Public Gardens to Savor

Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua. Photo by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant.
Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua. Photo by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant.

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Whether or not you have a green thumb, touring a public garden offers a lovely way to spend a relaxing day. Several verdant locales in the region can provide a flower fix.

In addition to providing scenic walks, many of these garden sites have begun offering participatory events, like gardening workshops, yoga, children’s crafts, beer and wine tasting and more.

Check their websites to learn about various events all season.

Thornden Park


The award-winning Dr. E.M. Mills Rose Garden in Thornden Park grows 3,000 rose bushes, including many unique varieties. Maintained by volunteers, the garden welcomes help on Wednesdays from April until November.

Sonnenberg Gardens


This historic, 50-acre estate represents one of two public gardens in the New York State Park System. Plan to spend the day, as Sonnenberg’s copious grounds take time to tour. View a dozen gardens; numerous historic statues and structures; water features and fountains; greenhouses and more. The third week of June is usually peak time for Sonnenberg’s famous rose gardens, which boast more than 50 varieties.

In addition to landscape features, the estate also has several historic buildings to tour, each brimming with period artifacts.

The Kids’ Trail Adventure helps children feel more involved with an “I Spy” map to follow while touring.

Bring along a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or have a light lunch in the High Noon Cafe. The Finger Lakes Wine Center is also located on site for refreshment.

Central Park Rose Garden of Schenectady


More than 4,000 rose bushes grace Central Park Rose Garden, an effort that’s maintained by volunteers from the community, who host three work parties each year. This year marks the garden’s 60th anniversary. It has been designated as an All-American Rose Selection accredited public rose garden. Its water features, including a tiered center fountain, waterfall, brook and spring pond, enhance its tranquil atmosphere.

Mohonk Mountain House

New Palz

Founded by Smiley Family in 1869, the estate now known as Mohonk Mountain House is a castle-style resort tucked into 40,000 acres of forest. In addition to its spa, farm-to-table restaurant and resort, Mohonk also offers extensive gardens to tour and a Garden Holiday event (Aug. 25-30 this year). Groomed hiking trails also provide an escape into nature.

Buffalo & Erie County

Botanical Gardens


At the turn of the previous century, Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, then known as South Park, represented the third-largest public greenhouse in America. Its 12 greenhouses and seven themed gardens still impress visitors. The Wegmans Family Garden involves children in craft activities, so plan to stop there if you’re bringing little ones.

Cornell Botanic Gardens


Near Cornell University’s campus, the 35-acre Nevin Welcome Center provides 12 individual gardens. Don’t miss the Bowers Rhododendron Collection, which displays more than 100 different kinds of rhododendrons. The gardens include the Young Flower Garden, Mundy Wildflower Garden, and the Robison York State Herb Garden. The 150-acre F. R. Newman Arboretum features immaculately kept grounds with numerous varieties. Use your mobile phone for a self-guided tour.

Highland Park,


While Highland Park’s Lilac Festival has made it famous, and it grows 35 varieties of magnolias, after those blooms fade, Highland Park’s 150 acres also offers 700 varieties of rhododendron and a bed of more than 10,000 pansies. Planner Frederick Law Olmsted’s design makes Highland Park look like a natural assortment of trees and plantings, not the symmetrical rows in graduated heights. Also visit the Lamberton Conservatory, which features non-seasonal flowers, picturesque Warner Castle.