Rochester was the first US boomtown of the 1800’s as a consequence of its proximity to the great lakes and the Erie Canal. It was the home of Abolitionist Frederick Douglas and woman’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony. Immigrants such as German George Ellwanger and Irish Patrick Barry, through their famous plant nursery, brought the title Plant City to the other acclaims Rochester would receive. Eventually, other major names, such as Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, and Xerox would rise to major prominence.
Ellwanger and Barry donated twenty acres in 1888 that would become the seed acreage for one of the first municipal arboretums in the country. It was laid out by New York City, Central Park designer, Frederick Law Olmsted. A collection of Lilacs planted in 1892 fomented an informal festival in 1898. Today, the Lilac Festival is celebrated in May and people from all over the world come to visit and luxuriate among the over 500 species of lilacs planted on 22 acres of hillsides in the 155-acre Highland Park.
My friend RJ has been trying to get me to visit for several years. I finally made it up there in time for the festival. Global warming has made the lilacs peak earlier and the Lilac Festival today is a rock extravaganza bringing crowds and a lot of loud music, food, and flower. As much as I like crowds and rock music, I like to enjoy my gardens in peace. We arrived the afternoon before the opening as everything was being set up for the two days of parties and enjoyed the gardens all by ourselves.
The gardens have wonderful plantings that range from massive Austrian pines and beeches to rare 50 foot Corylus colurna, a Balkan Filbert member of the Hazel family which had me stumped, because I had never seen a 50 foot witch hazel in my life. All matter of other rare plants and the not so were also in bloom with a fantastic setting in this hillside park full or valleys and nooks and crannies.
It could have been a Wistaria festival
Located a few blocks away from Highland Park is the old Ellwanger estate that has been maintained by the Landmark society of Rochester. This is a little gem of a garden with few visitors. We spent over an hour sitting and enjoying the views and wonderful plantings and never saw anyone other than the two volunteers who were maintaining the place. Happy Gardening!