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Washington Park Rose Garden, Oregon, turns 100



August 7, 2017

One of America’s oldest rose gardens in Portland, Oregon, is turning 100, with festivities planned to celebrate the milestone as well as say goodbye to the garden’s longterm curator, whose hanging up his secateurs after 30 years at the helm.

The Washington Park Rose Garden is also the largest continually operating test rose garden in the United States. It boasts 4.5 acres of blooms, some 10 000 individual plants representing around 600 varieties. According to its greatest champion and curator, Harry Landers, it’s one of the top ten rose gardens in the world, a destination in itself whether you’re a fan of roses or not. If you don’t believe him, the numbers speak for themselves.

“We get an estimated 700,000 people here a year, and they come from all over the world just to see this garden. We are rated as one of the top rose gardens in the world, and we are one of the top 10 urban gardens in the world, and one of the top 10 public gardens in the nation.”  – Harry Landers


Since taking the reigns of the garden’s curatorship in 1989, Landers has seen not only his passion for roses grow, but the garden as well. He’s taken what he found and run with it in a big way, augmenting the plantings he found from some 3 200 plants to more than 10 400.

Meet Harry Landers at the centenary celebrations
Photo: Grant Butler


The garden has played a significant role in not only testing new varieties but preserving old ones. In fact, its establishment in 1917 was specifically to preserve old rose varieties in danger of being lost during World War One, “They needed to grow food, not roses!” says Landers.

Photo: Grant Butler


The garden has some unusual non-rose gardens in amongst it as well, notably the Shakespeare Garden, which was originally devoted to the plants mentioned in Shakespeare plays (do they have the ‘insane root’ Banquo suggested he and Macbeth might have taken after watching the witches vanish before their eyes?). Once roses started being named after Shakespeare characters and plays these too made their way into the area, but there’s a plethora of summer perennials and annuals amongst them for the rose-fatigued.

Photo: Grant Butler


For those looking only for winners, other than Landers, who has surpassed ‘winner’ and become a legend in his own right, there’s the Gold Medal Garden. Devoted entirely to roses that have won gold medals over the garden’s 100 years, there a dozens of named varieties in fool bloom.

Photo: Grant Butler


Surprisingly, Lander’s favourite part of the garden is the extensive rock walling throughout the site, giving it a solid grounding and a feeling of permanency throughout the seasons. He won’t be pressed on his favourite rose though, remarking that it’s like asking who your favourite child is. Running the Gold Medal Garden, it’s no wonder he can’t pick a favourite, after overseeing so many thousands come and go over the years.

The 100th anniversary will culminate with an all day and evening event on the Saturday 26 August, from 11:00am – 8:30pm. There will be free concerts, cupcakes, tours and arts and crafts for sale. And, of course, Harry Landers will be there too, celebrating blooming great 30 years driving the development of this impressive attraction.

Harry says it will be a tough gig to give up, but he wont’ be gone entirely. He’ll join the band of 400 volunteers he’s been coordinating, but only when the weather’s good!

For the full program of events, visit the Parks and Recreation page on the City of Portland website.

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