Rochester became a global center for flower and tree nurseries in the mid-1800s, fostering our identity as The Flower City, with George Ellwanger from Germany and Patrick Barry from Ireland leading the way. Their nursery catalog was issued in 1843, selling fruit trees, ornamentals, flowers, and greenhouse plants across the globe. In 1888, they donated some of their land and trees to Rochester to establish the city’s first public green space, Highland Park.
Rochester, Louisville, Boston, and Buffalo are the only four cities with park systems designed solely by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. Admire his planned landscapes along the river in Genesee Valley, Maplewood, Seneca, and Highland Parks.
The peaceful and serene atmosphere of gardens invites relaxation and contemplation. These carefully designed spaces, often cultivated for decades or even centuries, display exceptional collections of flowers and trees that captivate the visitor’s attention. Taking the time to appreciate these natural wonders can be a truly enriching experience.
City of Rochester
Durand Eastman Arboretum
The park encompasses 977 acres of land, including Durand Lake, Eastman Lake, and a swimming beach on Lake Ontario. Landscape architect Bernard Slavin used knowledge gained from working with Olmsted to design Durand Eastman, evident in the variety of mature trees in the arboretum between Zoo and Sweet Fern Roads in Pine Valley, Rhododendron Valley, Fruit Valley, and Katsura Glen. Zoo Road
The Landmark Society of Western New York maintains this half-acre secret garden, which once belonged to renowned horticulturist George Ellwanger. Now functioning as a bed-and-breakfast, the estate opens its garden to the public during special events such as Lilac Weekends in May and Peony Weekend in June. Admission fee. 625 Mount Hope Avenue
George Eastman Museum
Appreciate a range of colors that begin with luxurious purple wisteria in May and end with bold yellow ginkgo leaves in November While museum admission is necessary to walk through the Italianate Terrace and Library Gardens, the West and Rock Gardens are open to the public year-round. Every February, the annual Dutch Connection event showcases a range of colorful and fragrant tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and more throughout the home. Admission fee. 900 East Avenue
High Falls’ FlourGarden
In 1817, Matthew and Francis Brown harnessed the Genesee River through a hydropower raceway, leading Rochester to become a significant flour producer. Today, the same site hosts the FlourGarden, a sustainable 300-foot garden created by Greentopia to showcase native plants and water features, highlighting eco-friendly practices.
Host to Rochester’s celebrated Lilac Festival in May, Highland boasts the most extensive collection of lilacs in the country, with over 500 varieties across 1,200 shrubs. You’ll also find a vast Japanese Maple collection, 35 types of magnolias, 700 rhododendron specimens, and 300 conifer varieties in the pinetum. Many of the trees are the tallest of their species in the state, though few are native. Highland has even been described as a museum or zoo of exotic plants and trees. Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent the original specimens to Rochester for simultaneous scientific study. Meander along paved and mown-grass pathways to find Lamberton Conservatory, Poet’s Garden, Highland Bowl, and Warner Castle’s Sunken Garden. 180 Reservoir Avenue
Highland Park’s Lamberton Conservatory
Take a break and unwind in the Lord and Burnham–designed glasshouse filled with exotic, desert, and economic plants, including banana trees. Enjoy tropical temperatures and the soothing sounds of running water. Find turtles lounging by indoor ponds, with tiny button quail and tortoises wandering around. The theme of the Seasonal Display Room changes five times throughout the year, with the beloved Holiday Show in December. During this time, the conservatory is open on Friday and Sunday evenings to fully appreciate the beautiful festive lights. Admission fee. 180 Reservoir Avenue
Highland Park’s Warner Castle Estate and Sunken Garden
In 1951, Monroe County Parks purchased the castle and grounds as an extension of Highland Park. The 1854 Gothic-style castle is now the headquarters for the Landmark Society of Western New York. In 1930, landscape architect Alling S. DeForest, who also designed the Eastman estate’s gardens, added the sunken garden to the property. Photographers often capture wedding and family photos in the park, but it can be a peaceful retreat if you visit when it’s not crowded. 5 Castle Park
Maplewood Rose Garden
Maplewood showcases 300 rose varieties that bloom between mid-June and late November. While Olmsted’s 1888 landscape design included a rose garden, the Greater Rochester Rose Society formally dedicated it in 1951 and has lovingly cared for the fragrant flowers ever since. 250 Maplewood Avenue
Mount Hope Cemetery
The cemetery, established in 1838, is a popular destination for Rochester residents seeking a peaceful retreat from the bustling city. Walkers, runners, and bikers often use the well-maintained roadways, even during the colder months. While the landscape is delightful year-round, this beautiful Victorian cemetery is extraordinary in October. The diversity of trees in the arboretum displays a vibrant array of colors, with bold yellows and reds carpeting the ground before the snow arrives. The cemetery is divided into two sections: the south side, which is the newer area, and the north side, which is older and home to notable figures such as Nathaniel Rochester, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass. The north section’s winding cobblestone roads are best explored on foot and provide a glimpse into the cemetery’s rich history, ecology, and geology. Maps and guided tours are available to provide more in-depth information about the land’s fascinating past, including ice age landforms and fossils. There are several entrances, including the main south entrance at 1133 Mount Hope Avenue and the north gatehouse entrance at 791 Mount Hope Avenue
