Portland Walking Tours

Why “The Rose City”?

March 1st, 2011

Portland has many nicknames – Stumptown, River City, Bridgetown, and more. One of our favorite nicknames for our fair city is The Rose City, for several reasons.

  • It highlights the beauty of our city and its many lush gardens and greenspaces.
  • It speaks to the city’s innovative nature, reminding us of our world-renowned International Rose Test Garden, which serves as a testing ground for new rose varieties.
  • The many colors and varieties of roses illustrate our colorful, quirky, and diverse city culture.It helped give us the Rose Festival.
  • And, of course, because it comes with a story.

We love stories, especially true ones, and the way the Rose City got its name is a favorite topic of inquiry by tourists. Fittingly so, since tourists may be responsible for the nickname.

The name is popularly attributed to Leo Samuel, founder of what is now Standard Insurance, an avid gardener who moved to Portland in 1871. Samuel was so proud of his rose garden that he would actually leave shears available to passersby to clip blossoms from his bushes. The practice apparently spread: other individuals and businesses to grow roses in front of their own property and encourage sampling as well.

In 1888, visitors to an Episcopalian Convention in Portland noticed the many lovely rose gardens, both public and private, and the city’s denizens’ liberal sharing of their handiwork, and brought the word back to their hometowns.

The long-standing practice of rose gardening continues around our city – including at Standard Insurance’s downtown office building.

(Considering one of our other nicknames – Stumptown – aren’t you glad Samuel didn’t grow elm trees and leave chainsaws for passersby?)