thrived in Portland's mild climate. Some of the original bushes can still be found around the city, with fragrant, large flowers.

''There are some old postcards of Portland from the '30s and you can hardly see the houses for the roses,'' Landers said.

The rose garden was started in 1917, after the president of Portland's Rose Society, Jessie Currey, petitioned for the city to serve as a safe haven for hybrid roses grown in European gardens during World War I. Rose lovers at the time feared the unique plants could be destroyed during bombing.

There is no admission charge to the garden.

It is nestled on a hillside with spectacular views of downtown Portland, glacier-covered Mount Hood and the winding Willamette River. It is near 5,000-acre Forest Park, the largest wilderness park in the United States inside a city's limits.

Damuta Schneider was found one day admiring her hometown roses and the view.

''This is a hidden gem,'' she said. ''I love looking at the mountain. I love roses, I love all of them.''

The roses are planted in three terraces separated by basalt rock steps and walls that were laid in the late 1920s.

The garden grounds are immaculate. The plants are free of pests and disease.

At bloom time, the colors of the roses are overpowering, their perfume intoxicating, and each plant a rosy universe unto itself. Visitors often get lost in reverie as they move from one bloom to the next.

A pleasant pocket of greenery, the Shakespeare Garden is separated from the beds by tall hedges. Roses here are named after some of the Bard's characters: Sweet Juliet, Ophelia and Wise Portia.

The Shakespeare Garden has an alcove with a cascade of roses along its wall. Numerous couples have exchanged wedding vows there, ''sometimes four in one day,'' Landers said.

Strolling through the garden, Joseph Jabakhanji of Syria said it reminded him of jasmine-laden evenings in Damascus, where he grew up.

He first visited the garden years ago while attending Portland State University.

''I used to come here every Saturday and go over the roses and find the best smelling and most colorful,'' he said. ''Especially after hot days, on a cool night, the smell was overpowering.''


On the Net:

Portland Rose Garden: http://www.parks.ci.portland.or.us/Parks/IntRoseTestGarden.htm

Oregon Historical Society: http://www.ohs.org/homepage.html

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