The Strong National Museum of Play
There are vibrant summer gardens to enjoy outside the museum and an engaging installation in the middle of Chestnut Street that are free to explore. For year-round enjoyment, the rainforest environment in the museum’s indoor Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden provides a perfect retreat during winter, as it is the only year-round garden of its kind in the area. Admission fee. 1 Manhattan Square Drive
Genesee Country Village & Museum
Twelve heirloom kitchen gardens and orchards are viewable throughout the village. Visitors can explore these gardens through a historical lens and learn about the medicinal herbs and regional produce that were grown before modern medicine and refrigeration. Admission fee. 1410 Flint Hill Road, Mumford
Covering 32 acres, the arboretum is maintained by local garden clubs and boasts a pond, winding paths, various trees and shrubs, and formal gardens with over 200 daylily cultivars. Kent Park, 1700 Schlegel Road, Webster
Geneva on the Lake
The manicured landscape of this elegant 1910 Italianate villa features formal hedged gardens, marble statues, and a pool overlooking Seneca Lake. Resort guests, whether dining or spending the night, are free to roam the grounds and even visit the boathouse by walking down the steps north of the pool and crossing the train tracks. 1001 Lochland Road, Geneva, Ontario County
The private estate offers multiple opportunities for exploration throughout the year, such as the annual Tree Peony Festival of Flowers, held over several weekends from late May to early June. Join descendants of the original family on a tour of the home and garden, where they share personal stories and provide insight into their horticulture history. Admission fee. 1912 York Road W., Linwood, Livingston County
Explore a magnificent late 19th-century Victorian estate, complete with a Queen Anne–style mansion and nine formal gardens in this 50-acre New York State Historic Park. Marvel at the Lord and Burnham–designed glasshouse conservatory. Admission fee. 250 Gibson St., Canandaigua, Ontario County
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
This historical treasure beckons visitors year-round with its Lord and Burnham–designed tri-domed glasshouse conservatory and Olmsted-designed South Park gardens. Admission fee. 2655 S. Park Avenue, Lackawanna, Erie County
Cornell Botanic Gardens
Cornell University manages this lovely 4,000-acre site, which features the Nevin Welcome Center and F.R. Newman Arboretum. Follow winding paths through themed gardens and over footbridges that offer stunning views of Fall Creek and Bebe Lake. 124 Comstock Knoll Drive, Ithaca, Tompkins County
Delaware Park Japanese Garden
On the shore of Mirror Lake behind the Buffalo History Museum, the Japanese Garden boasts over 1,000 plantings, sculptures, and three small islands. The garden is a highlight of the 350-acre Olmsted-designed park. Every spring, the garden is home to the Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival and offers a stunning sight in early November when the Japanese Maples are in peak color. 1 Museum Court, Buffalo, Erie County
E.M. Mills Rose Garden
On a hill overlooking Syracuse University, Thornden Park’s garden boasts over 360 varieties of roses across 3,850 plants. Founded in 1911, the Syracuse Rose Society is the oldest continuously operating rose society affiliated with the American Rose Society. Thornden Park Drive, Syracuse, Onondaga County
Enjoy a pleasant Cayuga Lake view while exploring the 65-acre property with flower gardens and a picturesque pond. Take a free tour of the whimsical 1800s farmhouse, filled with art, antiques, and MacKenzie-Childs’ vibrant creations. 3260 New York State Route 90, Aurora, Cayuga County
This lovely eight-acre Japanese-inspired arboretum features over 200 trees and bushes and several themed gardens. Enjoy a stroll around Lake Nipponica on the paved 0.25-mile Kingston Nature Trail. 28 Parkside Drive, Ellicottville, Cattaraugus County
Our Lady of Fatima Shrine
On a self-guided tour, explore the 15 acres of gardens surrounding the glass-domed Basilica. Find over 130 life-sized marble statues surrounding the heart-shaped Rosary Pool, and make your way up 63 steps to the top of the dome to stand beside the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. 1023 Swann Road, Youngstown, Niagara County
Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Garden
Designed by Marc Peter Keane, relax in the tranquil Japanese-inspired stone and moss garden behind the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, designed by I. M. Pei. Cornell University, 114 Central Avenue, Ithaca, Tompkins County
Sycamore Hill Gardens
Immerse yourself in the enchanting landscape of Sycamore Hill Gardens, featuring Asian and European statues, serene koi ponds, exquisite stonework, a charming formal garden, and a captivating hedge maze. The gardens also feature sprawling open spaces that offer panoramic views of the surrounding vistas. The creation and maintenance of these gardens are a labor of love for the Hanford family and head gardener Tina Wiers, who pour their hearts into every aspect of the estate. The admission fee covers one parking space and grants access to a passenger vehicle accommodating a maximum of eight individuals (including the driver.) 2130 Old Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus, Onondaga County
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Rochester became a global center for flower and tree nurseries in the mid-1800s, fostering our identity as The Flower City.
Where are your favorite public gardens around Rochester?
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