60 Fun Things (Within 60 Miles) with Connie Herrera

8 Gardens You’ll Love

To me, June = Bloom. It’s the beginning of our region’s explosion of floral color. Enjoy this exuberant profusion in your own garden or visit one of the amazing gardens below.

1. Warner Castle and Sunken Garden: Beauty and a Little Bit of Magic

This enchanting garden and castle next to Highland Park captures the imagination of kids and adults alike. Rochester attorney and newspaper editor Horatio Gates Warner built the Gothic-style castle in 1854 after being inspired by a trip to Scotland. In the back, you’ll find a romantic sunken garden, designed by famed landscape architect Alling S. DeForest as well as a courtyard, rose, and woodland gardens. The garden planning began in 1920 and was completed in 1930 (with restoration later completed in 1991). You’ll be transported to Europe and reminded of your favorite fairy tales, so don’t forget your camera to capture the unique experience.

2. Garden Enchantment

Probably our area’s most celebrated garden destination is Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion. It’s not just one garden, it’s eleven. A Japanese Garden, a Blue and White Garden, a Moonlight Garden, a Secret Garden—they’re just a few of the botanical delights on the grounds of the Sonnenberg Mansion. For gardeners, strolling the grounds is inspiring. For history lovers, exploring the 50-acre estate and 40-room Victorian mansion is an adventure. Take a guided tour or just walk for hours in the gardens and grassy lawns and you’ll sleep well tonight. (Walking tours are weather-dependent.)

Lamberton Conservatory

3. A Tropical Oasis in the Heart of the City

Nestled within beautiful Highland Park is Lamberton Conservatory, a Victorian-inspired glass wonder. The greenhouse rooms will take you on a trip to the tropics, the desert, or springtime—anytime of the year. (Remember this when you need a lift next winter when it’s five below!) Wander among huge philodendrons, an amazing collection of cacti and succulents, and a room filled with the scent of hyacinths and tulips. This little oasis in Highland Park is not only a feast for the senses, it’s educational for those who love to garden. Originally constructed in 1911, the Conservatory was named in honor of Alexander B. Lamberton, president of the Parks Board from 1902 to 1915. When you leave, stroll among the stately trees and grassy lawns of Frederic Law Olmsted’s glorious and nationally renowned arboretum.

4. A Serene Garden Landscape in the Genesee Valley

Do you like to paint, write, take photos, or simply explore and reflect in a peaceful garden sanctuary? Linwood Gardens, located 35 miles southwest of Rochester, offers the perfect location. Designed in the early 1900s, the garden landscape includes walled gardens with pools and fountains, ornamental trees, an Arts and Crafts style summerhouse, and glorious views of the valley beyond. While the gardens are most famous for their collection of Japanese and American tree peonies (these are deciduous plants with woody trunks that don’t die back in winter as do traditional peonies) you can still visit during the summer months for workshops and open garden days.


Ellwanger Gardens

5. A Hidden Gem on Mount Hope Avenue

Ellwanger Gardens is hidden on Mount Hope Avenue and only open to the public twice a year—during the Lilac Festival and in June when the peonies are in bloom at the annual Peony Rose Weekend events. If you can’t make it to the Peony weekends, you can visit on Tuesday nights during their weeding parties, lend a hand if you can, but even if you can’t, someone there will be happy to show you what’s in bloom. This year celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the Ellwanger Garden, one of the region’s oldest continuously maintained perennial gardens. These gardens were the residential gardens of George Ellwanger, a famous nurseryman who gave Highland Park to the City of Rochester and whose business (the Ellwanger-Barry Nursery)  imported many of the grand specimen trees in Mt. Hope Cemetery. The Ellwanger family maintained the garden for 115 years, but since 1982 it has been been owned and maintained as an historic landscape by the Landmark Society of Western New York.

6. A Rose Garden in Maplewood

Roses are in bloom from June to November in the City’s Maplewood Park and Rose Garden.  The formal gardens are perfumed with the scent of old roses and an array of dazzling colors from more than 3,000 rose bushes. Plan on going to the Maplewood Rose Celebration in mid-June next year (this year’s is already past) but the roses bloom until nearly Thanksgiving! The staff also holds rose-care workshops. In October the garden hosts the River Romance, where you’ll see the river gorge in blazing autumn colors.

7. Cornell’s Beautiful Learning Laboratory

Cornell Botanic Gardens are more than 60 miles away, but who doesn’t like spending a day or a weekend in Ithaca! What used to be called the Cornell Plantation has been renamed and renovated to become the Cornell Botanic Gardens with its mission of “cultivation, conservation, and education.” Winding pathways take you through a hillside of rhododendrons, flowering trees and perennials.  A formal garden of medicinal and culinary herbs and varieties of shade and sun-loving perennials is a dream to wander around. Their welcome center provides a cool spot to relax and a gift shop that will tempt you, I promise.

8. Formal Gardens on East Avenue

The George Eastman Museum & House is more than just a beautiful mansion and photography museum. When Eastman lived there, the estate was both a working farm and a beautiful location for entertaining. Today, you can enjoy these gardens with formal tours, self-guided strolls, and evening concerts. Some of the gardens are only accessible with a paid admission—but you can explore several gardens without paying admission. So, when you’re in the East End neighborhood, drop by and enjoy the Rock Garden and Grape Arbor, a picturesque setting that makes wonderful photo background, and the West Garden modeled after an English walled garden and designed by famed architect Claude Bragdon.  With paid admission you can visit the formal Italianate Terrace Garden and the Library Garden.

Connie Herrera is the author of 60 Fun Things to Do Within 60 Miles of Rochester and 60 Great Places to Go With Kids Within 60 Miles of Rochester, as well as travel guides for Buffalo, East Aurora, and Palm Springs, CA.  “My goal is to help people rediscover where they live and see it with new eyes. So, if you’re new to the area, I want you to be astounded at your luck in moving here. If you’re here for a visit, I hope you’ll want to come back again to do more. And, if you’ve lived here all your life, I hope you’ll be surprised at how many places you haven’t yet explored and how many you want to visit again!” You can find out more at my website: 60funthingstodo

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