'Portland's hooked on roses'

'Portland's hooked on roses'
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter.

PORTLAND, Ore. - There's a famous saying that says you should always make time in your life to stop and smell the roses and there's no better place to do that than up in the West Hills.

Every Friday we put the spotlight on a local greenspace and this week we spent an afternoon at our city's renowned International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park.

Folks from Portland and all over the world head there every day to walk through the gardens, take in the sweet smells and photograph the beauty of thousands of roses.

Of course, the blooms got a late start this year due to the weather but they are now out - and they are gorgeous.

The gardens make for a perfect day trip but if you go, be prepared for a crowd. Harry Landers, Botanic Specialist/Curator of the gardens, said it's actually been a busy year so far, even with the weather we've had.

"This year we've been absolutely swamped," he told us when we stopped by. "It's like it used to be before the economic crisis."

One look at the gardens and you can understand why so many people like to go there. The view is breathtaking, the aroma of roses is all around you and there are hundreds of different varieties all in one spot.

"Portland's hooked on roses," Martha Chatelain, an Oregon State University Master Gardener who was giving a guided tour when we stopped by, told the group she was leading. "I think a lot of the world is too."

Both Martha and her husband, Don (also an OSU Master Gardener), were there showing people around as a team.

As for Landers, he was there working on some perennials near the parking lot, but his main passion is roses. He freely admitted that caring for them is more like an obsession.

"My wife calls it my mistress," he said with a laugh, later adding "it's kind of an addictive thing, you know."

In fact, Landers loves roses so much that he keeps planting more and more in the gardens. He said it's kind of a running joke how crazy he's gone with it all.

"I get teased that if I could get them to grow in the reservoir, I would have them down there," he said.

But the city, and all those who visit the gardens, are the beneficiaries of Landers' devotion to roses and on any given day you'll see lots of people enjoying the view.

Now of course Landers can't care for the gardens all by himself. A couple of part-time employees lend a hand, as well as dozens of Master Gardeners and hundreds of volunteers.

"The biggest task right now is deadheading," said Landers. "That's removing the dead flowers and volunteers do all of that. And then there's the weeding. We're into our sixth time of weeding the gardens this year."

In addition to helping out with the regular maintenance work volunteers give tours, run clinics and point folks in the right direction when they arrive. Most folks like to walk the gardens on their own but those looking for more of an educational experience can take a free tour that runs daily starting at 1 p.m.

During the tour you'll learn the history of the gardens, find out details about the roses that are there and hear some fun and interesting facts. For example, did you know that a rose from the WWII era is still around and remains one of the most popular varieties? There are some of those roses at the gardens and the history surrounding the flower is fascinating.

For those who are into horticulture, there are also tours led by experts who can answer all your questions. In addition, Portland Walking Tours has a Roses Gone Wild! tour they're running right now. They charge a fee and you can find their booth outside the gift shop. And of course you can always download a map and take your own self-guided tour.

Parking is limited so be patient if you drive there. You may have to circle around a few times before a spot opens up. The best way to get there without the parking hassle is to take the bus. You can get the schedule on TriMet's website.

Also, while you're there be sure to stop by the gift shop. Even if you don't buy anything the smells that drift up your nose when you walk in are absolutely amazing.

And here's a final tip if you're planning to visit the gardens - don't forget the camera!