Did you know that roses are not native to Oregon? So how did Portland get its nickname?
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia
The story behind "City of Roses" is not a straightforward one, but each event lead incrementally to Portland's royal rosy status.
It all started when a rose bush was given as a wedding gift in 1837, before Oregon even became a state. After which, appreciation for the flower grew (pun intended), with the creation of the Portland Rose Society, thanks to Georgina Pittock, whose husband was Henry Pittock, fancy man-about-town and publisher of The Oregonian.
In 1891, William S. Ladd, a former mayor of Portland, subdivided his 126-acre property to develop Portland's first planned residential area. The unique feature of Ladd's Addition is that the streets run diagonal, in direct juxtaposition to the rest of city's linear grid. Of the gardens that were planted, four diamond-shaped rose gardens were symmetrically set around the center of the neighborhood. Today, the gardens are still in bloom, featuring sixty varieties of roses.
Of all the rose varieties, the one that is most synonymous with Portland is the Madame Caroline Testout, a sweet-smelling pink tea rose. It was originally cultivated in Peninsula Park located in north Portland. This variety was planted in abundance throughout the city during The Lewis and Clark Exposition.
The next part of the story intrigues me the most as there is no place you can go to revisit its history. The Lewis and Clark Exposition was held in 1905 (a world's fair of sorts) with hundreds of thousands of rose bushes planted throughout the city.
Do these expo buildings still exist? Yes...but mostly no. The grounds, and even a lake, were turned into an industrial area; home to land-fills, recycling stations and warehouses, situated northwest of downtown. But some buildings were kept intact, moved elsewhere and are still in use today, including Mcmenamins St. Johns Theater & Pub.
Since Portland saw success in the expo, with over 1.5 million visitors, it was decided that, "hey, roses seem like a good draw, let's have an annual rose festival!". And so, the first Rose Festival was held in 1907 and, indeed, it did draw people to the city and has for over 100 years.
Finally, during World War I, the city was recognized internationally for its affinity for roses. England began sending their precious hybridized roses to Portland for safe keeping from bombings. These bushes were planted in the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park.
It was 80 years in the making, but a stately title like "The City of Roses" takes time. Portland is famous for these blooms and continues to celebrate them with the annual Rose Festival, larger-than-life rose murals, and issuing the country's only "Best Rose" award, chosen every year by world rose experts. Perhaps you'll stumble upon these sweet-smelling flowers on your next trip to Portland. Based on the city's reputation, they would be hard to miss.