Granted, Rochester, New York is not necessarily known for its temperate climate. It averages over 100 inches of snowfall annually, and summer heat seems nearly as rare as palm trees. But Rochester does have something wonderful going for it – the Lilac Festival. It is an annual celebration of the lightly scented purple flower, centrally located in beautiful Highland Park, located near the corner of Highland Avenue and Goodman Street.
In 1892, John Dunbar, an area horticulturalist, started Highland Park’s lilac collection. What began with 20 varieties of lilacs has now blossomed into 500 varieties covering 22 acres. If you’ve never smelled a lilac before, you can’t miss it when you enter this park, or drive close by. The aroma is heavenly.
Half a million people, over the course of ten days, come to see the twelve-hundred lilac bushes that bloom around mid-May. But they don’t just come for the flowers, they come for the music – anything from jazz to rock and country. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra played in 2007, along with many area school bands.
There are several exhibits run by companies, as well as creative tables for those interested in purchasing jewelry, pottery, beautifully designed sundresses, wooden toys and other woodworking, baskets, leather goods, hammocks, food goods (including Henry’s Kettle Corn, yum), pretty much everything under the sun. If you stayed the entire day, you could consume breakfast, lunch and dinner without a problem.
The exhibits and craftsmen are not dotted among the lilacs. One is able to slip past the hussle and bustle of the crowd and weave their way separately through the lilac bushes.
Parking can be a hassle, and there are the usual options to spend $5 or $7, but sometimes you can get lucky enough to find a free spot on a side street and only walk a short distance (eighth of a mile).
The Lilac Festival attracts visitors from all over the world. 2007 brought a visit from homemaking guru Martha Stewart, who then, supposedly, purchased several lilac bushes to plant at her Bedford residence.
Some interesting points about the Lilac Festival in Rochester are that the dates for the festival are chosen five years in advance. It is, from year to year, difficult to determine when the blooms will be at their peak. Mother Nature plays an enormous role in this, however, “the show must go on” as they say, and rarely are festival-goers disappointed. But remember, picking any flowers at Highland Park is illegal.
If you would like to form a tour group to visit the Lilac Festival, you should call the Greater Rochester Visitor’s Association at 585-546-3070. Each year, more and more visitors are attracted to this area for the beauty and hospitality that is Rochester.
The park is open from 10:30 to 8:30 pm daily. Lilac Festival dates for the next couple of years are as follows: May 9-18 2008; May 8-17 2009; May 14-23 2010. We hope to see you there!