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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Roses are an integral part of Portland, Oregon. Its prosperity, growth, and development have been linked to them for more than 100 years. The city has the ideal cool, damp climate for roses, and pioneers were soon growing them in their gardens.

One of these early settlers was Leo Samuel, founder of the Oregon Life Insurance Company in 1906, a firm now known as the Standard Insurance Company. He moved to Portland from California in 1871 and grew roses next to his sidewalk. He would leave a pair of shears on the fence so people could cut a few roses and plant them near their own sidewalks for others to snip. The practice caught on and before long residents and businesses all over town were planting roses at the front of their property. The insurance company still plants roses outside its head office in downtown Portland.

Some attribute the “City of Roses” name to Samuel. More definite evidence comes from Charles Paul Keyser, who was Portland Parks Superintendent from 1917 to 1950. He claims that the city was “christened the City of Roses” by visitors to a convention held by Portland’s Episcopal Church in 1888. They couldn’t have helped but see the abundance of roses along the footpaths and must have thought it a fitting name.

In the same year, Georgiana Burton Pittock, wife of pioneer publisher Henry Pittock, invited friends and neighbors to her house in downtown Portland to show their roses to one another. She had set up a tent in her garden for this purpose. Together they formed the Portland Rose Society. The first annual Rose Show was held by the society in 1889. From 1890, residents began planting the Mme. Caroline Testout rose on their curbs and by 1905, the city boasted 200 miles of rose-lined streets. It is thought that the name City of Roses was being used more and more by that time.

The multitude of roses helped attract 1.6 million visitors to Portland in 1905 for the four-month long Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition to commemorate the first return expedition across the continent. Near the end of the exposition, Mayor Harry Lane suggested the city needed an annual rose festival. The first Portland Rose Festival was held in 1907. This event confirmed Portland’s status as the City of Roses. The city’s population tripled from 90,000 to 207,000 during this decade.

In 1915, Jesse A. Currey persuaded the Portland government to set up a rose garden to save hybrid European roses from being destroyed by bombing during World War I. The city’s International Rose Test Garden was established in 1917. This garden as well as the festival and the Rose Society have all gone from strength to strength over the years.

Today, the International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park has 10,000 rose plants and 550 rose varieties on 4.5 acres. The best time to see the roses in bloom is June. The Annual Spring Rose Show is held at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink, which is transformed each year into a rose garden of more than 2,000 blooms. It is the country’s largest and oldest rose show and is now part of the Portland Rose Festival. The festival is held each year in May and June and has over 60 events, including parades, bands, fireworks, car and boats races, carnival rides, and more. The Grand Floral Parade has become America’s second largest floral parade and Oregon’s largest spectator event, with half a million people watching it.

Portland has a number of beautiful gardens apart from the International Rose Test Garden. Peninsula Park Rose Garden on the north side is actually older and has 9,000 roses of 65 varieties. In southeast Portland, Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden is even older and has 3,000 plants. It is surrounded by a number of outstanding private gardens.

Several of Portland’s sports teams and venues have adopted the city’s rose theme. Popular local teams include the Rosebuds hockey team and the Rose City Rollers roller derby team. The Rose Garden sports complex is the home of the Trail Blazers basketball team. Cyclists compete at the Alpenrose Velodrome. Also, Portland conducts a Rose Bud and Thorn Pageant. Many local businesses include “Rose” or “Rose City” as part of their name.

Portland has a number of nicknames but the most common is the City of Roses or just Rose City. Interestingly, the name has never been made official by Council Resolution, despite resolutions establishing the great blue heron as the city bird and Portlandia as the city song. Residents still plant roses at the front of their houses.

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