Flowers & Gardens
Known as the “Flower City,” Rochester has rich traditions in floral cultivation and an international reputation for horticultural excellence. Rochester’s floral legacy can be enjoyed year-round with an abundance of nurseries, gardens, festivals, hiking trails, and greenhouses.
Rochester, The Flower City
Although the town’s annual Lilac Festival and the fragrant shrub contributed to its byname, there’s more to the story. Two legendary 19th-century nurserymen, George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry helped establish Rochester as an epicenter for new varieties of trees, plants, and flowers. The two brought global recognition to the area as they shipped their plants across America and into Europe, India, Australia, and Japan. By 1859, Rochester had earned its title of “The Flower City” as an entrepreneurial center of gardening excellence.
From historic gardens to pop-up flower trailers, Rochester offers many ways to stop and smell the roses. South of the city in Mumford, N.Y., the Genesee Country Village & Museum boasts 13 heirloom gardens which include a dye garden, kitchen vegetable plot, and a Shaker medicinal garden. It also offers trails along the Genesee Country Nature Center.
The Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park was originally constructed in 1911 with a historic reconstruction and complete restoration in 2007. The conservatory has year-round displays ranging from tropical forests and desert plants to exotic blooms and common houseplants.
The four major gardens at the George Eastman Museum feature a landscape that has been beautifully reconstructed based on Eastman’s original garden plans, historical photographs, correspondence, and invoices from plant orders.
Once the private garden of George Ellwanger, the Ellwanger Garden is a vintage 1867 garden featuring more than 25 beds of perennials, including peonies, irises, and daylilies as well as roses, ancient pear trees, and other plants. The Ellwanger Garden has been maintained by the Landmark Society of Western New York as a living museum since 1982.
The shores of Lake Ontario are home to a War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden located at the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse. The garden is one of several sites (primarily battle sites) throughout New York State commemorating the War of 1812.
The grounds of the Rochester Museum & Science Center are home to multiple historic gardens, including the Garden of Fragrance, which was created in 1958 by the late Harriet Hollister Spencer and is today maintained by the Rochester Herb Society. The Garden of Fragrance features eight different beds filled with fragrant and flowering herbs.
More than 3,000 rose bushes fill an acre of land in the City of Rochester’s Maplewood Park Rose Garden. The Maplewood Rose Garden showcases more than 250 different cultivars of rose bushes. The garden is also home to the Maplewood Rose Celebration, held annually in June while the rose collection is in peak bloom.
Just outside of Rochester, in the Finger Lakes city of Canandaigua, visitors will find Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens State History Park. This national treasure features nine restored Edwardian gardens.
Floral Festivals and Events
Rochester’s most celebrated annual floral event, the Rochester Lilac Festival, takes place each May in Highland Park. Over 1,200 bushes showcase more than 500 lilac varieties, many of them developed here in Rochester. The festival is the celebration of the blooming of the largest collection of lilacs in North America and is a time-honored tradition Rochester residents have enjoyed for more than 120 years.
If fields of Sunflowers sounds like the perfect family photo op, the Sunflower Spectacular at Wickham Farms and the Sunflower Festival at Stokoe Farms offer over 30-varieties of the flower with over 1-million spectacular blooms.
Looking to create or take home a seasonal bouquet of your own? Flower City Days at the Rochester Public Market takes place each Sunday throughout May and June and offers annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, succulents, cacti, and fresh-cut flowers. Rochester’s floriculture is abundant during the Spring and Summer months, with local flower farms like Sunscape Farms and Flowerwell offering fresh bouquets daily and providing opportunities to buy tubers and plants to replenish your own garden.
Visitors don’t have to attend formal events for a glimpse of our flowers. Each Spring, magnificent Magnolia trees line the Oxford Street Mall downtown, giving even those just taking a stroll, beautiful views.
Opportunities to enjoy the Flower City’s namesake are abundant even during the winter months, through museums and greenhouses. Enclosed within the glass walls of Lamberton Conservatory are many plants that are not hardy enough to survive Rochester’s temperate climate. Visit the climate-controlled conservatory in Monroe County’s Highland Park to view exotic tropical plants, desert plants like cacti, as well as seasonal floral displays.
The Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at The Strong’s National Museum of Play is the only year-round indoor butterfly garden in upstate New York and offers tropical butterflies and foliage within a lavish rainforest environment.
Each February, the George Eastman Museum hosts the Dutch Connection, where visitors can delight in over 14,000 Dutch bulb-grown flowers. A variety of trees, shrubs, and other plants can be explored year-round at Bausch and Lomb’s Wintergarden, an all-glass atrium constructed from 775 large glass panes.