city of roses

Royal Sunset rose (1960), Ladd's Addition, East Garden

Portland's Rose Festival bloomed last weekend. I heard fireworks one night the weekend before, a reminder that it was coming. Then my roommate asked Saturday if I was attending the parade. "No, I don't feel like leaving the house." (See previous posts.) Actually, I've never attended any Rose Festival events, though I've seen some of the dragon boats racing for practice on the river these last several weeks. I've never seen the Starlight Parade or boarded ship during Fleet Week or been on any sponsored runs (I don't run). It rained a lot on Saturday, anyway, if I remember right, so everyone watching the rose parade must have been huddled under umbrellas, feet in puddles.

It's dangerous to plan outdoor events in Portland with fixed dates until after fourth of July through September, our summer. The day before the event might be sunny and warm, but the next, the big day of the wedding, the party, or the garage sale, often is cold and wet through some overnight cloud spell cast by the ocean. It's almost guaranteed to fall that way, if one plans ahead. Portlanders either need forecasters able to predict a year in advance or events with no set date, only a range: "Our event will be held the third week of June on the sunniest, warmest day. See you then!"

Almost every yard in Portland contains at least one rose bush (ours has two, a yellow and a soft red), making the big gardens less of a pull for locals. I've never been to Portland's largest and most famous International Rose Test Garden when it's in bloom, only in winter when the bushes are bare and pruned, standing like gnarled hands stuck into the ground, waiting for sun. This decision is partly from contrariness but also because once I stumbled onto the Peninsula Park Rose Garden when I lived in northeast Portland and learned that it's the oldest rose garden in town, I knew I never needed to seek out the tourist trap on the hill (though it's lovely, I'm sure). Peninsula Park has almost as many roses (9,000 compared to 10,000 plants, though with far fewer varieties), a WWI bandstand, old brick paths, and a large old fountain. In other words, it's a popular place for wedding photos. Since I moved to the southeast part of town, I'm now near Ladd's Addition Rose Garden, a garden in pieces, where I walked the other night in the quiet before dusk, which at this time of year is after 9 PM as we near the summer solstice.

Ladd's Addition is the strangest subdivision I've ever seen, more a diagonal maze than gridded blocks, though the organization comes to makes sense after a while. But I admit at first I got lost quite a few times in the maze. I'm fairly good with maps and directions and general landmark orientation, but one time I remember striding south towards home on a diagonal shortcut but then somehow finding myself up on Hawthorne Avenue at the northwestern boundary. Oops. For this reason the design can't be called efficient, but this island in a sea of standard, right-angled bungalow grids seems to keep the riffraff out (surely I'm not the first person who's gotten lost in Ladd's Addition), so maybe that was the truer purpose: a fence of confusion.

The subdivision is centered by a round lawn with rhododendrons (that night I saw a group of people standing around on the lawn with upright bikes but didn't get close enough to tell what they were doing), with four smaller rose gardens at the compass points from center, all with roundabouts, uncommon features in North American city planning, unlike Europe. Ladd's is one of the posher areas of town, with big old houses fronted by large trees and backed by crisscrossed alleys where residents hide their recycling bins and garages, the unpretty stuff. Most of the houses are well manicured and likely not by the owners themselves (if they can afford these houses, they can afford gardeners), though one encounters an occasional outlier dragging down the neighborhood with their weeds, peeling paint, and rubble piles. There's even an organization, Friends of Ladd's Addition (FLAG), that bands together to save diseased old trees and deadhead the garden roses all summer, recruiting volunteers for Saturday morning clipping sessions, a campaign called Off With Their Heads, aiding the single official city gardener assigned to all the beds.

Medallion rose (1973), Ladd's Addition, South Garden

I walked to each rose garden in turn, west to north to east to south. There was someone sitting alone on a bench in two of the beds, two middle-aged women walking, talking, and sniffing roses in another, and a couple of crows in trees standing guard like museum security in the south garden, cawing frantically every time I bent over to smell or photograph a rose, protecting the collection. As soon as I stood upright, their caws lessened, and as soon as I walked away, they stopped cawing altogether. I felt like an intruder, a somehow-criminal, especially knowing crows can recognize human faces. So I wondered if they'd confused me with an alterego, some look-alike nemesis roaming town doing deeds nefarious to crows who then pass the information along to their murder.

My favorite color for roses, though not necessarily for other flowers, is a peachy-pink blush. In my world, geraniums should be lipstick-red and roses should be blush—not pink, not peach, but riding the line between. There are two in Ladd's Addition, a rose from 1960 called Royal Sunset in the East Garden and one from 1973 named Medallion in the South Garden. None of the roses I stooped over—blush, red, white, yellow, or purple—seemed to exude much scent, nothing like the old pink rose bush in front of the big post office in northwest Portland that I happened across once, the scent worthy of burying a face in, a car stopping and the driver informing me the bush was old and a little bit famous. So the other night while the sun sank, on a partly cloudy day without rain, I had my own private rose festival, and I can have it again any day I want until the roses fade.

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