Highland Park draws international crowds numbering in the thousands during Rochester’s week-long Lilac Festival in May, though the lilacs are not the only sights to see!
Frederick Law Olmsted designed this park in 1888, along with Genesee Valley, Seneca, and Maplewood, to be enjoyed year-round. Every pathway, every tree, every vista and every relationship between the land and water is intentional. We’ve embedded the Highland Park Conservancy’s video, Rochester’s First Park: Highland Park, toward the middle of this article.
Overview of the Highland Park area
Walking the paved paths weaves you up, down, and through a diverse collection of flowers, flowering bushes and trees, taking you from the Pansy Bed to the Poet’s Garden, Tulip Garden, Lamberton Conservatory and the reservoir.
Venturing across Mount Hope Blvd. you’ll discover the beautiful Mount Hope Cemetery in which you can spend hours discovering where the various pathways lead.
What’s Blooming When
You can witness something new in Highland Park every day of the year! But there are several very specific times I find myself compelled to visit:
Early April – carpets of blue Siberian Squill
Early May – Flowering trees, Magnolias, Lilacs, and shortly thereafter when the Buckeyes bloom
Late June – The Smoke Bush collection
Early November – Autumn foliage around the Conservatory, Sunken Garden, and Japanese Maple collection
For more information on what’s in bloom, we list everything at the bottom of this article.
The Rochester Strain of Lilac can have 8-12 radials. Older varieties have only 4.
Visit Highland Park in late-April into early-May to witness the magnolia collection in full bloom.
The Pansy Bed
The bed turns over twice a year. In spring, master gardeners plan a new design for the pansy bed. Once the pansies have past their prime, the bed gets a new design with summer flowers.
Every season presents a new landscape. Just wandering among the trees and flowering bushes in lower Highland Park you discover something new around every bend.
Japanese Maple Collection
The Japanese Maples are another fine example of extraordinary displays in every season. Autumn is my favorite!
The Poet’s Garden
Many people list the Poet’s Garden as one of their favorite spots in Highland.
The Rhododendrons & Azaleas
All azaleas are Rhododendrons (note the capital R), but not all Rhododendrons are azaleas. And they’re all intoxicating!
On average, rhododendrons are larger shrubs than azalea plants, and they have larger leaves. Also, azalea flowers usually have five stamens, while the rhododendron flowers have ten. Learn how to tell the difference
The Pinetum contains 300 species and varieties of conifers from all over the world.
The Tulip Bed
I always refer to this section next to Lamberton Conservatory as the Tulip Bed, even though it is replanted with extraordinary summer flowers once the tulips fade away.
The City of Rochester, through the Department of Environmental Services / Water Bureau, maintains three finished water reservoirs, two of which are open.
Highland Reservoir is the City of Rochester’s smallest uncovered finished water reservoir; having a capacity of approximately 26 million gallons. The City of Rochester’s primary water supply is from Canadice and Hemlock Lakes.
The Lamberton Conservatory is open year-round. In addition to its tropical forest display, desert plants, economic plants and house plants, the Conservatory features seasonal floral displays. The exhibits are changed 5 times throughout the year, so that there is always something new to be seen.
Warner Castle Sunken Garden
If you are starting near Lamberton Conservatory, head down Reservoir Ave., crossing South Ave. toward Mt. Hope Ave. Stroll around to the back of the castle and down the lawn, and there you will find the garden. It is the perfect escape from the crowds at the Lilac Festival!
Highland Park Bowl is an outdoor amphitheater used for summertime concerts, Shakespeare in the Park, and Movies in the Park.
Memorials in Highland Park
Memorials include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester, AIDS Remembrance, Crime Victims, Workers’ Rights, and the Frederick Douglass statue at Highland Bowl. The Warriors of Freedom memorial is under construction.
Newly constructed play-space
The kids love climbing around this natural playground build with logs.
A few of my favorite benches in Highland Park
I believe that park benches are set in a space very intentionally to enjoy the most scenic vista or perfect shade or private contemplation. There are hundreds of benches around Highland and I promise you’ll appreciate sitting on any one of them.
More information about Highland Park
Located in the City of Rochester (get directions)
What’s in Bloom Each Month
Here are a few highlights from the Highland Park Conservancy website on what you can see each month:
March and early-April
- Witchhazels – south of the Overlook
- Helleborus foetidus – Stinking Hellobore
- Helleborus niger – Christmas Rose
- Galanthus – Snow Drops
- Chionodoxa – Glory of the Snow
- Scilla Siberica – Squill
- Primula – cowslip
- Vinca minor – Periwinkle
- Sanguinaria canadensis – Bloodroot
- Narcissus – Poets’
- Anemone blanda – Windflower
- Hepatica acutiloba
- Podophyllum peltatum – May Apple
- Epimedium – Bishop’s Hat
- Helleborus orientalis – Lenten Rose
- Trillium grandiflorum
- Mertensia virginicus – Virginia Bluebell
- Asarum europium – European Ginger
- Arisaema triphyllum – Jack in the Pulpit
- Lathyrus vernus – Spring Vetchling
- Tulipa – Tulip
- Viola – Violet
- Polygonatum biflorum – Solomon’s Seal
Late-April – early-May
- Magnolias – southwest of the Reservoir
- Forsythias and daffodils – south of the Overlook
- Flowering pears – along South Goodman between Highland and Elmwood
- Tulips – corner of South Avenue and Reservoir Drive
Mid- to Late-May
- Crabapples – along South Goodman between Highland and Elmwood
- Flowering Dogwood – south of the Overlook
- Muscari – Grape Hyacinth
- Convallaria majalis – Lily of the Valley
- Doronicum – Leopard’s Bane
- Hyacinthoides hispanica – wood hyacinth
- Azaleas – southeast of the Overlook
- Horse chestnuts – west of the Reservoir
- Lilacs – along Highland Avenue
- Pansy Bed – on Highland Avenue
- Spirea – southeast of the Reservoir
- Tree peonies – west of the horse chestnuts
- Wisteria – southeast of the Reservoir
- Rhododendron – southeast of the Overlook
- Iris – near the magnolias
- Hesperis matronalis – Dame’s Rocket
- Sweet Woodruff
- Herb Robert
- Virginia Waterleaf
- Day Lily
- Wild Columbine
- Erythronium – Dogtooth Violet
- Smoke Bush
- Mock oranges – southeast of the Reservoir
- Hydrangeas – southeast of the Reservoir
- Hardy Geranium/Crane’s Bill
- Thalictrum – Wild Meadowrue
- Anemone syvestris
- Annual bedding plants and Shrub Althea
- Wood Aster
- Gooseneck Loosestrife
- Golden Rain Tree
- Witchhazels – south of the Overlook
- Decaisnea fargesii shrubs – This plant’s ripened bluish-colored and finger-shaped fruit provides for its commonly known name–dead man’s fingers. The shrub is native to western China and other western Asia countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, and northeastern parts of India.
- Look for the Katsura Tree to turn gold, then drop its leaves over a short period of time. This is probably the largest specimen in the state, overlooking the Pansy bed.
- Highland Park explodes with autumn colors
December, January and February
Enjoy the quiet among the evergreens.
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 spots in Highland Park?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!