In 2009, three Master Gardener program interns decided to take on Peninsula Park Rose Garden as a project. At that time, there was a fledgling, sparsely attended and supported volunteer program. Pat Frobes, Ann Gardner, and Yvonne Boisvert realized the best way to build a volunteer program to restore the rose garden to its status as a premier public garden, was to create an official non-profit Friends organization. This organization would be the beginnings of a long-term relationship between the volunteer community and Portland Parks & Recreation.
When these three women first stepped into the rose garden, there were knee high weeds in many of the beds. The rose bushes were showing their age, having been planted many years before. After legally forming the Friends of Peninsula Park Rose Garden, they began to put out the word to other gardeners.
Working with the staff horticulturist, Hillary Maurer and her boss Mike Grosso, the Friends arranged to replace the entire floor of nearly 5000 roses with new, disease-resistant varieties. The bushes were donated by commercial growers, Bailey Nurseries and Weeks Roses.
After a couple of years, Ann Gardner left the organization to concentrate on other priorities. Pat and Yvonne worked with other dedicated board members and PP&R to develop a self-sustaining volunteer program. Around 2015-2016, the Board, working with PP&R staff, created the Peninsula Park Rose Garden Preservation Strategy, which lays out the vision and plans for maintaining and enhancing the garden hardscaping and structural elements.
The Board has worked hard to bring new volunteers into the garden every season. To raise the public profile of the rose garden, the Board has initiated a number of public programs. Our Art in the Garden show, which we ran for three years in a row, eventually brought over 3000 visitors to the rose garden in one day.
We’ve hosted annual rose garden birthday parties and community ice cream socials. Working with Travel Portland, the Board expanded its outreach by way of press coverage and tourist cards. Our partnership with the Portland Parks Foundation has brought us recognition and additional public awareness. Our public winter speakers’ series has brought authors, garden specialists, rose breeders, and historians to the local gardening community.
Over the years the number of volunteers has continued to grow. The organization has a strong group of steady volunteers numbering over 50. During the 2020 season, with restrictions in place due to COVID-19, some of our older volunteers opted to stay home and safe. Others, including a number of younger volunteers who were now working from home, found their ways into the garden and our volunteer program. We continue to develop ways to make the rose garden a refuge and a destination for Portlanders and tourists alike.