Coming Up Roses

Oct 04, 2017

Rachel Burlington in The International Rose Test Garden

Courtesy: Rachel Burlington ’11. Rachel Burlington '11, a Delaware Valley University ornamental horticulture alumna, is the new curator of the International Rose Test Garden, in Portland. 

Rachel Burlington '11, a Delaware Valley University ornamental horticulture alumna, remembers falling in love with the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon, when she first saw it as a visitor in 2014.

“I'd never seen so much beauty in my life,” said Burlington. “The breadth and depth of the garden was astounding. You are just surrounded by roses.”

Burlington, who is 28, now helps share the rose garden with visitors from all over the world. She became the curator of the garden, one of Portland's top tourist attractions, in June 2017. The 4.5-acre facility is home to more than 10,000 individual rose plants and about 650 varieties. It's one of the top rose gardens in the world,  attracting nearly 700,000 visitors each year. 

The International Rose Test Garden

Courtesy: Rachel Burlington ’11. The International Rose Test Garden, one of Portland's top tourist attractions. 

As a student, Burlington was always drawn to flowers and knew she wanted a career working with them. 

“Growing up I used to write stories about roses,” said Burlington. “I just thought they were so beautiful.”

She chose DelVal for its strong reputation in horticulture and its personal community.

“I didn’t want to go to a big school,” said Burlington. “I wanted to make sure I had small classes where I could get to know my professors.” 

At DelVal, she had the chance to work with her first rose garden through the arboretum on campus. She also started building her resume. 

“DelVal connected me to a lot of internships,” said Burlington. “My professors already had relationships with people in the area. They gave me good advice on where to go based on what I wanted to do and were willing to be hands-on and help me.”

At DelVal, she interned with Aquascapes Unlimited, Carousel Flowers, and the University’s Henry Schmieder Arboretum. Burlington said having real-world experience prepared her for success. 

“There’s more to an education than the classroom,” said Burlington. “DelVal took it one step further and said, ‘You need to apply this.’ That impressed me.”

After graduating, she worked for Disney’s Epcot theme park as a plant science intern. Then, in 2012, the internationally renowned Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia hired Burlington as a garden and volunteer supervisor. She was working at that job when she saw the opening in Portland and knew she had to apply for it. 

Burlington's favorite part of her new role is seeing the visitors. 

International Rose Test Garden visitors

Courtesy: Rachel Burlington ’11. Visitors walk through the International Rose Test Garden. 

"I like being the person to educate them and cultivate that love for roses," said Burlington.

When she arrived, the staff was working on making the garden more accessible for people with disabilities. Burlington helped finish the project and sees the impact every day. 

“We’ve gotten amazing responses,” said Burlington. “It’s a tangible way to show that this garden is for everyone.”

Her next goal is to get more young people interested in plants. 

“We are incorporating technology to reach a wider audience,” said Burlington. “I want to engage the next generation. I’m a millennial, and I don’t see as many people my age interested in plants. I think having a tech aspect will help engage the younger generation.”

She’s looking into developing an app for the garden and exploring using Facebook Live, a live video streaming service, to allow people to ask questions. One project that she wants to add is an interactive, online map.

She also hopes to appeal to more people by sharing visitors’ stories. 

“People come to the garden looking for a certain rose because it has sentimental value,” said Burlington. “That’s what makes roses so timeless. I want to capture those personal stories and connections to these roses and share them.”

She’s excited to have a rewarding new job that she loves.

“I have the job I’ve always wanted, and DelVal had a big part in that,” said Burlington.