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Portland’s Royal Rosarian Rose Garden Contest is back for 83rd year

The annual tradition aims to attract first-timers with a new category just for them this year. Applications are due May 28.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Many people found their green thumb during the pandemic, with more time in the yard. There's an annual contest coming up in Portland to show off that work.  

There is just something special about roses, and the home to the oldest rose society in the world, Portland, takes pride in every bud.

“To me, they’re just perfection. For me, it’s the fragrance,” Rosarian Connie Shipley said. “Even if they’re white or yellow, there’s still a lot of color. When you’re going past it you notice it.”

The Rose City is getting ready for a tradition that started in 1938. The 83rd Annual Royal Rosarian Rose Garden Contest is back in full bloom.

Gardening and enjoying the fruits of a neighbor's labor has been a safe, socially distant activity since long before the pandemic began.

“We’re just doing this with a can-do attitude,” Shipley said. “Because we’re all working in our gardens. That’s safe. People can walk by and enjoy. That’s safe.”

The pandemic wilted the contest last year, but they’re back in full bloom for 2021. This is the perfect year for first-timers to take part.

“We’ve made a new category for new entrants. So you won’t be competing with people who’ve been doing this for a long time,” Shipley said.

Anyone who lives within a certain area around Portland with at least a dozen roses in their yard can participate in the long-standing tradition in the city of roses.

Credit: Royal Rosarians

“We really, especially want the people with roses in their front yard to participate, because what we like to do is encourage everyone to have roses in their front yard," Shipley said. "So when people are out walking their dogs or riding their bicycles, they can see some pretty roses when they go by.”

There are a variety of prizes for top winners. But the real trophies are the coveted garden stake signs, declaring a contest-winning rose garden.

“One lady told me, ‘Oh those bigger prizes are nice, but it’s those stakes that I want,’” Shipley said.

Green thumb bragging rights, in the soil.

“This is a contest for the people who get into this, they work really hard to be a winner,” Shipley said.

A rose garden contest can be intimidating for new gardeners. So, Shipley has a few tips.

“Honestly, the soil health gets more points than the bloom quality,” she said.

Judges are looking for fresh and fluffy soil on the top. An inch or two of mulch helps, but some simple raking with a hoe to break up the soil can help the water reach the rose roots.

You also don’t need to have a rose bed or full rose garden to compete. There are many categories.

“It’s not like you have to worry about your whole garden being perfect, because you can just tell us, ‘I have this little section over here that I want you to look at,’” Shipley said.

The contest has grown a lot since 1938, with nearly 140 entrants in 2019. Shipley and her fellow rosarians hope it continues to blossom.

“It’s pride of ownership,” Shipley said. “We’re working to make it more comfortable for people there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The contest is a win for everyone in the area, adding beauty and a sense of pride to the City of Roses.

Applications need to be postmarked or emailed no later than May 28, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Click here to get your application packet. 

On-site judging is June 6 and visual judging is June 7. The awards ceremony is set to take place June 21 in Washington Park at the International Rose Test Garden