The oldest public garden of its kind in the United States, The International Rose Test Garden is also one of 24 official testing sites for the internationally respected All-America Rose Selections (AARS). The All-American Rose Selections is a non-profit association of rose growers and introducers dedicated to the introduction and promotion of exceptional roses. Since 1938 the AARS seal of approval has graced outstanding new rose varieties that have performed the best in the test gardens located throughout the country and representing all climate zones. AARS testing began here in Portland in 1940.
Roses currently under test in the garden are not named but are designated only by a number. The new varieties are submitted by the hybridizers to the AARS, who then distributes them to the test gardens identified only by their code number. Four plants of each entry are evaluated for two years on 14 different characteristics consumers desire in a garden plant including plant habit, vigor, disease resistance, color, flower production, form, foliage, and fragrance. About 200 rose cultivars are under test each year.
In 1888, Georgiana Burton Pittock, wife of pioneer publisher Henry Pittock, invited her friends and neighbors to exhibit their roses in a tent set up in her garden. Thus began the annual rose show for Portland Rose Society. Jesse A. Currey, a former Rose Society president, convinced city fathers to inaugurate a rose test garden in 1917 with the support of the American Rose Society, City officials, and civic –minded citizens. At that time, Portland had 20 miles of rose-bordered streets – a strategy to draw attention to the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. As a result, Portland was dubbed “City of Roses”. The garden was a perfect opportunity for enhancing that reputation.
Founded in 1917, Portland’s International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. In the beginning, even though World War I was raging in Europe, hybridists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing and to keep the new hybrids safe from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe.