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Hupisaaret Islands City Park Rose Garden, Oulu, Finland

Top 5 Rose Gardens

Like the tulip, the rose most likely originated in Central Asia, about 5,000 years ago. Since then, this flower has flourished into more than 300 species and tens of thousands of cultivars—a type of plant that is bred for certain desired traits and reproduced through grafting, controlled seed production, and tissue culture. To bring order to this fragrant universe, the American Rose Society classified all those roses into two categories: old garden roses (or antique, or heirloom roses) and modern roses, with the year 1867 being the dividing line between the two. Around the globe, rose gardens have been created to display the world’s favorite flower in some outstanding settings. These are my favorites.

#1 Bellingrath Gardens and Home (Theodore, Alabama)

Bellingrath Gardens and Home, Theodore, AlabamaJust outside of Mobile, Alabama, I pulled onto the grounds of Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore. The home part is a tasteful 15-room, 10,500-square-foot estate built in 1935 by Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler. The gardens part is 65 acres of year-round horticulture, thanks to the Deep South’s sultry climate. Predating the house, the gardens have been open to the public since 1932. The fantastic landscaping includes a great lawn, camellia parterre, live oak plaza, lake, bayou boardwalk, an Asian garden, more than 250,000 azaleas, views of the Fowl River, and a spectacular rose garden that bursts into bloom every summer with more than 2,000 plants. Situated just past the estate entrance and abutting the conservatory, the rose garden was constructed in 1936 in the shape of the Rotary Club emblem, with a fountain dead center. More than 30 varieties of roses bloom here every year, including the Arctic Blue, with fully double, lilac pink blooms; the Dick Clark, with dark-red buds that open to swirls of cream-edged and vibrant cherry pink petals; the Ingrid Bergman, introduced in Denmark in 1984 and with a velvety texture; the Love Song, with clusters of ruffled lavender blooms; and the St. Patrick, a yellow rose that thrives in the heat. The colors are intense, the fragrances are seductive, and a walk among them all is bound to elevate your mood.

#2 International Rose Test Garden (Portland, Oregon)

International Rose Test Garden, Portland, OregonWashington Park, a 546-acre hilly expanse of green, made me feel like I was out in the woods somewhere, even though it’s located within Portland proper. With its hiking trails and quiet, it’s easy to forget you’re in an urban setting. The park is packed with some great attractions—the Oregon Zoo (the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River), the Vietnam Memorial, Pittock Mansion, a Japanese Garden, and the world-renowned International Rose Test Garden, established in 1917. But the city’s rosy reputation predates the garden. The Portland Rose Society was established in 1889, and by 1905, the city had 200 miles of streets bordered with roses, helping to draw visitors to the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition and earning Portland its moniker “the City of Roses.” The garden sprang out of concern that unique hybrid roses grown in Europe would be destroyed during World War I. With approval of a garden to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties, hybridists from Europe began sending roses to Portland for testing. Today, the oldest such garden in the United States boasts some 10,000 roses consisting of more than 600 different varieties as well as views of downtown Portland and Mt. Hood. Rose trials run for two years, during which they’re identified by code numbers and evaluated seven times per year on 11 attributes, including disease resistance, vigor, fragrance, and hardiness. I could smell their aroma even before I entered the grounds, which are free to the public. Concentrated in five acres, the tiered garden features brick paths and staircases, arbors, a Shakespeare Garden (with an appropriate quote on a plaque: “Of all flowres, [sic] methinks a rose is best.”) that has roses named after some of his characters, and a Miniature Rose Garden. Rose types include climbing, English, floribunda, grandiflora, hybrid tea, and half a dozen more. Don’t be surprised if your stroll through the Thomas à Bekcet, Moonlight Romantica, Cinco de Mayo, Yellow Brick Road, and Peace roses will make you think about developing a green thumb.

#3 Paseo El Rosedal (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Paseo El Rosedal, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaAt the heart of Parque Tres de Febrero, a nearly 1,000-acre urban park in Buenos Aires, lies the gorgeous Paseo El Rosedal Garden, and I was lucky enough for it to be in full bloom when I visited. I walked over the bridge crossing the lake to enter the free, and quite popular, rose garden. Completed in 1914, it has received the international Garden Excellence Award from the World Federation of Rose Societies, and deservedly so. It’s quite a romantic spot in which to immerse yourself among the fountains in rectangular and circular pools, pergolas, arbors, benches, double-headed lampposts, Greek-influenced bridge, lake, amphitheater, two dozen busts of famous writers, an Andalusian patio bathed in colorful tiles imported from Seville, and a wide variety of trees, including palms and gorgeous jacarandas with their purple blooms. And, of course, the roses—all 18,000 of them—in every color imaginable: red, white, peach, yellow, pink, coral, champagne, and on and on. Take time to stop and smell them—you only have until you hear the shrill whistle blowing that indicates the garden will be closing soon and the garden will become a treasured memory.

#4 Woodland Park Rose Garden (Seattle, Washington)

Woodland Park Rose Garden, Seattle, WashingtonI almost missed this wonderful garden when I was exiting the adjacent Woodland Park Zoo. It’s a good thing I happened to look sideways and noticed the array of colors in the 2.5 acres of formal landscape that make up the Woodland Park Rose Garden. Opened in 1924, the garden boasts a variety of flowers, with the focus on nearly 3,000 roses representing 10 types (such as hybrid musk, polyantha, and rugosa) and 200 different varieties, including those with names like All That Jazz, Black Cherry, Eureka, Neptune, Rainbow Sorbet, and Tuscan Sun. With its gazebo, lily pond, fountain, and benches, the garden attracts more than 200,000 visitors per year to its pleasant grounds. And people aren’t the only ones who benefit from the garden’s careful attention to its displays: Pesticide-free since 2006, the garden sends flowers to the zoo to supplement some of the animals’ diets, particularly the gorillas, who have a special fondness for them.

#5 Christchurch Botanic Gardens (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Christchurch, New ZealandI took a little stroll over the Avon River to the 75-acre Christchurch Botanic Gardens, filled with beautiful and strange trees and some very happy-looking birds. There are plenty of specialized gardens here—the Herb Garden, New Zealand Gardens, Water Garden, Rock Garden, Heather Garden, and Woodland Garden, to name just a few. Roses receive special treatment, in two separate gardens. The Heritage Rose Garden, a part of the greater garden since the 1950s, displays roses established before 1867. The Central Rose Garden, established in 1909 as the largest and finest in all of Australasia, boasts 104 beds of climbing, standard, and hybrid tea modern garden roses in a sunny section away from large trees. There’s also a lovely sundial here, clad in bluestone with a polished ebony granite dial plate and brass dial that provides an orientation for major cities around the world as well as New Zealand Standard Time. Both gardens come alive with roses in seductive shades of puce, pink, peach, persimmon, and pineapple, and they added their perfumed aroma to the already fresh air I was breathing in a heady rush of scent that lingers with you long after you depart.

Five Runners-Up

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