Highland Park is one of the oldest public arboretums or "tree gardens" in the United States. The park began in the 1880's as the dream of two civic-minded Rochester nurserymen, George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry. For forty years, they had watched the city grow steadily closer to their Mount Hope Nurseries. Hoping to bring urban residents some benefits of country living, Ellwanger and Barry proposed the creation of a public park and donated almost twenty acres of their nursery grounds to the city. In 1888, the Rochester Parks Commission dedicated Highland as the city's first public park.
From the beginning, talented horticulturalists furthered the dream of Ellwanger and Barry. They sought rare and unusual plants from around the world to expand and enrich the park's botanical collections. During the 20th century, Highland Park achieved international fame for its large display of lilacs, many developed right here in Rochester.
In addition to over 1,200 lilac shrubs, the Park boasts a Japanese Maple collection, 35 varieties of sweet-smelling magnolias, 700 varieties of rhododendron, azaleas, mountain laurel and andromeda, horse chestnuts, a pinetum and rock garden with dwarf evergreens, a barberry collection, spring bulbs and wildflowers, and a large number of tree species from all over the world. The park's pansy bed features 15,000 plants, designed into an oval floral "carpet" with a new pattern each year.
The brochure, Highland Park Guide, provides a location map and additional information on the plant collections.